Markets versus commons? What relationships? What roles for STS?
Location M214
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Les Levidow (Open University) email
  • Luigi Pellizzoni (University of Pisa) email

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Short Abstract

There has been a long-standing debate over 'markets versus commons', yet they intermingle in various ways. The session aims to shed light on this contested area, especially the role of STS concepts.

Long Abstract

There has been a long-standing debate over 'markets versus commons'. Historically, marketization has undermined the community basis of commons, yet this process also has depended on commons - and perhaps vice versa in some cases. Recently this debate has had a revamp. New spaces for marketization (often before or after privatization), with the emergence of new knowledge and material commons, have been facilitated by technoscientific developments, especially through genomics, digital-informational sciences and their convergence. Another facilitator has been climate change policies, promoting techno-fixes along with market-based instruments and new opportunities for proprietary knowledge. At the same time, each in their own way, markets and commons have been enacted in ways resonant with STS concepts - e.g. the performativity of economics (Callon et al.), ANT's non-dualist perspectives on materiality and agency and feminist postcolonial perspectives, among others.

The session aims to shed light on this contested area, where commons and marketization intermingle in various ways. The following questions seem relevant:

In a given area or issue, what are the various forms of markets and commons?

What conflicts arise between those forms? How?

What are their conflicts and interdependencies?

What types of knowledge/material commons complement and/or undermine markets?

How do new configurations open up novel spaces of contestation and/or complementarity?

What STS theoretical concepts can help to address those questions?

What interpretive and/or performative roles do STS concepts play in these processes?

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Communities and Markets on the Geoweb - How Do Open Data Web Maps Compare With Proprietary Ones?

Author: Valentina Carraro (Hong Kong City University)  email

Short Abstract

This research considers the debates around market/commons in connection with web-cartography. Once the appanage of the State, maps are now often produced either by corporations or by user communities. How do these two models play out on the map?

Long Abstract

This paper considers the debates around market/commons in connection with web-cartography. New - e.g. GPS, fast Internet, smartphones - have radically transformed cartographic practices. Once the appanage of the State, maps are now produced by a wide range of actors. Corporations such as Google have established themselves as new providers and mediators of geographic information. On the other hand, collaborative, open-data maps have also emerged, most notably OpenStreetMap. Building on Critical Cartography work that sees maps as inevitably political, I investigate how these different models play out on the map. The logic (commons vs market) according to which map-makers work, I argue, is one of the 'actors' that define the map. Adopting an STS approach, I consider the map as a process, rather than a finished artefact, and seek to open the 'map black-box', pointing at its different components: hardware, software, user communities, ideas about free knowledge, legislation, profit opportunities, etc.

Drawing on the inductive analysis of online maps, discussion forums, user documentation, corporate press releases, etc., I problematise widespread, polarised characterisations of corporate and collaborative maps, while also acknowledging the important differences between the two models. Finally, I raise the issue of which communities, and which markets, are enmeshed in popular web-maps. Overall, I argue that 'real world' inequalities extend to digital geographies, and influence online maps, whether they are provided in a market or commons setting.

Pe(e)rformativity: Narratives of social change in Commons-based peer production

Author: Bruno Chies  email

Short Abstract

Performativity theory is almost exclusively concerned with markets. Can theories on commons governance also be performative? Are they necessarily antagonistic to how markets are organized? This paper rehearses some answers by considering the theories and practices advocated by the P2P Foundation.

Long Abstract

Performativity theory has contributed significantly to our understanding of the role played by theories, models and technologies in creating and shaping markets. Proponents of the theory have also recognized that the calculative agencies and behaviors in the neoclassical models (assuming a homo economicus) can be resisted or contested by actors that wish to make a market perform other values. Despite this talk about performativity as politics, the focus has so far been almost exclusively on markets. There are barely any studies of this type concerned with other forms of economic coordination, such as commons governance. Is it possible that other models are able to perform other economic practices? And if so, what are the significant differences and how do they relate to markets?

This paper suggests some preliminary answers by examining - based on fieldwork, interviews and online documentation - the case of the P2P Foundation, a global community of researchers and activists studying and advocating the idea of peer production, characterized by collaboration and free sharing of knowledge and information (ie, as a commons). In this case, by making the switch from competition to cooperation and from private to shared ownership, (reformed) markets are viewed as a way to support the co-production of the informational commons, therefore inverting the relation of markets predating the commons. But the ability to accomplish that, as this paper shall argue, does not rely exclusively on mobilizing and recreating actor-networks, but also on a strong social theory and narrative of social change.

