“Common Voices is another great read on commons themes. Published quarterly by the Foundation for Ecological Security in Gujarat, India, Common Voices invariably has concept-busting articles about all sorts of unexpected and novel commons themes. It is refreshing to hear about the commons from the perspective of Indians, who stand far enough away from American and European thinking and yet can communicate in dazzling English. The latest issue, No. 8, (pdf file) is devoted to some bracing perspectives on knowledge commons.
I was thrilled by a brief essay by social scientist and science critic Shiv Visvanathan, who sees the commons as a versatile vehicle for re-imagining our future. He writes: “One of the great tributes to the idea and functioning of the commons came from the great Scottish biologist and sociologist Patrick Geddes, who observed that if Karl Marx had understood better the idea of the commons, the fate of socialism would have been different.”
Visvanathan calls for “cognitive justice” in thinking about knowledge commons – that is, we need to recognize that there are different forms of expertise and knowledge that need to be honored. A commons is valuable, he writes, because it invites a pluralism of knowledge and practices to co-exist. This means that no single medium of communication or “political epistemology” can dominate: “The oral is as critically life giving as the textual and the digital,” Visvanathan writes. He continues:
“A commons resists the hegemony of any form of knowledge, even science. A commons thus has a place for knowledges and refuses to marginalize them. A commons in that sense is always a compost heap of knowledges. It does not museumize knowledge but allows marginal and exotic cultures to reinvent themselves…..A knowledge commons combines both a theory of resistance and the dream of alternatives. A knowledge commons is not merely a dream of defiance, denial and resistance or a subaltern sense of possibilities challenging hegemony. It is also the availability of alternative paradigms which offer plural grammars and practices….”
I especially liked Visvanathan’s idea that “an intellectual commons allows for a multiplicity of time. This is essential for three reasons. One, a commons provides a tacit theory of justice by resisting obsolescence, especially that of cultures and the knowledge forms they contain. Secondly, a commons has to have an ethics of memory. It cannot store information in one order of time. Myth, folklore and legend are as valid as any other attempt to scrutinize history. A knowledge commons recognizes that while the truth might be one, its forms and cultures are many. The idea of the commons also realizes that the multiplicity of knowledeges requires a plurality of times to encode them. For example, the logic of shifting cultivation cannot be enacted in linear time. The diversity of rice in India needs a diversity of time, including the time of myth and festival to sustain it. You cannot build diversity on secular homogenous time. A theory of sustainability built on linear time is almost oxyomoronic.”
Wow. The same issue of Common Voices has an interesting piece by Harro Maat on the System of Rice Intensification, a kind of open source agriculture; and the idea of “knowledge Swaraj (self-rule) in India, which is based on a landmark Indian manifesto that calls for the self-rule of India’s science and technology, independent of the dictates of multi-national actors and external research systems.” I also have a piece in the issdue on “Exclusive Control or Sharing: Which Creates Greater Value on the Internet?” which reflects on the unresolved tensions between copyright control and open sharing online.”