Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Habermas, Public Sphere, Gov 2.0, Participatory Culture and Status

I've started reading J├╝rgen Habermas, in the hope he will show me how to settle the anger and frustration I feel looking out at the world through the eyes of Illich. Illich was somehow able to think like he did without apparently getting eaten up by on the other hand, I'm still learning.

I've so far read some of his first book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere 1962 (English 1989). At the same time I'm referring to a book of essays collected from a conference about Habermas' work, Habermas and the Public Sphere. Edited by Craig Calhorn.
Habermas saw a vibrant public sphere as a positive force keeping authorities within bounds lest their rulings be ridiculed... Today, in contrast, there is scant public debate, few public forums, and political discussion has degenerated from a fact-based rational-critical examination of public matters into a consumer commodity. There is the illusion of a public sphere, according to Habermas. Wikipedia editors June 2010

Chompsky's Manufacturing Consent immediately springs to mind just now, but what I really wanted to note here was the obvious connections this may have to considerations of Gov 2.0 being discussed by bourgeois Australians, and the idea that a new public sphere could be built online, through social media, based on participatory culture.

I think the class of people already in that sphere, discussing social media, connectivity, participation and Gov 2.0, has been up until recently, eclectic and fresh, and not requiring status necessarily (the long tail) - a positive thing according to Habermas. Certainly this absence of status has been the case for discussions about social media up until now, with bloggers over riding journalists, volunteers over riding contracted labor and academics, and individuals bringing politicians and corporations out onto the streets and sometimes into ridicule.

Australian Senator Kate Lundy and her officers have organised speaking events called The Public Sphere, with obvious reference to Habermas' ideals. These events are basically an open mic and wiki - open to seemingly anyone who wants to stand and speak. To a large degree, the design of the events is successful in subverting the barrier of status that limits open dialog and the discovery of innovative ideas in Australian discourse today, but is it really what Habermas describes?

As good as The Public Sphere events are, I think it must go further yet, and be more self conscious of the status and power dynamics implicit in the events. The open mic events are located in Parliament House, The wikis and discussions on the Senator's website, and the banter that goes through the social networks is almost impossible to follow. Habermas acknowledges the decline in the quality of debate when it is spread out from the hands of the elite, but argues that this is a necessary stage to go through, implying that it is possible to grow from it.

I've noticed a sudden change in the type of participation in the discussions about social media, and in particular the Gov 2.0 project. I'm not sure what it is, but perhaps a comparison between 2005 events like Blog Talk Down Under, and 2010 initiatives like Gov 2.0 au and Public Sphere give a faint impression... I want to say the quality of the discussion has degraded, or at least stagnated, but how might I prove such a thing? I can't, its a gut feeling.The opposite might just as well be true if status has any real meaning, because there is a noticeable increase of people with 'status' such as academic, journalist, politician and business people joining the discussion (as others perhaps leave). Recently we're seeing academic papers referencing only the works of other academics, a plethora of johnny-come-lately academic and institution blogs that lack any depth of network or authenticity, and National level conferences hosted and attended by politicians, public servant bosses and big business. To my ears, most of what is said in this new sphere with status, merely parrots what has been said for 7 years, or more if we take it back as far as Cluetrain.. further gets a bit abstract for me.

"Status" seems to be creeping into this new public sphere, and the quality and agenda of the debate is changing.. but into what? Is this the point at which the bosses came and take all the credit? How else could it be?... off to study Habermas some more.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A draft proposal for IP policy for UC

The University of Canberra has commenced reviewing its Intellectual Property Policy (an official announcement appears not to be happening), and the office in charge of the review has contracted Kevin Croft to make recommendations.

I'm not entirely certain of the procedures of a policy review at UC, as this is the first time I have attempted to engage in one. The second one, the Assessment Policy has been entirely different again! I think it is left up to the officer in charge of the review, as to how it will proceed, and to what extent it will consult with staff. I certainly appreciate the genuine openness from leadership at Otago Polytechnic now.

James Neill, Keith Lyons and myself have been making concerted efforts to engage in this review however, as it is quite critical to the structured support we aim to propose for academics engaging in open academic practices. Currently there is no structured support what-so-ever, in fact the systemic bias is in the other direction to open practices - a discouragement for all staff but the most driven.