Remaking the Commons: open access movements and the deprivatization of scientific publications

Author: Didier Torny (INRA- Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique)  email

Short Abstract

Open access movements have raised the tension between a conception of scientific publications as a common good and another one based on legally defined rights. I trace the genesis of the OA movements and analyze how public policies rearticulate public goods and private rights in contrasting ways

Long Abstract

Open access movements-have raised the tension between a conception of scientific products as a common good and another one based on rights defined in legal devices. This tension was at the heart of Aaron Swartz case, author of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008, calling for the illegal sharing of copyrighted scientific articles, a claim that has been recently implemented by the promoters of Sci-Hub and LibGen websites.

These activists are the offspring of the precursors of open access, who acted on behalf of distinct values in order to develop alternative ways to the traditional scientific publishing. Involving funders, publishers, academics and universities, they aimed at the reallocation of the funding of publications, and the creation of new forms of dissemination and archiving.

In fact, open access is not a unique solution to organize commons and markets in the publication business, but rather a patchwork of various devices, sometimes conflicting one with another.

Drawing on the new politicial sociology of science, I trace the genesis of the open access movement and its offshoots, focusing on the specific objectives of activists groups and their repertoires. I show the essential role of a coalition of actors in the early 2000s, in the stabilization of material and symbolic devices built to transform the political economy of academic publishing. Finally, I analyze how various public policies (US, UK, EU) redefine the economics of publication, articulating public goods and private rights in different ways.

The ambivalence of openness: Online education as an expression of converging and conflicting reform programs in the university

Author: Edward Hamilton (Capilano University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines open educational resources, open source learning systems and MOOCs as expressions of converging and conflicting reform programs in higher education.

Long Abstract

Confrontations between markets and commons can be seen to drive the development of online education since the 1970s. Indeed, insofar as online education has emerged in tandem with challenges to the idea of knowledge as a public good around which education systems - particularly post-secondary systems - have been organized since the nineteenth century, it has also served as a concretisation of debates over the nature, function and role of higher education and its institutions. But while some (e.g., Noble, 2002) have seen technology as a straightforward agent of economic rationalization, the history of online education suggests that it is ambivalent in relation to the convergence of markets and commons in higher education.

This paper illustrates this point by drawing on Feenberg's critical theory of technology to examine three recent developments in online education - the rise of open access educational resources and scholarship, the development of open source learning systems, and the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs). I argue that these developments are expressions of ongoing conflicts over both the status of knowledge and the future of the university. These conflicts do not neatly fall into a logic of "markets versus commons," but show how both markets and commons provide resources that can be turned to account in relation to different programs of technological change in the university and thus to varied trajectories of university reform.

Understanding the role of Digital Commons; The making of HTML5

Author: Raúl Tabarés (Tecnalia)  email

Short Abstract

The last version of Web´s hypertext standard called HTML5 is also a new digital commons developed in order to stop the proliferation of proprietary software that takes place during the “Web 2.0” period. Understanding the role of this kind of standards is of outmost importance in digital economy.

Long Abstract

The last version of Web´s hypertext standard called HTML5 has been developed from 2004 to 2014. During this era, it has experienced a great number of technological trajectories and social interactions among the different groups of stakeholders interested in its development. With the standard getting official by the W3C on October 2014, a period of uncertainty around the future of the Web comes to an end. But at the same time, it opens up doors to a major change in the own conception of the hypertext´s standard. In this paper we review the state of the art of the digital commons and the development of HTML5. We also check that work with semi-structured interviews to HTML5 experts for obtaining qualitative outputs. These lead users represents at the same time different stakeholders of Web´s value chain.

We claim that the development of HTML5 is really the making of new digital commons in order to stop the proliferation of proprietary software that takes place during the "Web 2.0" period. We argue that the World Wide Web promotes the development of new digital commons due to its own basis as a non-proprietary socio-technological platform. We also state that the development of standards and non-proprietary digital technologies is of outmost importance for the future of the Web because it creates new business models that can be fostered in these digital commons.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.