CyberScholars: Aaron Shaw on the Commons and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen on Tools for Politics

May 26th, 2009

Aaron Shaw – Polanyi’s Penguin? Commons-Based Industry in the Neoliberal Knowledge Economy

A renowned group of social and political theorists have argued that Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP) and the spread of non-rival informational goods could eliminate North-South inequalities in the knowledge-based economy (see, for example, Benkler 2006; Weber 2004). Some of them have even gone further to depict non-rival knowledge production as an oppositional response to Neoliberal Globalization consistent with Karl Polanyi’s (1944) theory of “The Double Movement” and a “disembedded” market economy (Evans 2005; Jessop 2007; O’Riain 2006; Weber and Bussell 2005). In this talk, Shaw traces the theoretical bases of these claims and revisit the relationship between CBPP and the market in the context of the global Information Technology industry. He argues that the logic of production underlying commons-based innovation strategies in the field of IT does not contradict ideologies of the free market. Building on the Polanyian critiques of global neoliberalism, he proposes an alternate framework for assessing commons-based industry and commons-based development policies along the dimension of “embeddedness.”

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen – Mundane Tools and Mobilizational Practices in Two U.S. Congressional Campaigns

The mobilizational potential of the Internet has been highlighted both by both social scientists and professional practitioners. A wide range of new tools have become ubiquitous in political campaigns—ranging from state-of-the-art websites to something as prosaic as email. But we still do not know what internet elements are most important for mobilizational practices. Based on participant-observation in two congressional campaigns in the United States, web research, interviews with professionals and activists, and analysis of secondary sources, Nielsen argues that it is not campaign web sites as such, or the Internet in general, but specific “mundane mobilizational tools”, particular things like email and search, that are most intimately involved in mobilizational practices. Contrary to the specialized and emerging tools that have received the most scholarly, professional, and journalistic attention, mundane mobilizational tools are not designed specifically for political use, but instead derive their affordances from the fact that they (1) connect with existing infrastructures and communities, (2) allow distributed communication, and (3) are already familiar to users.

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