Notes on my own attempts to engage the University on this issue are kept here. I'm still not sure how this will play out. I have no idea if the principles we are lobbying to are making it through to UC leadership, or if they are getting a fair hearing of being understood. Based on experience, I take a pessimistic view on these questions.

Here is the draft proposal for an IP Policy at UC. Over the next few weeks we will check in with groups affected to see if they have any concerns or suggestions. This proposed policy takes the progressive elements of Otago Polytechnic's policy further, and sets UC up for being the most progressive research and education institute in Australia. The conference, and consultation around our proposal has engaged Ngunnawal, NTEU, the ACT Islamic community, Parliament, QUT, and several public libraries and museums around Canberra. All have expressed their support for the principles in the proposal, and I hope some will be able to lend a hand in the detail, especially the legal terminology and structure of the proposal.

All this is based on what we think is the right procedure, and to make sure our concerns and proposals go on the record. The support and encouragement we are getting from external groups such as public libraries, museums, politicians and community groups is quite encouraging. We can only hope the response rate will eventually pick up inside UC.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The need for open academia

Keith emailed me a link to George Siemens quick post to the untold levels of public to private profiteering going on in academic publishing these days.

In short, the public pay for the vast majority of an academic's research, they pay further for almost 100% of their peer review, they even pay for the majority of the editing, and then the academics allow a private journal to take the copyright to the written product and restrict access on the output to those who pay. Libraries have to pay huge fees to gain access to journals.

If that cozy little siphon of public money into private profits wasn't enough to piss you off, did you know that in Australia the government uses yet more public money to financially reward universities whose academics publish in these journals? And did you know that an agency called Copyright Agency Limited takes a royalty fee on behalf of publishers for copies made by students? CAL returns a portion of that fee to, you guessed it - that same private publisher. Just one more dip in the public slush fund. Little wonder that one of these profiteering publishers, Reed Elseiver, reported an approximate profit of £247m in 2008.

Laurence Lessig tells of a situation where his new born baby was very ill, and the doctor appeared to be too busy to be up with the recent literature on the condition. Lessig attempted his own research into the condition, only to be frustrated by closed access journals! Imagine if the condition was critical!

I posted on this a while back, but George's post reveals a small network of others in the sector who are pretty pissed off about it, and who are doing the sums to show the negative return to the public for its investments. I've aggregated the links to good posts on this serious issue here.

I've aggregated posts and commentary on this scam, in the hope that we'll coordinate more and take action on it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My slides for UCIP

We have a really good line up for 10 minute talks at today's UCIP.

I'll be recording and ustreaming the talks, but will also round off the talks with a very basic overview and invitation to participate in the writing of a submission to the IP Policy review.

Here's the submission so far.. we could sure use some legal eyes on it!

Here's the slides (audio will be added):

Join us at UC IP live stream in 4 hours (4am UTC)

UC IP Mini-conference
2-5pm, Friday 11 June 2010
0 days to go!
University of Canberra (North Access)
Building 6, Level B, Room 45 (6B45)
The University of Canberra is currently reviewing its policies relating to intellectual property (IP). The Faculty of Health is hosting a free mini conference on IP as it affects academia.
The Faculty of Health is committed to the open sharing of ideas, information and practice. As part of its commitment to a caring and inclusive society, the Faculty is hosting a workshop to discuss the role of IP in 21st century institutions. It will hear from innovators in open sharing and identify the fundamental characteristics of transparent intellectual property policies.
This page indexes the 10 minute presentations given at the mini conference, subsequent public documents and submissions being worked on, and public discussion around the issues.
As a number of people have already expressed interest in attending online, talks will be ustreamed with backchannels set up under the hashtag #ucip. Links to the recordings and discussions will be listed here.

Discussing UCIP with QUT DVC Tom Cochrane

I was so engrossed in the conversation I had with Tom Cochrane yesterday, I forgot to ask him for a quick video summary of his points for the UCIP miniconference this afternoon! He visits Canberra once a month, so I might be able to get something from him next visit.

Tom is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Technology, Information and Learning Support at Queensland University of Technology. He and QUT have been advocates and practitioners of openness in their academic work since 2003 and according to Tom, publish over 65% of their work as open access, (but I'm looking for evidence..). QUT host and support Creative Commons Australia.

