Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Scientific Communication and the Open Society: The Emerging Paradigm of “Open Knowledge Production”

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_415


The history of scientific communication, even in the postwar period, is a mammoth undertaking where technological developments and the new paradigm of open knowledge production seem to outstrip our capacity to give an adequate account of them. There is so much experimentation by way of new electronic journals launched and new projects being established that it is near impossible to document even the range in its diversity let along theorize its main characteristics and implications for modes of scientific communication. One source, perhaps the most comprehensive, provides a bibliography on scholarly electronic publishing that runs to 1,400 items in English under such categories as: economic issues; electronic books and texts; electronic serials; general works; legal issues; library issues; new publishing models; publisher issues; repositories, e-prints, and AOI (Bailey 1996–2006; see also 2001).

The history of electronic scientific communication itself is now nearly 20 years old if we date the process from the appearance of the first electronic journals. The electronic revolution of those first utopian years in the early 1990s with predictions of the collapse of the traditional print-based system, the demise of academic publishers, and the replacement by electronic journals has not yet come to pass. As Valauskas (1997) argues “electronic scholarly journals differentiate themselves from printed scholarly journals by accelerated peer review, combined with mercurial production schemes … The sheer interactive nature of digital journals … and the ability to access the complete archives of a given title on a server make that sort of publishing a significant departure from the long established traditions of print.” He concludes, “Electronic scholarly journals are indeed different from traditional print scholarly journals, but not as radically different as some would argue. They are different in terms of process, but not in terms of the ancient traditions of peer review and verification.” At the same time, while slower than originally thought there are certainly revolutionary changes taking place that I will refer generically to as “open knowledge production,” a term that might be said to embrace open source, open access, open “science” (referring to systematic knowledge), open courseware, and open education.

History of Electronic Forms of Scientific Communication

To begin let us remind ourselves that the history of scientific communication demonstrates that the typical form of the scientific article presented in print-based journals in essay form is a result of development over two centuries beginning in seventeenth century with the emergence of learned societies and cooperation among scientists. Journal des Sçavans, the first journal, was published in Paris in 1665 (Fjällbrant 1997) as a twelve page quarto pamphlet, appearing only a few months before the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the oldest journal in continuous production (see the journal’s website where it is recorded “The Royal Society was founded in 1660 to promote the new or experimental philosophy of that time, embodying the principles envisaged by Sir Francis Bacon. Henry Oldenburg was appointed as the first (joint) secretary to the Society and he was also the first editor of the Society’s journal Philosophical Transactions.” The first issue appeared in 1665 and included Oldenburg’s correspondence with some of Europe’s scientists as well an account by Robert Boyle of a Very Odd Monstrous Calf. Subsequent early issues include “articles” by Robert Hooke, Issac Newton, and Benjamin Franklin. The entire archive is available online). The development of the journal and scientific norms of cooperation, forms of academic writing, and the norm of peer review was part and parcel of the institutionalization of science first with the development of the model of the Royal Society that was emulated elsewhere in Europe and the USA, and then later institutionalization received a strong impetus from the emergence of the modern research university beginning with the establishment of the University of Berlin in 1810 in the reforms of Humboldt. This institutionalization of science necessarily also was a part of the juridical-legal system of writing that grew up around the notion of a professional scientist and academic, the notion of the academic author, the idea of public science or research, the ownership of ideas, and academic recognition for the author who claimed originality for a discovery, set of results, or piece of scholarship (Kaufer and Carley 1993).

Over 180 years later, the form, style, and economics of scientific communication were to undergo another set of changes to its socio-technical ecology and infrastructure. The prehistory of the emergence of electronic forms of scientific communication can be traced back at least to Ted Nelson’s notion of “hypertext,” which he coined in 1963 and went on to develop as a hypertext system. It is also a prehistory that reveals the development of networking and network publishing in the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) launched by the US Department of Defense in 1969 and in the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) launched by the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement and the National Library of Education (ARPANET was discontinued in 1990 while ERIC advertises itself as “the world’s largest digital library of educational literature” with free access to more than 1.2 million bibliographic records of journal articles http://www.eric.ed.gov/). In this context, it is important to recognize that the concept of “information” emerged from the combination of the development of modern military intelligence (breaking codes, deciphering messages, encoding information, resolving conflict of sources, etc.) and the development of new communication technologies, often also strongly related to the military context and the cooperation between the military and business sector, for instance, the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) developed in response to Sputnik, the contribution of RAND to packet switching through its research on the control of missiles and the ARPANET constructed in 1969 linking the University of California at Los Angeles, SRI at Stanford, University of California at Santa Barbara, and University of Utah.

