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The call to care and the common.

This post was originally published on the OER20 website on November 18, 2019

Yay, can you believe it, #OER20 is gearing up already. Interesting that the theme is care in openness because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. In fact, I blogged about it after #OER17 ‘Thinking critically about women and care relative to openness’. Basically, I noticed that openness is being shaped by a discourse of care and that there was a strong feminist thread. But, I guess that’s not news anymore 😊.

So, moving on, in terms of discourse, Foucault argued that discourses create subjects and objects; indeed, discourses call to us and ask us to take up subject positions within them. In this way, discourses specify ways of seeing and being in the world. Foucault also argued that discourses have sway over human agency. He considered discourses to bear power and that the production of knowledge cannot be separated from discourses and their practices, practices that regulate, order and administer aspects of social life.

Given this, the question is, why are we being called to care? What interests are served when we care? That’s what I’d like to know.

In the conference call, I really enjoyed reading Samuel Moore’s article in ‘The Commons and Care’, which connects matters of care to the commons. The article highlights that the commons is not just a resource, but a mode of production. That is, the commons is not just a freely accessible resource; rather, it’s a way of producing and managing shared resources. As such, a holistic understanding of the commons calls for an appreciation of not just the resource but also its users and producers and the practices and social relationships between them.

I want to reposition the commons – or ‘commoning’ specifically – as a practice of cultivating and caring for the relationships that exist around the production of shared resources

(Moore, 2018, p.17).

In a similar vein, Hardt and Negri (2009) advance the theory of ‘The Common’. Their conception also emphasises the process of production as well as the need to recognise the integrality of labour within this. However, their aim is to advance an understanding of the process of production for capital as undertaken across the whole of society – the common. They argue that we have transitioned to an era of biopolitical production in which whole areas of life previously regarded as outside of capitalist production are now productive not only for the common, but also in the interests of capital.

 Living beings as fixed capital are at the center of this transformation, and the production of forms of life is becoming the basis of added value (Hardt and Negri, 2009 p. 132).

Given that social resources and personal attributes are an increasingly important factor in contemporary forms of capitalist accumulation, Hardt and Negri highlight the role of immaterial and affective labour. Affective labour might be appreciated from an understanding of what feminist analyses call ‘labour in the bodily mode’, or caring labour.

Following these lines of thought, a passage I read recently in ‘Life put to work’ seems quite disturbing.

The highest point of contemporary capitalist profit is consequential to a proliferation of differences that are the base of the affective economy. At stake is ‘how to incorporate the maternal feminine in order to better metabolize its effects, since it has become a valuable commodity, to be spent on the market’ (Braidotti, 2008: 71).

Morini and Fumagalli, 2010, p.245

Holy smoke! I just noticed that my #OER17 blogpost ends with a conference #Iwill pledge.

#IWill engage critically and earnestly with feminist approaches and concerns relating to openness and edtech.

Well, I’ve certainly been true to my word, probably more than I bargained for. It also looks like I might be starting to answer my own question. Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see how others interpret the theme of openness and care and how the theme develops.

Talking of others, I’d like to briefly introduce the work of fellow committee organiser and IET PhD colleague, Jess Carr. I noticed Jess had signed up for #OER20 and was wondering what the connection was between her research and the theme of openness and care, if any, so I interviewed her. You’ll be pleased to know it’s a very heart-warming connection.

Jess’s research is in the area of citizen science. Together with the charity My Life My Choice, Jess is working with adults with learning difficulties to see what support the scientific community can provide in order to help these individuals engage with science and with citizenship, indeed, to become citizen scientists. The project involves a group undertaking their own research. I’ll let Jess tell you the details of her research, but what I found interesting when talking to her was how her participants framed citizenship. For them, a citizen is a caring individual, plain and simple. Moreover, they thought research should be relevant to real lives and should be about stopping harm and helping others.

With the theme of openness and care, #OER20 is sure to ignite some interesting discussions. The conference organisers asked Why should we care?  How can we care? I think the research I’ve highlighted might just give us a clue.

