Student demands for democratic control over universities

ours_to_master

These notes are the start of an ongoing attempt to document each instance where occupying students or/and academics include greater democratic governance among their demands from university management (and where they don’t, why?). My gut feeling is that forms of self-management and worker control (among whom I include students) is increasingly becoming a key demand when students go into occupation. There is a long tradition of workers’ control in other organisations (including an entire academic field of study) and I’d like to think about how self-management of higher education can be achieved (in theory and in practice). The list is currently overwhelming centred on the UK, but I’m interested in examples from anywhere and from any time. Regardless of your specific interest in worker control of higher education, you may find the list a convenient way into student occupation websites and their demands whilst in occupation. If you can add to any of these examples below, please leave a comment or email me. Thanks. 

Manchester, May 2015: “we demand a student-staff body, directly elected by students and academic and non-academic staff, responsible for making all managerial decisions of the institution. The university is nothing but the sum of its parts. Students and workers are at the essence of this institution and thus should have direct and democratic control.”

Kings College London, March 2015: “As a high profile London University we need to demonstrate that is no longer acceptable to run our universities on the basis of profit; instead it needs to be done democratically by the students and staff members. We want everyone’s voices to be heard, not just those at the very top who operate with under a thin veil of transparency.” [Demands]

University of the Arts, London, March 2015: “We are protesting against cuts to education in general, the lack of democracy, diverse representation and student input within this institution, and the continued undermining of our rights to free education.” [Demands]

London School of Economics, March 2015: “1) An open discussion with the directors and pro-directors of LSE, within the first week of summer term, on university democracy to clarify to students and staff how the current system works. This will be the starting point for a wider and more inclusive public discussion on the issue of accountability and failing democratic institutions, leading to concrete proposals for improvement to the current system. 2) We demand the formation of an Independent Review Committee comprising of academic staff (1/3), non-academic staff (1/3) and students (1/3). The role of this committee will be to investigate the current system and propose reforms. 3)  All Committee meetings should be minuted and these minutes should be published in less than 7 working days so as to be publicly available to LSE students and staff.”

New University, Amsterdam, February 2015: “1. Democratisation and decentralisation of university governance.”

Sussex, 2012: “A commission of students, staff and lecturers to be formed. With full remit to re-evaluate procedures and channels for holding management accountable as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in these decisions.”

Edinburgh University, 2011: “Universities should be democratically organised: directly controlled by staff and students.”

Glasgow University, 2011: “The Hetherington Research Club to be returned to democratic control by students and staff, with the return of the block grant.”

University College London, November 2010: “We demand an increase in the number of students on the council. These students should be directly elected through UCLU. We assert that all staff of UCL have an equal right to take part in the decision making process of the university. We therefore demand that UCL includes non-academic staff on the council. We require concrete evidence of a plan of action that includes specific time-measured goals for implementing these changes, to be discussed at the next Council meeting. Regarding the academic board, we wish to re-implement genuine democracy through an increase in student representation and the re-introduction of elected Deans.”

Occupations that don’t explicitly demand democratisation of the university

Edinburgh, May 2015

Salford, May 2015

Goldsmiths, London, March 2015: [Demands]

Goldsmiths, London, March 2011

Warwick, 2011

Sheffield, 2011

Liverpool, 2011

Royal Holloway, 2011

University of Brighton, 2011

Birmingham, 2011

Birmingham, 2010

Warwick, 2010

Cambridge, 2010

SOAS, 2010

Lincoln, 2010

University of Leeds, 2010

London South Bank, 2010

University of East London, 2010

Newcastle University, 2010

Cardiff, 2010

University of the West of England, 2010

Plymouth, 2010

Manchester University, 2010

Manchester universities, 2010

Manchester Metropolitan University, 2010

Bristol, 2010

Roehampton University, 2010

Exeter, 2010

Outside UK:

University of California, 2009:

UC Santa Cruz [consolidated]

UC Davis;

San Francisco State University: “That the university system be run by the students, faculty, and staff. Not administrators.” << Not clear if this is the removal of administrator roles altogether or anti-democratic exclusion of administrators from decision-making.

