Economies of the Commons 2: Death Knell for Open Politics

On: November 14, 2010
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About Caroline Goralczyk
I’m a student of the MA track in New Media and a journalist to be, currently living in Amsterdam and enjoying the city at its fullest. After studying as an exchange student at the UvA, I decided to come back and stay here for a little longer to pursue my Master’s degree. In Vienna I was working for a news magazine where I had the chance to gain first-hand experience on how important new media channels can be for professional journalists nowadays. Therefore, my main interest in New Media lies in its influence on journalism and political communication in regard to news making and publishing.


Open source, open government, open culture – as Nate Tkacz, PhD at the University of Melbourne points out in his talk at the Economies of the Commons Conference, the ubiquity of ‘openness’ as a master category of politics in network cultures turns into a multidimensional, and even more into a political term in the debate on the free and open. With referring to historical notions of openness, Tkacz makes some critical statements on the function of the open with particularly discussing it on the basis of Karl Popper’s work on ‘The Open Society and its Enemies”.

Nate Tkacz’s research interest lies in investigating the political dynamic of Open Projects, which are projects influenced by the principles and production models of Free and Open Source Software, but translated into different domains. When making the reference to Popper, he introduces the thought of the ‘open’ being connected to politics and mass understanding.  Karl Popper, who referred to the open society as an entity contrary to totalitarianism, finds a close relation to the economics of Friedrich Hayek, who claimed that a decentralisation of markets was crucial as the inability to be certain of knowledge required openness as opposed to planned economy.

While ‘openness’ became a political term and open source the model of making things and grounding ideas, there is a problematic distinction between the concept of the open and lived open society. As neoliberalism ushered in with the 1980s and the ideas of open competition, open standards and open markets were more than ever on the fore, the concept of this openness also applied to the Internet which finally turned this hype of liberalism against the model of intellectual property that would close down environments and be contradictory to the ‘open’.

When outlining different types of ‘open’, Nate Tkacz asks the question which is central to his talk: How is it even possible to criticize the ‘open’? When thinking of open being oppositional to totalitarianism and connected to open systems of life, this question seems paradoxical when trying to criticize it. However, the term can be used in different ways and by different movements. To illustrate the political nature of the open, Tkacz portrays several groupings that are all based on transparency and the idea of the free and open: Google, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Lawrence Lessig with the idea of free culture, Hardt and Begri and the Tea Party as an Open Source Movement. In conclusion, the paradoxical nature of the open is that the open society is not open anyway, but it is also a side of politics and conflicts.

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