In our meeting yesterday, Tom mentioned:

The pioneering and sustained work of Stevan Harnad, and the American Scientist Open Access Forum - opening up a whole knowledge network I have not seen before - even after following the Open Education movement since 2005!

Danny Kingsley, employed by ANU in the Centre for Public Awareness for Science, and advocating the development of their own open access repository, after completing a PhD, The effect of scholarly communication practices on open access: An Australian study of three disciplines.

Big news to come, that the National Health and Medical Research Council will be following suite with other public information agencies, and adopting open access licensing policy for publicly funded research. I'm hunting any evidence of this move, I'm guessing there is a press release coming out soon...

The notorious copyright monopoly, Copyright Agency Limited will be reviewing its terms of service with the Universities at the end of June. There is a justified build up of disrespect for CAL, in that they draw huge money out of education, based on arbitrary copying statistics; pay their own staff pretty high wages for what they do; helping publishers double dip in fee takings; not accounting for free content use; and helping to generate an economy of user pay information where such a transaction was not intended by a great many authors... oh the list goes on. This review could be an opportunity to call them to account on some of these issues, and to propose more exact accounting of copyuse, including the savings gained through the use of free and open content. Up until now, CAL has shown no interest in supporting or promoting cost savings through free content. If the trend towards such content continues, obviously CALS s days are numbered.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our container house

For a few years now, Sunshine and I have been researching shipping container houses as an alternative means to shelter. Most container houses modify the container and set them into a larger structure and permanent position. To our mind, such designs loose the true value of a container - its portability. Without portability, a container house has very little added value over a standard pre fabricated house. The cost works out almost the same, as a standard 20 foot reconditioned container costs around $3000 in Australia. Our design retains the portability, with all external elements fitting either inside a container, or on top, ready for transport.

The reason we want a portable home is so we can relocate once. Our plan is a two stage approach to home and land ownership, attempting to keep our weekly payments as low as possible.

Most people in Australia either stay in debilitating rental situations averaging $400 per week (our's is $500), or cripple themselves with a 30-40 year mortgage, carrying average weekly repayments of $600, or much more if interest rates spike.

We aim to find a vacant block of land and offer the owner 50-$100 rent per week. We'd then secure a personal loan of 30-$40 000 for the prefabrication, additions and delivery of the container house. The weekly repayments on such a loan would be around $300 for 3-5 years. The land rent and house repayments would total $400 per week. We'd save that towards a deposit for our own land, and once the containers are paid off, we'd move them onto the new block and settle them permanently, hence the need for once only portability. Our repayments would then reduce to around $300 per week for 30 years, leaving us money for extras. This plan gets us out of the rental trap, where it is impossible to save anything towards a mortgage, and keeps our living expenses as low as possible in this inflated and exclusive Australian economy.

Costing breakdown - new, recycled and 2nd hand materials:
  1. 3 modified containers delivered: $15000
  2. Insulation and linings: $3000
  3. Roof and trusses: $7000
  4. Kitchen made of modified filing cabinets: $2000
  5. Waterless toilet: $1000
  6. Bathroom: $1000
  7. Plumbing, storage, pump, outlets: $3000
  8. Power generator, storage, cable, points, lights: $5000
  9. Rocket fire, thermal mass heater: $500
  10. 1x (4x2m) ebay window/door: $1200
  11. 6x (1.2x1m) ebay windows: $1200
  12. 5x ebay doors: $1000
$40900 for 72m2

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Transparency, openness, trade and politics

Ever since the OER conference in Vancouver last year, where I unintentionally became the token 'anti American' with my questions about openness becoming a vehicle for Western economic dominance and cultural colonialism, I've been troubled by the lack of preparedness of those I pitched the question to, and of any thoughtful response still...

I've since read more Illich and see he was also asking the same questions throughout the 60s, 70s into the 90s even. A nice anecdote he uses is in Tools for Conviviality about Mexican farmers and their market:
Take another tool--transportation--as an example. Under President C‡rdenas in the early thirties, Mexico developed a modern system of transportation. Within a few years about 80 percent of the population had gained access to the advantages of the automobile. Most important, villages had been connected by dirt roads or tracks. Heavy, simple, and tough trucks traveled over them every now and then, moving at speeds far below twenty miles per hour. People were crowded together on rows of wooden benches nailed to the floor to make place for merchandise loaded in the back and on the roof. Over short distances the vehicle could not compete with people, who had been used to walking and to carrying their merchandise, but long-distance travel had become possible for all. instead of a man driving his pig to market, man and pig could go together in a truck. Any Mexican could now reach any point in his country in a few days.

