Knowledge commons are complex

How do I distinguish, spell out, and make sense of the concepts?

I've been meaning to progress writing about knowledge commons. The aim, at this stage, is to sketch a reasonable outline of what I'm talking about, both in text and also as a concept map. A good approach towards a concept map is to start with a list of concepts, and I have, rather more slowly than anticipated, been working through what I have written myself, and also the various other writings I have collected relevant to knowledge commons, trying to filter out for myself a list of concepts.

But, of course, I am distracted. One very absorbing thing that distracted me today was a Psyche article on pseudophilosophy. I thought it was worth writing a reply, which seems to have been appreciated.

And following on from the end of the last entry, I've had some conversation with Ria about how we could point out blind spots. The fact that it is a highly complex, confusing minefield does not detract from its immense value, in my view. I hope we will grow in that practice.

I put down some of my slow progress, though, to the sheer complexity and lack of clarity in the subject matter: knowledge commons. My own writings in the last year or two have surfaced ideas such as: distributed curation; category structure; technical infrastructure; governance; learning pathways; and a couple of examples. I've worked my way through a well-cited 2005 paper by Nonaka et al, which makes heavy use of the Japanese concept of ba. I find this pretty interesting, because I'm starting to se ba as one way of pointing to ‘the rest’ of what is involved in a knowledge commons, apart from the knowledge resources themselves. You could see it as the ‘ground’ corresponding to the ‘figure’ of the explicit knowledge. But I can't make out much analysis by Nonaka of ba, so I'll need to be doing some creative analysis myself.

I've now started looking at two chapters from Natalie Pang's PhD thesis from 2008, which is promising. I want to read a couple of other articles by Natalie, then move on to some more recent European work. Looking back, there is Howard Rheingold's work on “The Cooperation Project”, which mentions knowledge commons, but seems to deal only with the technical side, and that in a dated way. And, following on from my earlier entry, I want to remember to look over more of Étienne Wenger's ideas of Communities of Practice.

I do think that some sort of distributed technical approach would be an immense advantage for a knowledge commons, and I'm trying also to juggle some time with John Waters, with maybe an introduction to Ward Cunningham if that's feasible, to talk about how Ward's Fedwiki idea might be adapted to serve as a technology base. Beyond that, I know little about the more deeply underlying technology that is needed. Holochain? Solid? Graph databases? All of the above? I can try reaching out to people who know a lot more than I do, but probably only when the requirements are clearer.

I'm reminded of what I felt a year into my PhD, getting down properly to literature survey. “This makes no sense!” I remember feeling. Writers were using words in different ways, ignoring other work or making spurious connections. It's probably a feeling that many PhD students have had – but if you stick it out, sense dawns, slowly. Curiously, that's one of the things that we are reminded of in practices like Collective Presencing. Can we hold that tension in ourselves? Can we hold on to relationship even when there feels like a chasm of polarity separating us? That's what our amazing complex minds (in the broadest sense) are there for: to make sense of complexity – and sometimes, when that is not feasible alone, to hold on to the collective relationships through which sense emerges from the collective middle.

And all of this while not omitting to go outside when the sun is shining on the freezing snow, and maybe take a couple of photographs to remember that beauty.


Topics: Knowledge commons


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