Historical:

Columbia University, 1968

Sorbonne, 1968

Nanterre, 1968

Misc:

http://anticuts.com/2010/11/27/list-of-university-occupations/

Occupation Count!

Democratically controlled, co-operative higher education

I have a short piece on co-operative higher education published on the openDemocracy website. If you’re aware of my work you’ll find little that is new. However, it was written partly in response to the recent student occupations which consistently demand greater democracy in the running of their universities but do not seem to have a concrete and credible alternative to propose. Academics, too, are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for more democratic structures of governance and that the marketisation, corporatisation and managerialism in higher education can only be effectively challenged if we rethink, from the bottom up, how our universities are governed, the labour they (re)produce and who they actually ‘belong’ to. These are questions that are fundamental to a research project we’re about to start and you are welcome to participate in.

In memory of a tree

“As in a dream, he shows her a point beyond the tree, hears himself say, ‘This is where I come from’, and falls back, exhausted.” 1

I live a minute walk from the east side of Lincoln South Common but had never visited, nor even heard of, Cross O’Cliff Orchard until recently. The orchard is across the road (‘Cross O’Cliff Hill’) from the west side of the Common, so I took a half hour walk this afternoon to the orchard for the first time.

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Click on the image to read the text and learn about Lincoln South Common.

On my way there, I was reminded of the recent disappearance of a favourite landmark. It was a large tree that sat on the highest south ridge of the Common and was bent into a distinctive shape, so much so that it was distinguishable from across the city. I have remarked on this tree to people for many years and noticed recently while walking home that it was suddenly absent from the landscape. Previously, to observe it was a sign that I was orientated towards home and now my ‘compass’ feels broken.

[Click the photos to see the full size image. The original images can be seen on Flickr. Thanks to the various people who have taken them.]

It seems that my landmark was cut down to make way for another anticipated landmark: Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial.

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The Bomber Command planning notice.

IMG_20140427_162355 IMG_20140427_145212 I am, in principle, in support of large public pieces of art, and it would be wonderful to have one located so close to where I live, but I cannot find any enthusiasm for another war memorial, not least one called ‘Bomber Command’.

Angry and depressed by the loss of this tree, my tree, our tree on common land, my spirits were lifted as I entered the orchard.

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“One of England’s few surviving traditional old orchards… at least 125 years old.”

The sun was warm and the trees were in full blossom. I felt like I had entered a secret world.

IMG_20140427_154306 IMG_20140427_153940 IMG_20140427_154333

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Under the canopy of some old trees.
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Lots of young trees have been planted.
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There were ‘Forget-me-not’ flowers everywhere.

I can’t wait to return with family and friends to enjoy food and drink together. We shall pass the old tree stump and remember its absence from our horizon towards home.

Small gauge

Sometimes I find myself returning to film, wishing I still had my Bolex, Beaulieu or Nizo. Wonderful, mechanical, precision engineering you can hold in your hands.

BolexSBM
Bolex SBM 16mm camera
Beaulieu4008
Beaulieu 4008 ZM4 Super 8mm camera
Nizo801
Nizo 801 Super 8mm camera

The cost of film stock, processing and transfer to print or digital video is relatively expensive compared to digital video (approx. £70/3mins). However, artist films needn’t be long. Why not make films that are just a minute or two long?

Recently, while day-dreaming of Bolex Rex-5 cameras, I came across no.w.here, a critical film-maker’s haven, for laboratory facilities, telecine, and educational programmes. A wonderful looking past project brought Jonas Mekas to London to talk with young adults about “working with the diary film form as a cinema of free and poetic self-expression.”

It reminded me of a similar workshop I took part in at Image Forum, Tokyo, over two weeks in 1999. Each of us made a short film on 100 feet (2:45mins) of 16mm film. Mine was an exercise in film form, and a couple of years later the film ended up slotted into a longer film as shown below at 9:01 mins.