Since 1945 the money spent on roads has increased every year. It has been used to build highways between a few major centers. Fragile cars now move at high speeds over smooth roads. Large, specialized trucks connect factories. The old, all-purpose tramp truck has been pushed back into the mountains or swamps. In most areas either the peasant must take a bus to go to the market to buy industrially packaged commodities, or he sells his pig to the trucker in the employ of the meat merchant. He can no longer go to town with his pig. He pays taxes for the roads which serve the owners of various specialized monopolies and does so under the illusion that the benefits will ultimately spread to him.
The question is really about consequences, and how well we keep an eye on the values that drive them.  Where do these values come from? Who is pushing them and why?

Most of us when pressed I think, don't really know why we vouch for openness! For instance, the open education movement is largely unnecessary if we stop and consider the impracticalities of copyright and IP, the reality of our dismissive actions towards copyright, the impoverished condition we allow ourselves to be in if we respect copyright, and the fact that we are awash with free content and open practices. Why do we need a formal decree? Who is pushing it, and why?

Where does the Hewlett Foundation's money come from for example?
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world.
But why was it set up? It influences the development of openness in education more than we acknowledge and critique. Its a banner, a flag, under which a great many individuals exist largely to maintain the Foundation identity above their own, no-less...

Adam Curtis springs to mind as someone who has the gift of getting underneath it all, and bringing something of it into plain light for all to see. His documentaries for the BBC are outstanding, Century of the Self, The Trap, and The Power of Nightmares are all found on Google videos. Through them he presents perhaps an all too simplistic and linear insight into how we've come to where we are, and the hidden agendas and unquestioned ideologies that lead us here. But ultimately Curtis' work is a critique on politicians and 'good' intentions. Not surprisingly, so is Illich's. Not the pollies in suites, in front of cameras necessarily. The far greater number are the ones of us who forgo our own identities under some abstract banner or flag, working on obscured - if not hidden agendas that come together like some absurd experimental cocktail of action, with consequences never intended nor foreseen.

Recently, Adrian Hearn (Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney) gave a fascinating lecture at the Sydney Ideas Open lecture series: Rethinking Good Governance and Transparency: The China-Latin America-U.S. triangle. In the first half of his lecture he outlines 3 differing perspectives on the notion of transparency. One of Cuba's - largely driven by a hegemonic political ideology, the USA's driven by a different (but dominant) political ideology of free market rhetoric, and China's based on intense pragmatism and resentment for its treatment by US global politicians. I recorded the key excerpt that is this part of his lecture.

What I'm wondering about is, to what degree is openness part of a political ideology and consequence we are not so conscious of? We know and love the rhetoric we use every day, like sharing, education for all, accessibility, reusability, creative commons and all that, but how much is the openness movement originating out of, or becoming part of a larger economic agenda?

Certainly big funding banners and flags help steer the rhetoric and direction just by touching projects and absorbing individuals into its institutionalised logic. Those banners and flags are involved with even larger global flags like OECD and UN, World Bank, WTO and the like, who absorb even more individuals under one. How much of the ideology of openness spawned from those flags and their agendas?

Or is openness driving the changes in the other direction, generating an ideology at the "grass roots" as we call it. Perhaps it has the economists adjusting their rhetoric and rewards? Perhaps the intercourse is both ways simultaneously - this would be the easy out on the question of course. Who and what therefore, is left out? Adrian Hearn's lecture gives a bit of a clue.

Either way, their is a slightly disturbing homogeneity and silence in the openness movement's discourse. Many of us may think we have only the best intentions in mind, but like so many ideologies before, the consequences were never quite as we hoped.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The blackboard - A truly open educational resource

Take a look at this picture.. apart from the great composition and subject, what does it say about educational resources today, specifically ownership? Chalk, talk, duster. No copyright, but heavily dependent on copying.

The local paper heats my water

The Canberra Times ran a story on our compost hot water system today, after a local radio station rang up for a quick live interview a few days ago.

