and by doing ‘free’ labour).
This post presents the script of my #OER19 presentation and curates links to the recording and to the slides.
Oh, it was a 20 min presentation, so it’s gonna take 20 mins or so to read this post.
Networked Participatory Scholarship
My research is into open educational practices within the context of networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012).
In this presentation, I’ll outline how I conceptualised openness and how I utilised the idea of selfOER that Suzan Koseoglu and Maha Bali proposed at OER16. And how I used it as an interview prompt for discussion about open practices and the relationship with open educational resources. I’ll then go on to outline how my analysis and interpretation is progressing, highlighting the role of sharing and ‘little’ OERs (Weller, 2010) in open practices before going on to consider how value is created and the nature of labour that this involves.
Openness in Practice: S
Coining the term selfOER, Koseoglu & Bali proposed that understanding of open educational resources should be widened from one that primarily regards OER as openly licensed content to include individuals in the learning community. That is, to see individuals, or their practice, as open educational resources. They contend that an individual, or the self, and their practice can become an OER via the ‘process and products’ of open scholarship. Essentially, this is the connections, or relationships, that are formed and the resources that are produced. Within this, they also contend that many individuals hold openness as ‘a worldview’ or are open as ‘a way of being’ and that this is manifested in their practice.
The idea of openness as a way of being really resonated with me. What’s more, I was certain that this would resonate with others, so I used the idea of selfOER to facilitate interviews with 11 participants. Relative to their own practice, participants were asked to comment on the particular framing of openness and the depiction of practice within the idea of selfOER and to present a selection of texts, or resources, that exemplified their openness. This ‘show and tell’ method proved a very useful way to surface aspects of open practice, particularly the meanings that participants attribute to it and the relationship between practice and resources. And, yes, the concept of selfOER resonated. All 11 participants, for a whole host of different reasons, said openness as a worldview, or as a way of being, was how they framed their practice. And for many, openness directly equates to sharing.
Openness as a ‘Way of Being’ or ‘Worldview’
Participants said openness for them was:
- The human element
- Being open to others
- It’s about
life It’sabout freedom
Openness as Entangled Phenomenon
However, before I move on, I have to say that I was really challenged in the early stages of my research with questions like how does the self become an open educational resource and how might practice be seen as a resource? And also, the nature of the relationship between discourse and materiality, which came out of my MRes study. To resolve this I adopted Karen Barad’s idea of a ‘phenomenon’, which derives from quantum physics. Instead of focusing on separate entities or agencies with inherent boundaries and properties it means that openness is seen as a phenomenon in which there are no pre-determined boundaries between the individual self, the resources produced and technology. Consequently, within my study, openness is regarded as a single phenomenon, it is a process, or a doing, that is enacted in practice, material-discursive practice. It is the entanglement of meaning and matter, of human and
My study is an interpretive case study that essentially seeks to describe openness and its distributed nature.
Big and ‘L
At this point, I need to highlight the sorts of texts, or resources, that participants presented as exemplifying their openness, and that they share in practice.
Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) regard open, or networked participatory scholarship, as referring to teaching and research practices that espouse openness, and this takes three particular forms: (1) open access publishing, (2) open education, including OER and open teaching, and (3) networked participation. Participants referred to all these forms of scholarship and the texts, or resources, they presented covered this spectrum, but what was most noticeable was that everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, positioned their openness in relation to networked participation. This was either exemplified by their blog, their Twitter, an online community that they belonged to, or a combination of similar such things. Flickr and Instagram, even.
It seems that the aspect of social media and networked participation adds a certain vibrancy to openness. That is, it adds the human element. I was really struck by just how much meaning, purpose, desire and support, or care, was on display.
There was just so much life!! So much humanity!!
As such, the majority of texts, or resources, presented were not typical institutional OERs. They were what Martin Weller refers to as ‘little’ OER: individually produced, low cost resources that don’t have explicit educational aims or learning outcomes. Consequently, their use can be unpredictable and in unpredicted contexts.
Broadening the definition of OER to include ‘little OER’ now means that we can consider a continuum of resources. But, this begs the question, how little can a ‘little OER’ be, and what exactly is viable as an OER?
Big and Little and H
“Can a guest lecturer be an OER?” “Any resource that supports education is, at this point, is under consideration.” (Downes, 2006)
“I am a human OER” (Funes, 2014)
“I am an OER” (MacNeill, 2015) at OER15
“We are all an OER” (Sallah, 2018) at OER18
Sharing: Boundaries of Sharing in Network Culture
When researching a phenomenon, Scott & Orlikowski (2014) ask ‘what does the phenomenon depend on?’ ‘What drives
Kennedy points out that although sharing is a central concept of networked culture, its conceptual boundaries with other social theories of exchange haven’t been established, nor has the concept been adequately critiqued. Moreover, there are few empirical studies of how sharing is practiced when mediated by social media.