My workshop film is very simple. The camera remained static on a tripod and six different people took it in turns to stand in front of the camera. I started off by filming one frame of each of the six people as they rotated in front of the camera, and then two frames of each of them, and then three frames, and so on, up to 24 frames. The last time you see each person is for exactly one second or 24 frames. Or rather, it would be if you were watching the original projected film; the transfer to video changes the form temporally as well as materially. What should be exactly 75 seconds (1800 frames) becomes 72 seconds because PAL video runs at 25fps not 24fps.  Given its entire purpose was to explore the exacting, mechanical and temporal attributes of film, its temporal form is technically destroyed when transferred to video.

It’s been over a decade since I worked with film, but I retain a strong attachment to small gauge (8, Super-8, 9.5 and 16mm) film and its social history. It can be the most beautiful and poetic of personal, artistic mediums. You may disagree, but have you seen films by Stan Brakhage, Peter Hutton, Nathaniel Dorsky or Jonas Mekas?

Take, for instance, Brakhage’s hand-painted films, or his more visceral ‘The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes‘, or ‘Window Water Baby Moving‘, or this extract below from Mekas’ ‘Walden/Diaries, Notes and Sketches’.

To show you these films as video, streamed on the web, is to offer you the content disembodied from the form. It is a lie. We know what the film is about but we don’t know what it is to see. This is no more obvious with Peter Hutton’s ‘At Sea’, which may be watched below, but not seen.

 

Love is…

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a close friend of my family. As part of the service, a shortened version of the following was read out, which I found especially moving.

“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

From Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Cinétracts. Revolutionary filmmaking

The Ciné-Tracts [1968] project was undertaken by a number of French directors as a means of taking direct revolutionary action during and after the events of May 1968. Contributions were made by Godard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and others during this period. Each of the Ciné-Tracts consists of 100 feet of 16mm black and white silent film shot at 24 FPS, equalling a projection-time of 2 minutes and 50 seconds. The films were made available for purchase at the production cost, which at the time was fifty francs.

As part of the prescription for the making of the films, the director was to self-produce, self-edit, be the cinematographer, ensuring that each film was shot in one day. Godard had undergone a series of encounters on the barricades during the ‘Langlois Affair’ in February of 1968, and during May was seen actively involved in labour marches, photographing the riots in the Latin Quarter. He also took time to shoot some material at the University of Paris campus at Nanterre.

Source: Cinétracts

I first learned of the Cinétracts through Abé Mark Nornes, whose class I attended during my time in Ann Arbor. On his course, Nornes discussed the documentaries of Ogawa Shinsuke (and later wrote the only book in English about him) and I spent hours watching those superb films about Ogawa’s film collective living and working in rural Japan. I really wish they were available on DVD. Nornes also put me on to Chris Marker and said that Marker, Godard and other French filmmakers had made a series of ‘Cinétracts’ which they distributed to Ogawa in Japan and in return Ogawa sent them his films of the student-worker struggle against the development of Narita airport during the same period of the late 1960s. I think I have that story right.

At any rate, the Japanese film class with Nornes, which was not directly related to the rest of my degree in Buddhism (the wonder of the liberal arts model), had me watching bootleg copies of Ogawa and Marker for much of my last summer in the USA. I left to go to live in rural Japan for three years, where, in my spare time, I would run my own small Cinematheque.

Some of Godard’s Cinétracts are in the British Film Institute’s archive, where I later worked as a film archivist (and met my wife), and I see that someone has done us all a favour and uploaded a compilation to YouTube.

This is revolutionary filmmaking, not just its content, but also its scale and form. Godard used still images to compose his Cinétract. Six years earlier, Marker had used this technique in La Jetée.

The Song

Two continents – two sons,

Leaves a father here contemplating

How time runs

Off and away with everything

We ever call our own

 

The time and tide that ebbs away

Taking the uncertainty of youth

To return one day,

With new grown men who stand and gaze,

Politely bemused, at figures once tall but now diminished

Since their being away.

 

And parents having to let go, yet still holding on,

To little boys they shaped and moulded

In days long gone,

Don’t always through their eyes

See the face the shape they recognise.

But sometimes with eyes closed, sons and parents both,

Recognise the song.

by Nigel Winn (1950-2006). Dated October 20th 1996.