Here some account of the impact of computers on writing is required including the shift from: literacy to orality and the way that computers re-introduce oral characteristics into writing; linearity to connectivity; fixity to fluidity; and passivity to interactivity (Ferris 2002). Jay David Bolter’s (1991) Writing Space: The computer, hypertext and the history of writing is the seminal text that explores the computer’s place in the history of symbolic (textual) media. The consequences of the networking of science and culture have yet to be worked through fully yet certainly as Bolter points out the new definition of literacy is synonymous with computer literacy and while it is the case that the computer signifies the end of traditional print literacy it does not signify the end of literacy. The Web has now spawned a whole set of new media genres and forms and the Internet has been accepted into education enthusiastically and in a way that previous technologies like television were not. We have not begun to identify systematically the way these new media forms and the development of visual literacy have and will impact upon scientific communication but already there have been some telling signs (see Woolgar 2000; Nentwich 2003).

The Economic Context and the Serials Crisis

A media industry overview conducted by Morgan and Stanley in 2002 revealed a US$7 billion market for global STM publishing broadly divided into scientific publishing (with libraries as major markets) and medical publishing (with hospitals and practitioners as major markets) with Reed as the market leader. The report indicated that scientific publishing is the fastest-growing media subsector of the past 15 years and that since “1986 the average price of a journal has risen by 215% while the number of journals purchased has fallen by only 5.1%” (Morgan and Stanley 2002, p. 2).

Global Scientific Publishing Market Players, 2001


2001 Revenues

2001 Market


Share (%)

Reed Elsevier (Elsevier Science)



American Chemical Society






John Wiley & Sons



Inst. of Electrical & Elect. Engineers



Wolters Kluwer






Taylor & Francis









Total Scientific Market



Source: Simba, Morgan, and Stanley (2002: 2)

The report concludes that the nature of the industry is unlikely to change although it will experience a cyclical slowdown due to budget cuts; large publishers will enjoy economies of scale through “bundling” and margins will expand for those publishers with successful online platforms.

In “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era” Vincent Larivière and his colleagues provide an account of the consolidation of the scientific publishing industry and its high profit rates. Analyzing some 45 million documents indexed in the Web of Science over the period 1973–2013 they show that “in both natural and medical sciences (NMS) and social sciences and humanities (SSH), Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor & Francis increased their share of the published output, especially since the advent of the digital era (mid-1990s). Combined, the top five most prolific publishers account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013”.

They comment further as part of their conclusion: Since the creation of scientific journals 350 years ago, large commercial publishing houses have increased their control of the science system. The proportion of the scientific output published in journals under their ownership has risen steadily over the past 40 years, and even more so since the advent of the digital era. The value added, however, has not followed a similar trend. While one could argue that their role of typesetting, printing, and diffusion were central in the print world…, the ease with which these function can be fulfilled–or are no longer necessary–in the electronic world makes one wonder: what do we need publishers for? http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127502

Their ingenuous question seems unable to take account of the fact that knowledge capitalism is not based on need but rather on opportunity, risk, profit and competition with a natural tendency toward monopoly, especially in a global digital world where extra users and new journals can be added to publishing platforms at virtually no extra cost.

The European Commission’s (2006, p. 5) report Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of Scientific Publication Markets in Europe corroborates and updates the Morgan & Stanley report confirming

The core STM (science, technology and medicine) publishing market is estimated between USD 7 billion and USD 11 billion, while in 2001 OECD countries allocated USD 638 billion to R&D. In the last 30 years, the prices of scientific journals have been steadily increasing. Between 1975 and 1995, they increased 200–300% beyond inflation.

The report goes on to record that as of 1995, publishers started to adopt digital delivery modes and to provide online access to their journals, but while the new technologies and the Internet have dramatically improved the accessibility of scientific publications for researchers, the actual access to the literature still relies on their library’s ability to pay subscriptions.

