Shaping an Open World

I think the ‘Open movement’ might have an image problem.

From the outside, and even from within, it might seem as though it’s a very low level affair. To many, I get the impression that it looks like it’s about toppling an industry, or implementing a policy change here or there. And with this lots of squabbling between different parties as we debate intricate things like appropriate licensing for creative works and the role of copyright, or how much we should pay for Open Access to research papers.

But for me, the ‘Open movement’ is about something much deeper.

It’s a collective vision about how we shape and embrace knowledge, something at the very core of us all, and the foundation of our civilisation.

What might come across as personal, industrial, or political change is just a façade of the reality. I think many movements might suffer from this sort of image, with a failure to manifest themselves beyond a small scale into the truly global-scale changes they’re trying to instigate.

What Open is about is the liberation of knowledge for humankind, and doing ourselves justice as a culture to things we all create, each designed to help us try and understand the world around us.

Open is a massive scale structural re-think towards how we treat and regard knowledge as a society. It’s about re-shaping cultural attitudes towards knowledge generation, and the sharing of that knowledge for the betterment of everyone. For me, this is the underlying motivation – that knowledge sharing benefits all of society. The real change here will remain physically unseen, as it has to occur in our hearts and minds.

It’s our job to help others see this vision, because if we can succeed in implementing it then we’d have made a step towards building a better world for every single person alive now and forever in the future. The foundation of an ‘open world’ is very much grounded in principles of freedom and equality, and you don’t have to be a scientist to figure out which is the right side to be on. Embrace them, and use them to fight for real change.

I think if we remind ourselves that it’s the bigger picture we’re working towards, it’ll make the smaller fights on the way to achieving it much more easy and manageable.

That’s what Open is about, and that’s why it’s important. This is how I see it anyway – I’d LOVE to know if people see similarly, or differently!

Part of the #JourneyToNowhere series 🙂


Rik Smith-Unna has a nice compilation of useful texts around this topic.

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About protohedgehog

Palaeontologist, just completed a PhD at Imperial College environmental drivers of biodiversity and extinction through geological time. Passionate about science communication and opening up the research process. Tweets vigorously as @protohedgehog. Freelance science writer and consultant, and author of kids book Excavate Dinosaurs.

2 thoughts on “Shaping an Open World

  1. Interesting piece.

    I think I may add my own little twist to this interpretation, possibly incorrect but one that does embrace knowledge formation, but also looks towards the impracticalities of knowledge within the divide of qualitative creative industries, shaping imagination and development, and that of the ‘audit culture’ of time pressure and the quantitative paradigm.

    I come from background, I guess I could say, of what is known as ‘creative methods’, or inventive methods for understand the world depending upon which language you want to use. I guess as a social researcher I am much more about championing the use of knowledge formation from the everyday and hitting at the heart of what matters for people. I come from the view of a creative and imaginative development. C W Mills argued that private troubles become public issues as people are unable to maintain these within the realm of their own private lives. What is more, people are alienated from the world around them because their private issues become public affairs on a greater scale, thus pushing these people into a majority and homogenising them as a group as opposed to people, thinking and individual people with lives, experiences and with something to say. I think it is important to consider that we do no justice to development and the people who we live with if knowledge is formed and shaped by those leading the field without consideration and access for people we are studying. For example, something maybe beautifully written and researched about a culture or the actions of people, but this knowledge is not for those people as we often get caught up in our own scholarly plans and productions. We should be making work available for everyone, especially those at the centre of ‘civilization’ as you would say for the sake of development and learning. At present the divide between them and us is huge. The way knowledge is formed, and ultimately reported and disseminated, maintains an elitest hierarchy between those who can understand the language of specific knowledge formations, ontological discourses, and those who have not been trained within a certain field.

    Consider the academic distinction between a technician, a profession, and that of a ‘craft’. I aim to work as the latter example. Mills, who I like using due to his keen eye and respect for development through imagination and creativity, argues the technician has a set of skills, way to carry out things, gather knowledge in this case, and is able to replicate the skills they have learnt. For the person aiming to work with the ‘craft’ of knowledge, it becomes an issue of reinventing knowledge and how we come to know the world. It involves creativity and imagination on a wider scale. As you stated, things go beyond publishing papers, implementing policy and change, formulating ways to justify what kind of knowledge is vital and relevant to the world in which we live. Sadly, in my view, this does not coincide with the ‘Open movement’ with which you have divided. In a nutshell, the open movement revolves around forming knowledge not for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of development and person growth. Within this culture that we live, one of what Latour (I think) calls normal science, there is a mask that all great pieces of work have been developed singly over a short space of time. This is not the case. Any form of knowledge, theory, practical investigation and world changing breakthrough has had a list of predecessors before it.