Patrick Blampied is doing a great job with the media and PR for the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, and sent out a press release about me after we met through Youtube. I'm more than happy to help build their profile in Canberra, although between the journalist, Pat's press release, and me seeing the story in print, some minor corrections and clarifications are needed:

  • I don't start each day with a warm feeling about environmental sustainability. I get that feeling working towards conviviality.
  • The correct order for being inspired to try this started with a Youtube video by Permascience, leading to information about Jean Pain, eventually seeing a video by Patrick that the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia were using the method too.
  • My pile (version 3 that is) is made of horse manure, straw and woodchip, not paper. Paper is a good suggestion - but slightly harder to come by around here.
  • I don't think or imply this system is for everyone, and I don't think it would reasonably replace existing systems.. not before a bit more research and development was done. I have concerns about the HDPE pipe possibly putting a chemical into the water for a start, and I think the biomass needs to be semi sealed to keep flies away. Patrick and I reckon something like a wheelie bin would probably be good, hooked up to a storage tank, with a replacement bin at the ready each week or so. Either that, or use the V3 system for room heating instead of shower water.
Apart from those minor points, it was great to get some interest from the local paper, and I hope it helps lead me to good local connections for progressing this and other projects. Thanks Patrick.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Illich - Celebration of Awareness

My inter library loan of Celebration of Awareness is due, and there is not an option to renew the loan. It is a fascinating read, written by Illich in 1967, published in 69. It is perhaps the expression of his awakening, pre Deschooling, pre Conviviality, pre Energy and Equity. In it he is focused on his experiences as a priest in the ghettos of New York, and the countries of Latin America. It is a rejection of American aggression and colonialism, and some of the words in it are as timely now as they were then.
The compulsion to do good is an innate American trait. Only North Americans seem to believe that they always should, may, and actually can choose somebody with whom to share their blessings. Ultimately this attitude leads to bombing people into acceptance of gifts.
In early 1968 I tried with insistence to make some of my friends understand this image of the American overseas. I was speaking mainly to resisters engaged in organising the march on the Pentagon. I wanted to share with them a profound fear: the fear that the end of the war in Vietnam would permit hawks and doves to unite in a destructive war on poverty in the Third World.
Page 19, Chapter Two - Violence: A Mirror for Americans

We might as well extend the word America, to the word West.. as I know Australians are just as susceptible to this problem as Americans. It is not simply anti-Americanism, it goes much deeper than that.
In the mirror of Latin America, violence in American ghettos and on the borders of China can be seen in its new meaning, as a rejection of American values. From experience of years in Cuernavaca, dealing with United States "idea salesmen," I know this insight is costly to come by. There is no exit from a way of life built on $5000-plus per year, and there is no possible road leading into this way of life for nine out of ten men in our generation and the next [and the next and the next it now seems]. And for the nine it is revolting to hear a message of economic and social salvation presented by the affluent that, however sincerely expressed, leads the "poor" to believe that it is their fault that they do not fit into God's world as it should be and as it has been decreed that it should be around the North Atlantic.
I'm not sure what my picking out of just two paragraphs does for the perception of what's in this book, nor it seems is there really much space for discussing this still-relevant issue.. but reading it reminds me of another Illich punch, To Hell With Good Intentions. Other chapters are:
  1. A Call to Celebration
  2. Violence: A Mirror for Americans
  3. Not Foreigners, yet Foreign
  4. The Eloquence of Silence
  5. The Seamy side of Charity
  6. The Vanishing Clergyman
  7. The Powerless Church
  8. The Futility of Schooling
  9. School: The Sacred Cow
  10. Sexual Power and Political Potency
  11. Planned Poverty: The End Result of Technical Assistance
  12. A Constitution for Cultural Revolution
Speed reading this book, along with the others recently, has me asking some hard questions about the assumptions we carry in edtech, and how little we think critically of the things we take as good. My only real attempt at questioning a given good has been The New Colonialism in OER, a seed planted by Minhaaj Rheman here and here, fertilised and nourished by Illich more recently.

I guess its hard to when the bar of our work and our dialog is set so low by the bumbs on seats, 9-5 job, simple minded education system that absorbs our energies. We tend to stay in the shallow end of this pool online too I reckon.

Where will it all lead? Many more questions to come... anyone else reading Illich yet?