The report outlines the broad market trends from 1995 which is taken as the approximate start of the “electronic revolution” including the following main features that have remained constant since about 1975:
  1. 1.

    The increasing reliance on journals as the main channel for dissemination of scientific knowledge, with a growth that parallels the growth of research produced

  2. 2.

    The dominance of the “reader-pay” or “library pay,” as opposed to the “author-pay” model of journal dissemination

  3. 3.

    The existence of many publishers in the market, with two big groups of publishers: For-profits (FP) and Not-for-profits (NFP), the latter group including learned societies and university presses

  4. 4.

    The very fast growth of some big FP publishers, through new journal introduction, through the running of journals from learned societies, and through mergers (EC, 2006: 7)


In 1987, New Horizons in Adult Education, perhaps the earliest electronic journal, was established by the Syracuse University Kellogg Project (The journal is now titled New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development and run from the College of Education at Florida International University http://education.fiu.edu/newhorizons/) and in 1989 Psycoloquy (Psycologuy. In 1990 three online journals were launched: Electronic Journal of Communication, Postmodern Culture, and Bryn Mawr Classical Review) was established by Stevan Harnad the same year that the Newsletter on Serials Pricing was launched and there was serious talk of a crisis in scholarly communication which has grown ever more insistent. The origins of the crisis are the increasing volume and high cost for print journals and books together with loss of control in the marketplace and through copyright (see, for instance, the statements of the Universities of Connecticut and Iowa State respectively, http://www.lib.uconn.edu/about/publications/scholarlycommunication.html, http://www.lib.iastate.edu/libinfo/reptempl/origins.html).

The United Kingdom House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee (2004) determined that in face of the high and increasing prices of journals imposed by academic publishers that the Government should develop a strategy to improve the provision of academic publications. The issue at stake is put succinctly quoting statistics from The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals:

Whilst the volume of research output and the price of scientific journals has been steadily increasing - one respected source cites average journal price increases of 58% between 1998 and 2003 - library budgets have seen funding decreases. (Introduction).

The concern is that the results and profits of government investment in public good science are being increasingly diverted to the publishers’ shareholders (“Between 1986 and 2004, journal expenditures of North American research libraries increased by a staggering 273%, with the average journal unit cost increasing by 188%. During this same period, the US Consumer Price Index rose by 73%, meaning that journal costs have outstripped inflation by a factor of almost 4” see the website Scholarly Communication at UIUC http://www.library.uiuc.edu/scholcomm/journalcosts.htm). The Select Committee on reviewing technological developments that have fundamentally changed the way that scientific articles are published making it feasible to be published free online and acknowledging that several new models have emerged around the movement known as “Open Access” recommends

that all UK higher education institutions establish institutional repositories on which their published output can be stored and from which it can be read, free of charge, online. It also recommends that Research Councils and other Government funders mandate their funded researchers to deposit a copy of all of their articles in this way. The Government will need to appoint a central body to oversee the implementation of the repositories; to help with networking; and to ensure compliance with the technical standards needed to provide maximum functionality. Set-up and running costs are relatively low, making institutional repositories a cost-effective way of improving access to scientific publications. (Summary).

The Committee also suggests that the UK Government become a proponent for change internationally leading by example (The full report Scientific Publications: Free for all? is available as a pdf file). The report was seen in some quarters as an important step forward in the global movement for open access to scientific and medical literature. The Government’s response was lukewarm: it was not convinced of the “serials crisis” arguing that consortia can make a big difference and, in general, it supported the concept of “healthy” competition in the publishing industry (A full account of the process and the UK Government’s response is given by Steven Harnad at http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/4131.html. Harnad comments that the Committee originally had a vague remit to reform publishing but went on to discuss problems associated with journal publishing, affordability, pricing, and accessibility, recommending author self-archiving).

The Open Access Movement

The EC report also provides a useful summary of the Open Access Movement beginning with SPARC’s (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) launch in 1998 (http://www.arl.org/sparc). SPARC on its website advertises itself as “an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system” and provides the following self-description.