P.S. I’m including the link to Martin Oliver’s BERA keynote slides, “Educational technology: why should we care?” because it totally chimes with ‘the care in openness’.


Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2009) Commonwealth, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Moore, S. (2018) ‘The “Care-full” Commons: Open Access and the Care of Commoning’, in Deville, J., Moore, S., and Nadim, T. (eds), The Commons and Care, Coventry, Post Office Press and Rope Press [Online]. Available at

Morini, C. and Fumagalli, A. (2010) ‘Life put to work: Towards a life theory of value.’, Ephemera: theory & politics in organization, vol. 10, no. 3/4, pp. 234–52.


Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

My Quilt of Learning #OER19.

Image: Frances Bell on Flick. From the album: ‘ Evolution of a Quilt.’

I got sidetracked before I started writing this post; that is, my #OER19 reflective post. I knew I wanted to write about the ‘patchwork’ of my learning highlights from the conference and that in her keynote Kate Bowles used the idea of quilting to make us stop and think about the labour that’s involved in producing the things we share as finished products. Consequently, I needed an image of a quilt for this post. Unsplash didn’t cut the mustard for a CC licensed image so I headed to Frances Bell’s website because I knew she’d recently blogged about her experience of quilting. However, it was the link to her Flickr album and a series of photographs documenting the ‘Evolution’ of the quilt that was genuinely insightful. So much flippin’ work went into it.

It also made me recall a comment from my supervisor when I said that I was (for now) using the definition of openness proposed by Baker (2017). Namely, openness as “the possession of transparency and freedom” (p. 132). He was rather surprised by the association of openness with freedom because he said he’d just (re)started blogging as part of his practice and it didn’t feel like freedom to him. It felt like hard work.

Anyway, all in all, I’m pleased that the conversation at OER19 and in open circles has started to think about the producer and not just the end product. The human resource, and not just the open educational resource, or OER. Hurray, because that’s kind of the nub of my research findings.

It was pretty awesome how the keynotes complimented each other and added something to the others’. In a truly extraordinarily thought-provoking presentation, Su-ming Khoo drew our attention to the history of colonisation and how value has been enclosed and extracted in the past. And how it should bloomin’ well get us wondering how value is being created or enclosed and extracted in the age of ### capitalism that we now live in.

Drawing on the work of Karen Barad and quantum physics, Su also highlighted the notion of entanglement. How humans and technology have always been entangled in the messy, unknowable-beforehand ‘becoming’ of the world. All this was good to hear, seeing as I’m also using Barad’s idea of entanglement in my research.

Both Kate’s and Su’s keynotes gave me confidence that the themes I’m picking up in my research seem to be well-founded: labour, value and the role of sharing etc.

Talking of research, that was another highlight, or patchwork, of learning. There were some genuinely excellent research presentations at OER19 this year. Simon Horrocks already highlighted the impact of the GO_GN network of researchers, which I’m fortunate enough to be a member of. Indeed, the keynote panel comprised three doctoral researchers from the network, Caroline Kuhn, Judith Pete and Taskeen Adams, and collectively they gave us three critical and global perspectives to help us to ‘Recenter Open’. The conference theme.

Following Sharon Flynn’s entreaty in the opening welcome address to attend a session about an aspect of open that you might not necessarily be familiar with, I attended one of the final parallel sessions of Day 1. I had thought I might slope off early and get ahead of the crowd for the evening’s social event, but thinking better of it I decided to go along to hear about the research of Helene Pulker and Irina Rets. Although I know Helene from GO_GN and Irina from the Open University, I know very little about their research given that it’s in the area of languages. And, I’d bumped into Samuel, the third presenter, at breakfast and was intrigued about his research. Anyway, the upshot is, I was impressed with the quality of the presentations, the research and the hard questions that they were unearthing and asking of open education. Sadly, this session wasn’t recorded.

Presentations of research in progress that sound equally intriguing and hard-hitting came from Jim Luke and his exploration of the economics of higher education and the idea of ‘Open as Commons’, and also from Billy Meinke who in his presentation about the politics of tech and open asked “what’s your philosophy of technology?” Because that pretty much accounts for the state we’re in now and the future we’re creating. Both presentations were recorded and are well worth watching and following to see how they develop.