    I wonder how this is important? How does this tie in to my interpretation of the argument you have put forward? We have a coming crises, as put forward by the likes of Mike Savage, not just within the field of ontology and epistemology, but we have a crises in methods and knowledge formation that involves understanding the ‘everyday’, the mundane, the important things we take for granted. The issue we have with knowledge formation, cultivation and ultimately a benefit for society, for me can be placed into certain points, I guess something I can quickly look at here;

    1. We live in a quantitative society where the ‘everyday’ is no longer the centre of research, importance and value. ‘Audit culture’, referring to the way in which everything relevant is seen as statistical, has dominated the domain of people and the everyday. This can be seen with regards to funding for qualitative research, it is very difficult. This does not liberate knowledge.

    2. Qualitative methods once stood pride of place and importance for society almost a century ago. The value of personal interactions and forming ‘accessible’ knowledge for people we aim to benefit has been lost. This is due to having to iterate certain key words, methods and logical reasoning that fits into an officially useful discourse, often not useful to people who are alienated from the work which they partake in (hence my point on language and hierarchy earlier).

    3. Knowledge now is not personal. We produce knowledge within a field of rapid turnover. Knowledge sharing does not occur because only the most useful things for policy, money and politics tends to get used. Thirty years ago there was less pressure to speed up ‘quality’ research and knowledge, but now things have to be rushed and worked on within a scientific matter. Now, researchers have to justify every moment of their work, lives and research stages in order to maintain a level of respectability and development within their field.

    Ultimately, what is important within the domain of culture, is the way we treat and report about the people we aim to want to help and be there for. Knowledge generated should be shared, whilst being understood. Liberation cannot occur if tongues are cut out, to use the metaphor, or causing illiteracy and fear of the scholarly only increases a lack of progress towards development and understanding one another. At present, freedom and equality cannot occur until we realise who we are working for and working with. We have lost the ‘art’ of research, the ‘craft’ of knowledge and the imagination to make ourselves relevant and reinvent who we are as people with the power to help liberate and guide knowledge formation. I mean conventional methods data collection are no longer required, as the coming crises identified earlier has noted, we no longer need rapport or attention to detail as there are mass sources of data available that makes the active cultural researcher redundant. There exists telephone calls, historical patterns of behaviour, statistics and so forth that can now draw conclusions and make generalisations through probability and risk assessment. Consider websites such as No longer do we need to research what people want, the data is stored and people are recommended and assumed to be ‘one dimensional’, to use the term in Marcuse’s sense, and we lose human connection because the recommendations are great.

    There is still hope towards progress, liberation and a return to culture and the mundane. We are humans, we have ideas and creativities and we can still bring back human connection. Whilst I do not want to go on a rant about this, but my own work focuses upon a post-positivist (postmodern) stance denying any single claim to truth. We could research the same phenomenon and come up with different concepts and dimensions to what we want to find for example. I prefer the more human connecting methods, the interview, the narrative analysis, phenomenological thought you could say, as it allows the people we work with to have power in shaping knowledge. They can put into their own words what they want to say, free from judgement and alienation. We can use their words as the building blocks for change but we must all take up a stance to want to hear. In essence we are all ‘scientists’, experts in our own lives. I do not believe there is a right or wrong side to be on as you have identified but I believe we choose our allegiances to either form knowledge at the centre of culture and human relations or to alienate people. I think an end quote from Foucault would work well here;

    “I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jon,
      Deep thoughts on the bigger picture of open movement is very inspiring. Chris Costello’s comments – profound: to me, it reflects a contemporary synergism of CP Snow’s ‘The two cultures’ (1959) to remove disciplinary boundaries of knowledge. I agree with most part of the discussion, while I would like to add another dimension of perception of knowledge in the open. Unfortunately, not all of us have the privilege to learn from constant unlearning of incorrect old ideas/facts due to institutional indoctrination (some academics themselves happen to be an example of this phenomenon in the context of open knowledge vs quality of knowledge). Consistent with Jon’s idea that one doesn’t need to be inside the cocoon of science/academia, I will be glad to hear your thoughts on how we will be able to solve this problem in the bigger picture of open knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

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