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), launched in 1998 as an initiative of the Association of Research Libraries, is an alliance of 222 academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system. These imbalances have driven the cost of scholarly journals (especially in science, technology, and medicine) to insupportably high levels, and have critically diminished the community’s ability to access, share, and use information. At the core of SPARC’s mission is the belief that these imbalances inhibit the advancement of scholarship and are at odds with fundamental needs of scholars and the academic enterprise.

(from its 2007 Program Plan)

The movement, its complexity, and its momentum can best be represented by a timeline of developments. Clearly no one paper or indeed book can give a complete picture of its developments and with every passing day the overall picture becomes more complex.

Open Access Timeline

I have focused on major reports including all the EC report’s significant events in the initial period 1990–2006. The most detailed timeline is that by Peter Suber of which this is but a small selection. (Suber’s timeline ends in 2009, http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/timeline.htm; see also http://symplectic.co.uk/open-access-timeline/; http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Timeline). Marie Lebert’s chronology at https://marielebert.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/openaccesschronology/ provides a simplified view that provides some of the major developments after 2006 including: SPARC: Open-access Journal Publishing Resource Index, Enabling Open Scholarship (EOS), Academia.eduOAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks), CiteSeerX, The Open Access Directory (OAD), DASH (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard), Open Access Tracking Project (OATP), COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories), DataCite, Open Access Journal Bibliography, Bibliography on Citation Impact, IS4OA (Infrastructure Services for Open Access), Open Access, The Research Impact Measurement – Timeline, to name some of the major developments.

Pre-1990 (I have focused on major reports including all the EC report’s significant events. The most detailed timeline is that by Peter Suber of which this is but a small selection. See his website.)

ERIC (1966), Project Gutenberg (1971), New Horizons in Adult Education (1987), Psycoloquy (1989)


Electronic Journal of Communication, Postmodern Culture, Bryn Mawr Classical Review


Surfaces, Behavior and Brain Sciences, Ejournal


First Symposium on Scholarly Publishing on the Electronic Networks


Aboriginal Studies Electronic Data Archive, Education Policy Analysis Archive


Digital Libraries Initiative, Electronic Journal of Sociology


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Electronic Publishing Trust for Development


Research Papers in Economics


SPARC, The International Consortium for the Advancement of Academic Publication


Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge (UNESCO)


PubMed Central (PMC), BioMed Central, Public Library of Science


Public Library of Science petition


Budapest Open Access Initiative, Creative Commons


Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, US Public Access to Science Act


UK House of Commons Science & Technology Report, Wellcome Trust Reports, OECD’s Declaration On Access To Research Data From Public Funding


Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research, The Open Knowledge Foundation


UK Research Council’s Statement on Open Access, EC Commission Report, launch of Open J-Gate (“an electronic gateway to global journal literature in open access domain” (Informatics India Ltd), as of March 22, 2007, it indexed 3,913 open access journals)

What these reports and declarations have in common is a statement of commitment to the principles of open access and open knowledge production. By “open access,” the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) means: free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles; crawl them for indexing; pass them as data to software; or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the Internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited (Budapest Open Access Initiative).

As the BOAI public statement puts it, “[p]rimarily, this category encompasses…peer-reviewed journal articles, but it also includes any unreviewed preprints that [scholars] might wish to put online for comment or to alert colleagues to important research findings.”

Typically, these statements and declarations also make reference to the serials crisis, the economics of academic publishing, and an emerging global intellectual property (IP) regime that expands and looks after the interests of IP owners without the same or sufficient regard for the rights of users, especially in the Third World. More activist associations provide histories of the open access movement and develop alliances across a variety of organizations involved with scientific communication including libraries and their associations, research institutions, universities and university consortia, learned societies, open access journals, small university presses, government and State agencies, and publishers. There is general concern about the extent of new IP regulations, increased duration of copyright, and the extension of IP to new areas of activity including databases and software. There is also strong concern for questions involving the governance of the Internet, the protection of its intellectual commons, and the way that private interests are being allowed to muscle in and enclose some areas of the public domain (see Intellectual Property Reform and Open Knowledge, http://www.soros.org/initiatives/information/focus/access/grants/reform) (Höök 1999; Jacobs 2006; Willinski 2006).