Added to this, the notion of sharing presents many possible meanings. It relates to the distribution or division of physical resources, as well as to the sharing of an experience or the disclosure of personal information. Goods shared can be material or immaterial. And immaterial goods can be intellectual or affective.
Consequently, sharing then has both social and economic dimensions, which are counterpoised in networked culture. A condition in which opposing forces are equal to one another and have
Typically, sharing in networked culture is explained in relation to gift giving and its feature of reciprocity. Across the board, in some way or another, participants in my study equated openness with reciprocity.
Explaining sharing in terms of gift giving and reciprocity distinguishes it from commodity exchange.
Sharing as a Demand, NOT a Gift.
But, do you know what? It turns out that there’s no discrete theory of sharing. Following the work of Marcel Mauss (1954), sharing has conventionally been explained as a sub-category of gift exchange theory. However, anthropologists, such as Widlok (2016), who mainly study hunter-gatherer societies have a host of empirical evidence that refutes sharing as being reciprocal.
Gifting involves giving, receiving and reciprocating. As such, it’s a two-way exchange between two people. It’s about establishing and strengthening social bonds, as in kinship relations. Sharing
What’s more, sharing’s not initiated by the giver; rather, it’s prompted by the receiver in the form of a demand. This demand is made on the basis of individuals, humans, sharing needs derived from the fact that they share the experience of life itself and that they recognise this. The demand can be spoken or silent. This silent demand is founded on bodily presence. In the context of human sociality, bodily presence by itself constitutes a demand, a demand for being acknowledged as a human being with legitimate needs. For example, in anthropology, it’s frequently observed that a person who silently positions themselves next to a fire or a cooking pot will most likely be given something by those tending to it. Online, bodily presence equates to
Sharing practices are established through bodily co-presence, but they also involve communication, or speech acts, to structure the process. Plus, they also depend on the relationship, or affordance, of the thing being shared, as well as being influenced by the nature, or materiality, of the physical space involved.
The Internet is fundamentally a sharing technology. Its surveilling properties enable us to imagine the watching presence of others; its infrastructure facilitates efficient resource sharing and the addition of social media enables the social dimension of communication. The upshot is that the Internet enables both the ‘sharing out’ of resources and the ‘sharing in’ of life’s experiences.
Seen like this, and in contrast to gift giving, sharing is about creating opportunities and gaining access to what’s needed or valued. It’s not a matter of obligation and the imperative to reciprocate. Rather, it’s about the “opportunity to request” (Widlok, 2016, p.80), which means that the initative is with the potential recipient. It enables them to request what they need, things that are not already out there or easily located.
Sharing is a way to achieve one’s
Sharing in Open Practices
Verbal demand – Given this understanding of sharing in relation to openness we can see that when Pearl says “I ask for help” that we’re not talking about gift giving because people don’t generally ask to be given gifts. She’s demanding access to what she needs. Pearl was struggling with an aspect of her research so, in order to get help, she set up a Facebook support group to get the help she needed. Now others can join the group and similarly ask for help.
“I ask for help.” “Me myself, […] I’ve needed help from other people, so I’ve been relying on others’ self as OER to help me.” Pearl (anon)
Silent demand – Then there’s the silent demand from the invisible, imagined, other. It was noticeable just how many participants were conscious of having an audience, and the possibility that there were people out there with unfulfilled needs or who’d find something they had to be of value. They hoped their posts, or their
“Maybe one sentence I’ve said somewhere in the blog will be useful to someone somewhere in the world.” Gabi Witthaus
“I’m quite conscious is this going to be of use to somebody else.” Judy (anon)
Sharing life – It was also
Creating opportunities – As we can now appreciate, sharing is about
“It’s partially controlled; it’s partially serendipitous; it’s very active, but also it’s creating opportunities for yourself.” Laura Gogia
People participate in communities and networks because there’s value in it. If people don’t get value, they won’t participate.
In the first instance, value is derived in the immediate term, from the experience of participation itself. This can simply be through connecting with others, asking a question, passing on information or providing feedback. Or just being with others who understand your challenges can also be a source of support and motivation.
On the other hand, value, in the form of knowledge capital is something that can be realised later, and this can take a number of forms. Participating in communities and networks helps develop an individual’s knowledge, skills and competencies. T
Social relations and connections are also a form of knowledge capital, and the cultivation of one’s reputation is a social achievement that can also operate as a knowledge resource.
Undoubtedly, open practices contribute to a reputational economy. Amongst the
Value of Open Practices and the Labour Market
However, it’s the role of use value that intrigues me in all of this, and commodification. It seems that open sharing practices are built around the concept of value as use and that this helps foster the way in which value is created.
Scholars such as Benkler (2006) and Bauwens (2005) argue that the peer2peer sharing economy is founded on the promise of use value over exchange value and a partnership between the peer economy and the market.
However, I’m not sure how this works exactly. We’ve already acknowledged that once something like a little OER is ‘out there’ its use is unpredictable in unpredicted contexts. It could easily become a commodity.
Moreover, as Kennedy (2016) points out, the exchange of information data and immaterial labour that constitute open sharing practices gets transformed into a commodity to be exchanged. Indeed, Audrey Watters (2018) has recently highlighted the aspect of value and the “invisibility” of labour in open practices.
The relationship of openness to the labour market and the precarity of higher education was a noticeable feature in my study. 5 out of 11 participants related to it in one way or another. Maeve and Libby acknowledged that they could see the benefit of sharing and open practices in order to secure employment in precarious circumstances. And Gabi, said she was appreciative of the identity and support that open scholarship afforded her when she was in-between institutions.
“When I’ve been on short term contracts I also was able to see the benefits of sharing practice so that people […] could Google me and they could see that I was motivated and interested.” Maeve (anon)
“I’ve managed to keep myself permanently employed in a field that moves very very fast and is very very precarious.” Libby (anon)
“Being an open scholar gives me an identity that’s not tied to an institution and I’m very appreciative of that because I can quite imagine a scenario if I’d been in a very closed environment and then was suddenly without an institutional home, I’d be feeling very isolated right now.” Gabi Witthaus
Invisible ‘Free’ Labour and Biopower
It’s important to analyse what’s not included in material-discursive practices. What’s excluded matters because it remains in play as a constitutive element. And guess what’s not included in the discourse of open? Labour!! Overwhelmingly, the emphasis is on the product, not the producer. Labour is downplayed and labelled as ‘creativity’.
Considering that networked participatory scholarship requires the construction and performance of identities, which are essentially established through a range of strategies involving some aspect of our life, or our “bios”, I’m drawn to Foucault’s idea of biopower, a disciplinary form of power over life itself, and how this seems to have become appropriated into the workplace for productive purposes. Moreover, how sharing seems to feed into this, considering that we’re practically compelled to share as we recognise our needs in others.
Under the term biocracy, Fleming (2013)
highlights how productivity is increasingly dependent on social and personal
aspects of human life for its value-creating qualities. Much
of this ‘tacit’ dimension can’t be sourced or nurtured inside the institution. It’s not just a matter of formal learning and explicit codified knowledge anymore. Value is increasingly derived from aspects of tacit knowledge that’s learnt socially or informally. Moreover, it’s generally developed beyond the formal remuneration process and as
What’s at Stake? The Social Commons
So, why does this matter? What’s at stake? Because it represents the enclosure of social value. It’s the social commons that’s at stake. It’s the onslaught of the social factory (Hardt and Negri, 2000).
After transcribing participant interviews I wrote in my notes the words “total capture”, and I’ve been trying to understand what this means ever since.
Enclosing social value and the capture of the social commons forms the basis of neoliberal human capital theory (Hanlon, 2012). That is, we’re no longer just participants in an economic exchange relationship, rather we’re the living embodiment of capital.
Sharing practices operationalise, or CAPTURE, value production from forms of socialisation founded on a communistic nature. Utilising our life, or our bios, the diffusion of sharing practices promotes the systemic integration of ephemeral forms of sociality into value creation chains.
Consequently, scholars are beginning to see sharing as the indication of a broader process of re-socialising economic exchange. That is, market exchange, or commodification, is becoming increasingly embedded in society in new and antagonising ways (Pais and Provasi, 2015).
Life is Sharing
Yes, indeed, life is sharing, but to what extent is life capital? That is the question.
And to what extent is the self an open education resource, or simply a human resource?
Because, as Maeve (anon) concludes:
“Ultimately, I am the resource.”
I hope I’ve explained my research clearly, and my concerns.
References: available here
Image: Jonathan Saavedra on Unsplash
Note: a number of research participants chose to waive their right to anonymity.