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Benkler: Economies of Information


The Wealth of Networks provides a detailed, complex and historically situated analysis of the shifting nature of the information-knowledge economy. Benkler’s main claim is that we are moving away from an industrial information economy characterized by the material and socio-political conditions of a capitalist model of information production and towards a networked information economy. While the former is hegemonic and homogenous, the latter is characterized by what Benkler calls “radical decentralization”. He explains that our digital ecology is shaped by “new and important cooperative and coordinated action carried out through radically distributed, non-market mechanisms that do not depend on proprietary strategies.” (3) Effectively, the material conditions (cheap computers etc) and socio-political practices (peer to peer sharing of ideas, knowledge, cultural artifacts etc) of the internet produce a vastly different ecology of how information is produced, re-produced, distributed and shared. The symbiotic relationship between the technologies of the internet and the practices surrounding it have shaped a new economy of information and knowledge that complicates, resists and sometimes subverts social, cultural and political production.

In the chapter “Cultural Freedom: A Culture Both Plastic and Critical” Benkler goes on to  map out the role of culture in the networked information economy, and its effect on shaping the new public sphere. He makes the claim that culture is fluid, intangible and evolving, constantly re-defining and negotiating power, legitimacy and social relations. However, it does so within particular structural (techno-social-political) parameters. Benkler argues that these largely include information technologies, and in particular the political economy in which knowledge is produced and disseminated. From the printing press to newscasting, broadcast technology has determined the terms and shape in which the masses interacted with information. The culture surrounding that interaction was based on a one-to-many model of information dissemination. The internet has changed the very shape and structure of that interaction. Power, legitimacy and social relations are fundamentally changed in a networked information economy. Benkler locates the shift within and through cultural production that emerges out of the material and socio-political conditions of information technologies. In other words, looking at how culture works is an important avenue to understanding the effects and changes that the internet has had on society:

“Cultural freedom occupies a position that relates to both political freedom and individual autonomy, but is synonymous with neither. The root of it is that none of us exist outside of culture. As individuals and as political actors, we understand the world we occupy, evaluate it, and act in it from within a set of understandings and frames of meaning and reference that we share with others…How those frames of meaning are shaped and and by whom become central component so the structure of freedom for those individuals and societies that inhabit it and are inhabited by it.” (274)

As such the radically decentralized networks present themselves as a new way of negotiating identity and politics (and identity politics) outside of the industrial information economy that imposes a particular logic and order on our social worlds. Rather, an alternative space is carved out where citizens have the capacity to be active participants in the co-construction of a society based in democratic principles (if not Democracy itself). The networked society enables people to be participants in the changing frames of meanings and reference that mediate the terms by which we live and interact.

Provocation: What role do we have as educators in deploying (educational)technologies in the classroom that better resemble the networked information economy as opposed to the industrial information economy? What role do platforms such as Blackboard or CUNY Commons play in this schema?

Provocation: Do you think that Benkler oversimplifies the split between these two economies? Doesn’t broadcast media still play a fundamental role in what information is gathered and distributed? Can we operate our information world simply through networks?

Ben Fry, “On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces”

Looking at information displayed in the digitized version of Charles Darwin’s  “On Origin of Species” I felt that Ben Fry  was in some way critiquing the evolution of the presentation of written text.  I felt a lot like  the character of Neo in the Matix, when in the film he looks at the code and is told that there is meaning embedded in the streaming numbers  and patterns on the screen.

No matter how many times I looked at the project, it was difficult for me to really accept it as a readable text. I realized that in order for me to truly accept it, I would have to create for myself a paradigm shift about reading. Digitizing texts opens a whole new world of presentation. There are an infinite amount of ways that people can think of to interact with on line text and we  are probably just touching the surface.

I paused the running text, then sped it up and slowed it down, stopping it to see what information was at hand. I felt that trying to read it in any linear fashion made no sense, and I tried to give myself over to the randomness of stopping in different places to take in the information. My provocations are around the uses of this type of archiving.

  1. Who is a project like this for?
  2. What are its uses?
  3. Will it fundamentally change how the average person looks for or reads information?
  4. Is this a format that lends itself to literature or just scientific text, and is that the point? ( The fact that the subject is scientific, does that make it more accessible to experimentation.

DH, Facebook, Critical Re-Production and The Paris Bombings

As I was reading the piece “Digital Humanities Not About Building But About Sharing” it made me think of Facebook. My thinking around media in general and social media in particular has evolved over time, from a determinist perspective on how technologies mediate and facilitate our thinking-being-interacting etc. to something a bit more complex and dynamic. I’ve come to appreciate that fact that a) all tools mediate the ways we do things, including a spoon and a paper cup (the technology of disposal cups have changed food culture in urban areas where it has become “normal” to eat/have a cup of coffee on the go, drastically changing our relationship to meal times, meal spaces and meal rituals). And b) it is more productive to think of the relationship between people and tools as  the co-construction of our social worlds through an evolving and fluid negotiation of use.