Most of these statements also place their faith in the promise of open access and the architecture of the Internet to distribute and disseminate public knowledge. Thus, the Statement of the Libraries & Publishers Working Group (Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, June 20, 2003 http://www.earlham.edu/~peters) runs

We believe that open access will be an essential component of scientific publishing in the future and that works reporting the results of current scientific research should be as openly accessible and freely useable as possible.

The Statement then itemizes a set of proposal for libraries and journal publishers aimed at encouraging the open access model. The Statement of Scientists and Scientific Societies Working Group from the same source reads:

Scientific research is an interdependent process whereby each experiment is informed by the results of others. The scientists who perform research and the professional societies that represent them have a great interest in ensuring that research results are disseminated as immediately, broadly and effectively as possible. Electronic publication of research results offers the opportunity and the obligation to share research results, ideas and discoveries freely with the scientific community and the public.

In the Preface to the Berlin Declaration (Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, October 22, 2003 http://www.zim.mpg.de/openaccess-berlin), there is a recognition of the way the Internet has changed scientific practice focusing on how the Internet has emerged as a “functional medium for distributing knowledge” that will also significantly “modify the nature of scientific publishing as well as the existing system of quality assurance”:

The Internet has fundamentally changed the practical and economic realities of distributing scientific knowledge and cultural heritage. For the first time ever, the Internet now offers the chance to constitute a global and interactive representation of human knowledge, including cultural heritage, and the guarantee of worldwide access.

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) “Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication,” issued August 28, 2003, defines scholarly communication as

the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs.

The Principles then examine the system in crisis mentioning specifically increasing prices, commercialization, and economic pressures facing university presses and the humanities, creeping licensing agreement and the expansion of copyright, long-term preservation and access to electronic information, and the way that powerful commercial interests have been successful at the national level in limiting the public domain and reducing principles of fair use. It goes on to stipulate a set of principles and strategies.

Both the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Declaration on Access to Research Data From Public Funding, January 30, 2004 http://www.oecd.org) and the UN World Summit on the Information Society (UN World Summit on the Information Society Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, December 12, 2003) emphasize the importance of shared knowledge and the significance of the international exchange of data, information and knowledge for the advancement of scientific research and innovation, and for meeting the development goals of the Millennium Declaration. In addition, open access is recognized as having the potential to maximize the value derived from public investments in science, help with training researchers, increase the scale and scope of research, and enhance the participation of developing countries in the global science system. The World Summit goes further by politically linking open access and open knowledge production to principles of democracy and to fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and opinion under the United Nations. Furthermore, it emphasizes the role of governments in the promotion of ICTs for development, the importance of the information and communication infrastructure as an essential foundation for an inclusive information society. There are a broader set of arguments that predate open access, open knowledge production systems, and open education that argue for the necessity of open information to democracy more broadly (see Peters 2007).

The Open Society

Whatever the historical origins, the term “open” has now become associated with “open knowledge production,” although Benkler (2006) and others also use other terms such as “commons-based production.” In any event, the term open has resonance with systems theory, cybernetics, and with open systems. In systems theory, an open system is defined as a system where matter or energy can flow into and/or out of the system which is thus in continuous interaction with its environment. In computer science, open systems are computer systems that provide some combination of interoperability, portability, and open software standards. The term openness as developed from systems theory especially as adopted and modified in economics, sociology, and politics can mean “open” markets, “open” science, and “open” institutions. In this sense, openness is opposed to secrecy and associated also with both participation and self-governance. Often the case is made for the openness of markets and political systems in Eastern Europe following the demise of the closed system of Soviet authoritarianism although there is no conclusive data on the empirical relation between liberalization in the political and economic senses (i.e., “free trade,” “open capital markets” or globalization, and democracy). As Eichengreen and Leblang (2007: 4) argue

The idea that globalization promotes the diffusion of democratic ideas goes back at least to Kant (1795). Schumpeter (1950), Lipset (1959), and Hayek (1960) all argued that free trade and capital flows, by enhancing the efficiency of resource allocation, raise incomes and lead to the economic development that fosters demands for democracy. Within modern political science, the connections between economic and political liberalization is one of the foundational topics of international political economy.