The other thing I took away in my patchwork quilt of learning from OER19 was the power of stories. Real stories of real people. I can’t do the separate presentations of Francis Bell, Johanna Funk and Sara Thomas justice here. But needless to say, they powerfully invoked the experiences of older users of technology, of aspects of indigenous practice in northern Australia and the experience of two of history’s forgotten women as rescued through a Wikimedia project.

It was great spending time with people from all over the planet at OER19, people I know from Twitter, people I know from my research at the OU and through GO_GN and people I know now because they came to Galway to be part of OER19 on the ground. And here, it was a real bonus to meet Iwona for the first time; my ‘Signals of Success’ collaborator and MOOCing buddy, which was pretty much responsible for getting me into a PhD scholarship and for getting me to OER19 to present the thing.

Finally, just to say thank you the co-chairs, Catherine and Laura, and to everyone who contributed to making OER19 the event that it was. It’s appreciated.

Baker, F. W. (2017) ‘An Alternative Approach: Openness in Education Over the Last 100 Years’, TechTrends, vol. 61, no. 2, pp. 130–140 [Online]. DOI: 10.1007/s11528-016-0095-7.
Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham, Duke University Press Books.

Enacting the Value of Openness by Sharing #OER19

(and by doing ‘free’ labour).

This post presents the script of my #OER19 presentation and curates links to the recording and to the slides.

The Script

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: SelfOER

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
  • Sharing
  • Identity
  • Being open to others
  • It’s about life
  • It’s about 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 non-human actors.

My study is an interpretive case study that essentially seeks to describe openness and its distributed nature.

Big and ‘Little‘ OER

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 Human(?) OER

Back in 2006 Stephen Downes asked whether people could be considered open educational resources. And since then a number of people have asserted that yes they can.

“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 practice?’ Well, overwhelmingly, and no surprise, openness is enabled by sharing.

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 balancing or contrasting effects.

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 on the other hand is not reciprocal because although you might receive something through sharing, you’re not obligated to give something back to the same person. Sharing then is a one way transfer that’s multi-directional. It’s not about strengthening social bonds per se; it’s about enabling, indeed maximising, access opportunities all round. It’s an economic mode of transfer that enables others to access what is needed, or is of intrinsic value. Sharing provides an alternative to both gift-exchange and market exchange.

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 embodied presence and the invisible ‘other’, or the ‘lurker’.

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 needs, or reach one’s goals, through the help of others. It’s the recognition that fellow human beings can provide what’s needed and the power that’s asserted based on the recognition that we share life and understand what others require.

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 comments, or their resources would be useful to others.

“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 noticeable just how much the texts or resources presented exhibited personal or social aspects. That is, affective goods. There was such a lot of ‘lived experience’ on display, relating to both professional and personal life. Jeff (Merrell) narrates his course design decisions, Sheila (MacNeill) blogs about her “struggles” with openness, Rebecca (Hogue) shared her breast cancer story and now researches this area, and Laura (Gogia) openly documents, or narrates, aspects of her personal life and professional practice .

Creating opportunities – As we can now appreciate, sharing is about opportunity, the opportunity to request access to things we need or solicit opportunities for ourselves. Laura puts her finger on it when she says, the interrelated practice of sharing and openness is partially controlled and partially serendipitous. Either way, she says it’s about creating opportunities for yourself. She gives the example of provoking a discussion on Twitter by making a deliberately controversial statement. The exchange resulted in her being invited to contribute to a podcast.

“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. That is, it develops their human capital.

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 participants there was no shortage of benefits derived from cultivating one’s reputation: invitations to speak at conferences, for example. Reputation translates into a form of exchange value, as does human capital.

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 such it takes on the form of ‘free work’. Free work, or free labour, in the biocratic academy harnesses our ‘free time’; and it relies on our autonomy and ability to self-organise and our drive for self-development.

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.”

Thank You.

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.