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Author Archives: Makeba Lavan

Whose Commons is it, anyway?

The beginning of Lewis Hyde’s “Common As Air” ,  threw me for quite a loop. I did not expect to see the all too familiar and rote trotting out of the “state of nature”/social contract theory philosophers: John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes. Maybe that exposes my naivete, but the idea of commons seems quite at odds with the practised ideology of these philosophers. John Locke once wrote that “every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself”. James Madison, fourth president of the United States, (Locke’s “wild woods and uncultivated waste” that represented an embarrassment of riches ripe for the taking) championed the three-fifths compromise while invoking the biblical codeword ‘dominion’ to justify the Louisiana Purchase.

Hyde continues with this troubling mirroring of imperialist/settler-colonial language on page 24. He writes,

Invocations of the commons can carry with them a promise that more than air can be like air, always there for the inhaling lung: infinite bandwidth, unlimited acorns and deer, all of literature instantly available on the computer screen, unfenced prairies stretching to an unowned ocean, ‘that great and still remaining common of land’ (Locke). There are psychological, spiritual, and mythic elements to ‘the commons’ and it is worth marking at the outset so as to be alert to how they might refract our thinking about other, more concrete commons.

Hyde may only draw these parallels in order to invoke the bevy of riches currently available and yet to be made available because of the internet. Still, connecting unlimited bandwidth with John Locke’s image of America as a cornucopia of unbridled sustenance links the potential of digital spaces to the old Manifest Destiny doctrine. These are some of the cautionary tales that need to remain at the forefront of creating commons.

In this way, the text leads me to wonder: in Hyde’s somewhat glossed over history of property commons, who benefits and who remains locked out of the commons system? How can we build systems that resist “the free market”? What role can educational cyber commons play in capitalist societies? We’ve been exploring these questions for a while now, but I think they are worthwhile to keep in mind as we shift our thinking towards our ITP projects.

Oppressed/Oppressor Dichotomy

Although it was not included in our reading assignment, I re-read the introduction. Immediately, Donaldo Macedo’s term “cultural schizoprhenia” (being present and yet not visible, being visible and yet not present) struck me (11). It seems as if many conversations around CUNY express this idea. I’ve heard the sentiment surrounding conversations regarding adjuncts and the changing CUNY demographics.

 

Freire’s  assertion that dehumanization negatively impacts those who are oppressed as well as the oppressors echoes one of Franz Fanon’s groundbreaking premises in Black Skin, White Masks (44). According to Freire, we cannot accept that this dehumanization is, historically speaking, the natural order of things. Here Freire states that the oppressed should assume a type of moral superiority and resist the urge to oppress oppressors as they (we) have been oppressed. It is therefore, our charge to free not only ourselves but our oppressors as well. Freire presents this idea as the foundation for his theory of problem-posing education.

 

I think that Freire still has a ton to offer us. Sadly, I’ve heard many professors across several CUNY campuses express contempt and/or pity for what they view as a body of students unworthy of their “knowledge”. This seems in line with Freire’s thinking. However, if we view CUNY through the same  lens of decoloniality as Freire, many, if not all,  teachers are also oppressed in one way or the other. All “professors” are not on the same socio-economic level; neither are we granted the same level of respect. Therefore, those practicing the same profession can fall on different sides of Freire’s oppressed/oppressor dichotomy. To complicate things even further, an “oppressed” professor can oppress students. Are these complications at odds with Freire’s manifesto? If so, can they be reconciled?Also, in the age of the corporate university, can our presence be described as cultural schizophrenia? How can we use technology to further what Freire calls libertarian education or problem-posing education?