This kind of understanding, for instance, underlies The Open Society Institute (OSI), a foundation created in 1993 by George Soros (Soros became acquainted with Karl Popper’s ideas on the open society when he was at the London School of Economics and writing a number of books defending the open society including Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism (2000); The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered (1998); Underwriting Democracy (1991); and Opening the Soviet System (1990)) to support his foundations in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union established to help countries make the transition from communism. The OSI

aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform. On a local level, OSI implements a range of initiatives to support the rule of law, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, OSI works to build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as combating corruption and rights abuses.

(The Open Society Institute)

The concept of the “open society” was given its first formulation by Henri Bergson (1977 orig. 1932) in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion as an outgrowth of his Creative Evolution (orig. 1911). He described two sources of morality, one open whose religion is dynamic, the other closed whose religion is static. Only the former is both creative and oriented toward progress; it is genuinely universal and aims at peace.

Some years later, Karl Popper (1945) wrote The Open Society and its Enemies while a political exile in New Zealand during 1937–1943. It was an influential two-volume work that criticized historicism (Plato, Hegel, and Marx) and provided a defense of the principles of liberal democracy. His aim in this work was not unrelated to his doctrine of fallabilism, especially in relation to the social sciences and its powers of prediction, and the promotion and defense of the critical ethos in science. The relationship of Popper and his ideas to Hayek is still a largely unwritten story; Hayek was responsible for championing Popper’s appointment at the LSE and cited him first in his early “Economics and Knowledge” 1936 paper which established the field of the economics of knowledge and heralded the “knowledge economy.” There is some evidence that Hayek’s attack on central planning strongly influenced Popper’s attack on historicism and closed societies (Caldwell 2003).

There are some general arguments for making the association between the open society and the knowledge economy. Joseph Stiglitz, the renegade ex-Chief Economist of the World Bank who resigned over ideological issues draws an interesting connection between knowledge and development with the strong implication that universities as traditional knowledge institutions have become the leading future service industries and need to be more fully integrated into the prevailing mode of production. He asserts, “We now see economic development as less like the construction business and more like education in the broad and comprehensive sense that covers, knowledge, institutions, and culture” (Stiglitz 1999a, p. 2). Stiglitz argues that the “movement to the knowledge economy necessitates a rethinking of economic fundamentals” because, he maintains, knowledge is different from other goods in that it shares many of the properties of a “global” public good. This means, among other things, a key role for governments in protecting intellectual property rights, although appropriate definitions of such rights are not clear or straightforward. It signals also dangers of monopolization, which Stiglitz suggests, given the economies of scale to be achieved, may be even greater for knowledge economies than for industrial economies. In more technical terms, knowledge is nonrivalrous, that is, knowledge once discovered and made public operates expansively to defy the normal “law” of scarcity that governs most commodity markets. Knowledge in its immaterial or conceptual forms – ideas, information, concepts, functions, and abstract objects of thought – is purely nonrivalrous, that is, there is essentially zero marginal costs to adding more users. Yet, once materially embodied or encoded, such as in learning or in applications or processes, knowledge becomes costly in time and resources. The pure nonrivalrousness of knowledge can be differentiated from the low cost of its dissemination, resulting from improvements in electronic media and technology, although there may be congestion effects and waiting time (to reserve a book or download from the Internet). Stiglitz argues that these knowledge principles carry over to knowledge institutions and countries as a whole. If basic intellectual property rights are routinely violated, the supply of knowledge will be diminished. Where trust relationships have been flagrantly violated learning opportunities will vanish. Experimentation is another type of openness, which cannot take place in closed societies or institutions hostile to change. Finally, he argues that changes in economic institutions have counterparts in the political sphere, demanding institutions of the open society such as a free press, transparent government, pluralism, checks and balances, toleration, freedom of thought, and open public debate. This political openness is essential for the success of the transformation toward a knowledge economy (see Peters 2007).

Open Knowledge Production

Open or Free?