Co-operative universities: A bibliography

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education
Framework for Co-operative Higher Education

Here, I maintain a bibliography of articles, reports, presentations and book chapters that discuss the idea of a ‘co-operative university’, with a specific focus on co-operative ownership and co-operative governance of higher education institutions. If you know of any other research, please leave a comment or email me. Thank you.

Read about the development of a federated Co-operative University in the UK.

Last updated 11th February 2020

Boden, R. et al (2012) Trust Universities? Governance for Post-Capitalist Futures. Journal of Co-operative Studies, Volume 45, Number 2, Autumn 2012 , pp. 16-24(9) (Related slides)

Boden, R. et al (2011) Shopping around for a better way to operate? Try John Lewis. Times Higher Education, 13th January 2011.

Bothwell, Ellie (2016) Plan to ‘recreate public higher education’ in cooperative university, Times Higher Education, 17 August 2016.

Cook, Dan (2013) Realising the Co-operative University. A consultancy report for The Co-operative College.

Cunningham. (1874). Higher Education on Co-operative Principles. In Co-operative Congress Proceedings (pp. 54–55 & 89–90). Presented at the Co-operative Congress, Halifax: The Co-operative College.

Dilger, A 2007, ‘German Universities as State-sponsored Co-operatives‘, Management Revue, 18, 2, pp. 102-116.

Findlay, L. (2010). Academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and the co-operative university. In J. Newson & C. Polster (Eds.), Academic callings: The university we have had, now have, and could have (pp. 212-218). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Glaser, E. (2017) A cooperative university must ensure high standards. Times Higher Education. 30/11/17

Hall, Richard & Winn, Joss (eds.) (2017) Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury.

Hall, Richard & Winn (2017) Social co-operatives and the democratisation of higher education. The Co-operative Education and Research Conference, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester.

Haubert, Maxime (1986). Adult education and grass-roots organisations in Latin America: The contribution of the International Co-operative University.  International Labour Review. 1986, Vol. 125 Issue 2, p177. 16p.

James, E. & Neuberger, E. (1981) The University Department as a Non-Profit Labor Cooperative. In: Public Choice, 36: 585-612.

Juby, P. (2011, September 3). A Co-operative University? Conference presentation at the Society for Co-operative Studies Conference, Cardiff.

Matthews, David (2014) All together now: higher education and the cooperative model. Times Higher Education. 14th August 2014.

Matthews, David (2013) Inside a co-operative university. Times Higher Education, 29th August 2013.

McQuillan, M. (2017) Co-operative challenger rises in Manchester, *Research.

Neary, Mike and Joss Winn (2019) Making a Co-operative University: a new form of knowing – not public but social. FORUM, 61 (2). pp. 271-279.

Neary, Mike and Joss Winn (2019) The co-operative university now! In: Learning for a Co-operative World: Education, social change and the Co-operative College. UCL Institute of Education Press, London, pp. 169-186.

Neary, Mike, Katia Valenzuela Fuentes and Joss Winn (2018) Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education. Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

Neary, Mike, Katia Valenzuela Fuentes and Joss Winn (2017) Co-operative Leadership and Higher Education: four case studies. The Co-operative Education and Research Conference, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2017) The Social Science Centre, Lincoln: the theory and practice of a radical idea, Roars Transactions, 5(1) 1-12.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2017) Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Co-operative Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities, 3(2): 2, 1–36.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2017) There is an alternative: A report on an action research project to develop a framework for co-operative higher education, Learning and Teaching. The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences, 10 (1) 87-105.

Neary, Mike, Simon Parkinson, Cilla Ross and Joss Winn (2016) Co-operative Universities: A chance to re-imagine higher education? Co-operative Party blog, 01/09/2016. See related Co-op Party policy on education (October 2017, p.25)

Neary, Mike (2016) Teaching Excellence Framework: a critical response and an alternative future. Journal of Contemporary European Research, 12 (3) 690-695.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2016) The University of Utopia, Post-16 Educator, (84) 13-15.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2016) Beyond public and private: a framework for co-operative higher education. Conference paper.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2015) