Mike Neary and I had an article published recently that offers a critique of ‘the commons’ with particular reference to open education and open educational resources. It was published by Ephemera and can be downloaded directly from this link [PDF].
The article began as a paper for the 7th annual Open Education conference, held in Barcelona in 2010. The conference is international in scope and size and seen as the “annual reunion of the open education family.” Our paper was unusual in that it was one of very few attempts at the conference to offer a critique of the central tenet of open education: the commons. The response to our paper was mixed, but there seemed to be an appetite among some delegates for further critique from the perspective of critical political economy.
The paper begins with an outline of the open education and open educational resources movement, situating it within the ‘free culture’ movement, which has grown out of the free software movement of the 1990s. This connection with the world of software and other intangible goods, throws up questions around how the apparent freedom of the digital commons can be traversed to the physical world of public education and its institutions. We remain unconvinced that “revolutionary” transformations in how digital property is exchanged can effect revolutionary change in the way we work as educators and students and that the ‘creative commons’ of the free culture movement is open to much of the same critique that its liberal foundations can be subjected to.
The majority of the article offers such a critique, beginning with an examination of how the ‘commons’ has been recently articulated by Marxist scholars. Here too, we remain unsatisfied with the consumerist focus on the redistribution of resources (i.e. exchange), without resolving the issue of production (i.e. labour). In response, we argue that the sites and structures of production, our institutions, should be the focus of critique and transformation so that knowledge as a form of social wealth is not simply shared, but re-appropriated to form a new common sense that is capable of questioning what should constitute the nature of wealth in a post-capitalist society.