The terms “open knowledge” and “open knowledge production” are now well accepted in the literature to refer to a range of related models of “peer production” and “peer governance” that provide an emerging alternative to traditional proprietary models of knowledge production. The concept of “open” and “openness” deserves special attention because it has come to christen a range of related activities concerned with the advantages of decentralized distributed networks that characterize what Benkler (2006) calls “commons-based peer production” and increasingly defines the political economy of the digital networked environment. The concept of “openness,” for example, has been applied to:
  • Open source

  • Open access

  • Open content

  • Open courseware

  • Open communication

  • Open archives

  • Open urls

  • Open learning

  • Open education

Typically, as we saw with the BOAI definition, the concept “open” is sometimes associated with “free” although Richard Stallman prefers the term “free” in relation to both “free software” and Free Software Foundation. Stallman provides the following definition of “free”
Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

(Richard Stallman)

Stallman distinguishes “free” from “open.” While criteria for the latter was derived from his definition of free, it is something less than free and attempts to avoid the ethical question. He explains:

In 1998, a part of the free software community splintered off and began campaigning in the name of “open source.” The term was originally proposed to avoid a possible misunderstanding of the term “free software,” but it soon became associated with philosophical views quite different from those of the free software movement… Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.

(Richard Stallman)

Social Dimension of Open Knowledge Production

This may have been the case at the end of the 1990s, but today the notion of openness as it applies to the new convergences of open source, open access, and open knowledge production has clearly taken on the hue of a political and social movement. Open access and open knowledge production, sometimes also referred to A2K and P2P (peer-to-peer), now customarily refers to knowledge creation and sharing as well a range of other topics such as framing human rights and development, political economy of trade treaties and intellectual property, peer production and education, digital right management, and open archives (OA), OA publishing and libraries, among others.

In a study of how social production transforms markets and freedom, Benkler (2006, p. 1) begins his authoritative work with the following words:

Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done. For more than 150 years, modern complex democracies have depended in large measure on an industrial information economy for these basic functions. In the past decade and a half, we have begun to see a radical change in the organization of information production. Enabled by technological change, we are beginning to see a series of economic, social, and cultural adaptations that make possible a radical transformation of how we make the information environment we occupy as autonomous individuals, citizens, and members of cultural and social groups… The change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two centuries.

Benkler is not alone is making what seem like extravagant claims. His work rests on and is in turn reinforced by a range of scholars mostly working in the related areas of informatics, international law, and political economy, including James Boyle, Hal Abelson, and Lawrence Lessig (see Peters 2007). They concur that the role of nonmarket and nonproprietary production promotes the emergence of a new information environment and networked economy that both depends upon and encourages great individual freedom, democratic participation, collaboration, and interactivity. This

“promises to enable social production and exchange to play a much larger role, alongside property - and market based production, than they ever have in modern democracies” (Benkler 2006: 3). Peer production of information, knowledge, and culture enabled by the emergence of free and open-source software permits the expansion of the social model production beyond software platform into every domain of information and cultural production.

Open knowledge production is based upon an incremental, decentralized (and asyncrhonous), and collaborative development process that transcends the traditional proprietary market model. Commons-based peer production is based on free cooperation, not on the selling of one’s labor in exchange of a wage, nor motivated primarily by profit or for the exchange value of the resulting product; it is managed through new modes of peer governance rather than traditional organizational hierarchies and it is an innovative application of copyright which creates an information commons and transcends the limitations attached to both the private (for-profit) and public (State-based) property forms (I based this formulation on Michel Bauwens’ P2P Foundation work at the P2P Foundation < P2P Foundation).