From this perspective, dismissing FB (and whatever other types of social media that people use) as mindless/meaningless/consumerist/indulgent is to reduce the ways that the medium is used in productive ways. If Mark Sample states that the “heart of the digital humanities is not the production of knowledge; it’s the reproduction of knowledge” then we should give the practice and concept of re-production value. Recalling Benjamin’s piece from the beginning of the semester, I draw on two inter-related elements of reproduction that can be applied to FB. First, that the holy is rightly profaned- the inaccessible is removed from the pedestal and re-situated within the reach and use of masses, essentially allowing a politicization of the event/object. Second, that it is democratic. Facebook (and other social media) have been able to re-shape what we do with knowledge. The medium has allowed knowledge to be re-situated from mass (broadcast) media that has characterized the way people receive and interact with news/information for a very long time, and placed it in a format that allows for a close/messy/intimate interfacing of various perspectives. It has opened up information to discussion, debate and criticism through a practice of critical reproduction.

One such example is the unfortunate terrorist attacks in Paris this past week. While the major news channels broke the details of the violence as they unfolded, the Facebook community began various discussions around the issue- ranging from debate around Islamaphobia, to dissent around what gets coverage/value. While Paris received news coverage after the horrific violence, the equally horrific bombing in Beirut a day earlier went largely under-reported. As news unfolded, the event was claimed and re-claimed through various political and ideological lenses. These lenses provided contexts through which to understand and navigate the information, as well as provide a forum for discussion

Furthermore, discussions came not only in the form of commentary, but in the sharing of news pieces that resist, enhance and complicate dominant narratives and understanding around information. As such, one can read the discussions on FB as counter-discourses generated through these various political and ideological lenses.

Critical reproduction of knowledge is privileged in this medium, resisting the hegemonic master-narratives that are often imposed by US/Western News media. This fits within the framework of the Digital Humanities, where sharing of knowledge in itself becomes a productive and critical activity. “The promise is in the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge. We are no longer bound by the physical demands of printed books and paper journals, no longer constrained by production costs and distribution friction, no longer hampered by a top-down and unsustainable business model. And we should no longer be content to make our work public achingly slowly along ingrained routes, authors and readers alike delayed by innumerable gateways limiting knowledge production and sharing.”



Who will Own Our Information Now? Freedman and Hypertext

I never thought much about the transference of data from codex to the internet before now.  I guess I just thought that someone decided to put it there and wham, anyone with a computer would have access to it. The digitalization of books call into question quite a few issues that are on second glance much more critical than books over digital database.

Who decided what texts are important enough to be digitized is the first issue at hand. There are untold millions of books by millions of authors but the importance given to specific books makes them as important as they are. Digitizing books is another layer of preserving the canon that exists to raise some texts up while devaluing others.

Who owns the texts that are being digitized and is the access to them equal? I mentioned earlier that anyone that has access to a computer would have access to these texts, but the digital divide is still real, so those without computers and/or internet access will certainly have difficulty accessing digitized text. Freedman himself asks – in Latin no less, who it is that polices the databases?

As teachers increasingly look to the internet for ready made curriculum and on line access to text analysis,we are left to wonder whether the author’s original intent will be obscured, if if fact we ever knew it. Or, how much of the hypertext that is attached to digitized text is telling teacher how and what to think about a certain text?

Lastly, in an age when more education programs teacher teacher to follow curriculum as opposed to teaching them to create curriculum, where is the place for deep analysis and original thought regarding archived text?

I think that digitizing text is not so much a bad thing, but being wary of the questions that the process summons is imperative.

Provocations: 1)How can we as consumers of this medium have a voice in the process?

2) Each iteration of data has been it its way laden with issues, Have we learned for the issues of the past with regards to managing and sharing information/texts? (Think the printing press and forward)



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?


Errors and Expectations

Hi All,

I apologize for writing this so late in the week. I’m inundated by student papers at the moment. Perhaps this is the perfect time to be thinking about Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations. In the introduction, the most famous section of the book, Shaughnessy explains that the era of open admissions at CUNY presented a huge influx of students to the then-free CUNY campuses, many many many of whom were unprepared for college writing by the most generous of traditional standards. Much more importantly, instructors trained “to analyze belletristic achievements of the centuries” were completely unprepared for those struggling student writers. From this emerged the concept of the “Basic Writer” (BW), and a body of work aimed to assist Basic (or, now often called, developmental) writers “catch up.”

The big takeaway from this section is twofold. First, Shaughnessy warns instructors against assuming that student writing errors are random or lack an attempt to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. She urges instructors to recognize patterns in student error and to respond to the logic(s) they see within/behind those patterns. Additionally, she stresses that instructors should not see the ‘basic’ of basic writing [as] not how to write but how to be right” (6). Shaughnessy’s aim is not to make student writing error the focus of the class but to inform instructors the errors of their own common interpretations of basic student writing. “[Since] teachers’ preconceptions about errors are frequently at the center of their misconceptions about BW students, I have no choice but to dwell on errors” (6).

Shaughnessy concludes her introduction with an explanation of her view of the role of error in student writing. She describes the BW student’s struggle to write despite the writer’s awareness of the probability of the reader’s criticism over error, and she places the importance of error in no more prominent or important a place than in the economy of audience attention. If the text takes too much time and effort without a big enough payback (it’s not Milton, after all) for the audience then the prose needs reworking. It’s important to distinguish this outlook from one that would suggest BW textual errors amount to illiteracy or an illegitimacy of the writer’s place in college. From errors we’ll now move to expectations.

The major takeaway from “Chapter 8: Expectations” is simply (deceptively simply) that instructors can expect students to improve significantly with regular, though not intensive, instruction based on an understanding of the patterns and logics at work in BW texts. I should, here, note that when I use the phrase “patterns and logics” I’m trying to forward a sense of the concrete that Shaughnessy provides when she advocates for basic writers. I refer to the evidence, which she provides, of something at the heart of what Shaughnessy wants instructors to understand about basic writers: that they are fundamentally intelligent people who deserve a college education and a place in public discourse.

I’d love to elaborate further, but I need to return to my students’ papers. On Monday, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Shaughnessy’s premise in our current system. How much is education actually based on her fundamental premise? How much is your pedagogy driven by this understanding? Is this at the heart of things, or not so much?





Still Dewy After All These Years; Experience and Education

I have not known any scholar for whom the reading of Dewey is an easy undertaking. I am no exception yet, I am always compelled to analyze and discuss his work because as an educational theorist, his work continues to be prescient and pivotal to the American educational system, as it currently exists. As difficult as it is to analyze Dewey, I will try to distill him into a few concrete points.

Dewey’s theories are formed in the nexus of the ending of industrialism. He comes of age at the start of the progressive era where new ideas about society, work and citizenship. Everything about America was changing at this time of societal expansion and it all filtered into our education system. John Dewey was one of the most major contributors to our changing educational system.

In the essay Experience and Education, Dewey discussed the inherent tension of creating and managing systems on a macro level and showed us that education sits as squarely within that tension as any other system. Dewey illustrated the divide that existed and still exists between theory and practice as well as the need to dispense with the “isms” that create a bifurcated view of education.

Dewey pointed to the issues surrounding the practice of traditional education as stagnation and looking backward towards already constructed knowledge. Such teaching pre-supposes the teacher as the sole power in a classroom, and puts forth curriculum that can be uncreative, disconnected from the youth and devoid of real world application. According to Dewey “Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct are enforced.”(p5) It is in this way, that teachers become transmitters of culture but also keepers of the status quo for both good and ill.

Conversely, progressive education presents its own problems in form, function and organization as well as the locus of authority and control. Dewey posed the question of whether when external authority is rejected whether “it does not follow that all authority should be rejected, but rather that there is need to search for a more effective source of authority.” (7) Dewey also discussed the “inchoate” nature of curriculum that is driven by amorphous ideas which in modern times continues to be an issue for progressive constructivist educators. Ultimately he points to the tendency for both sides to drown in dogma, rendering both sides as ineffective and lobbies for a more integrative approach to teaching and learning.

Gert Biesta in his book The Beautiful Risk of Education (2013), Biesta continues Dewey’s discussion. Feeling still the need to challenge the schisms of traditional VS. progressive theories of education, as well as the ill informed division of theory from practice. As a former classroom teacher and currently as a professor in teacher education programs it is interesting to note that the conversation hasn’t changed that much. My hope is that that tension that Dewey discussed will continue to keep us moving forward and looking at what works. Showing us that there is little benefit from being dichotomous.

My provocations:

  • How can we move forward from the current dichotomy of theories about education into a more integrative model.
  • What is the implication for teacher education programs in a time where curriculum is bought and sold, often with little input from the teachers who will use it.
  • Dewey is often misquoted or understood in very segmented ways. How can we as educators get a greater understanding of his theories as practice in modern times?
  • Can the cyclical discussion of traditional VS progressive education be solved, and is it beneficial to the field of education that it is not?