Related Approaches

As Michael Bauwens’ P2P Foundation acknowledges there are and have been many thinkers and scholars who have expressed similar ideas in terms of the “High-tech Gift Economy” (Richard Barbrook), “the Public Domain” (James Boyle), “Copyright, Commodification and Culture” (Julia Cohen), “Peer Governance and Democracy” (Erik Douglas), “Connective Knowledge” (Stephen Downes), and “An Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management” (Brett Frischmann 2005). There is a clear link of this set of ideas to those that employ ecological nor environmental models to talk about the commons such as “Freedom In The Commons” (Yochai Benkler), “the Second Enclosure Movement” (James Boyle), “Circulation of the Commons” and “immaterial labor” (Nick Dyer-Witheford) and “the Tragedy of the Commons” (Garreth Harding). Others have sought to provide, in addition, an evolutionary thesis concerning societal evolution and/or changed states of consciousness, including “the movement from tribes to networks” (David Ronfeldt), “the Participatory Worldview” (David Skrbina), and “the Enactive Theory of Consciousness” (Evan Thompson). Finally, some scholars have sought to link open knowledge or commons-based production to a political system and especially to Marxism including “Socialist Individualism”(Magnus Marsdal), “The DotCommunist Manifesto” (Eben Moglen), “the tradition of civil socialism” (Bruno Theret) and “sharing culture” (Raoul Victor). This list is quite useful but also potentially difficult to decipher and interpret; three sets of ideas outlining the economics of open knowledge production systems, reinterpreting this phenomenon in terms of ecological or environmental models, shifts in evolutionary consciousness, and its exemplification of political models. The first set of links to ecological or environmental models is now well established across the literature whether it be in political economy, law, sociology, psychology, or some combination of all four (see Peters 2007); the second set of links to evolutionary models also in some way can be considered an extension of the first set and is a powerful paradigm in psychology (computational models of cognition), philosophy (connectionist epistemology), and anthropology (There are a number of dominant precedents for this work including that of the so-called Cybernetics Group sponsored by the Macy Foundation series of conferences beginning in 1946 (Feedback Mechanisms and Circular Causal Systems in Biological and Social Systems) and including Gregory Bateson, Julian Bigelow, Frank Fremont-Smith, Kurt Lewin, Warren McCulloch, Margaret Mead, John von Neumann, Northrop, Arturo Rosenblueth, Claude Shannon, and Norbet Weiner, among others (see Heims 1993; Dupuy 2000). Bateson’s (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind is one of the classics to emerge but see also more recently Piero Scaruffi’s (2006) The Nature of Consciousness that attempts a synthesis of Philosophy, Psychology, Computer Science, Mathematics, Biology, Neurology, and Physics, at http://www.thymos.com/nature/preface.html or Ken Wilber on “integral psychology”); the third set seems particularly problematic with scholars from both marxist and liberal traditions of political economy claiming open knowledge production systems for their own, even though the principles they articulate are overlapping.

The Foundation for P2P Alternatives| provides the following brief sketch that outlines the relationships between these different set of ideas:
  • That technology reflects a change of consciousness toward participation and in turn strengthens it

  • That the networked format, expressed in the specific manner of peer-to-peer relations, is a new form of political organizing and subjectivity, and an alternative for the political/economic order, which, though it does not offer solutions per se, points the way to a variety of dialogical and self-organizing formats to device different processes for arriving at such solutions; it ushers in a era of “nonrepresentational democracy,” where an increasing number of people are able to manage their social and productive life through the use of a variety of networks and peer circles

  • That it creates a new public domain, an information commons, which should be protected and extended, especially in the domain of common knowledge creation, and that this domain, where the cost of reproducing knowledge is near zero, requires fundamental changes in the intellectual property regime, as reflected by new forms such as the free software movement

  • That the principles developed by the free software movement, in particular the General Public License, provides for models that could be used in other areas of social and productive life

  • That it reconnects with the older traditions and attempts for a more cooperative social order, but this time obviates the need for authoritarianism and centralization; it has the potential of showing that the new egalitarian digital culture is connected to the older traditions of cooperation of the workers and peasants and to the search for an engaged and meaningful life as expressed in one’s work, which becomes an expression of individual and collective creativity, rather than as a salaried means of survival

  • That it offers youth a vision of renewal and hope to create a world that is more in tune with their values; that it creates a new language and discourse in tune with the new historical phase of “cognitive capitalism”; P2P is a language which every “digital youngster” can understand

  • That it combines subjectivity (new values), intersubjectivity (new relations), objectivity (an enabling technology), and interobjectivity (new forms of organization) that mutually strengthen each other in a positive feedback loop, and it is clearly on the offensive and growing but lacking “political self-consciousness”

There is no doubt that there exist relationships between these different sets of ideas, and the emerging information environment is based upon a new form of open knowledge production that has strong implications for a kind of informational democracy (Peters 2007); whether the same set of relationships between these ideas can be extended to shifts of consciousness understood in ecological or evolutionary terms, or whether they imply a certain kind of political system or even spirituality is best treated as a set of working hypotheses at this stage. The actual complexity of establishing theoretical relationships between these different sets (rather than assuming them) is staggeringly difficult.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand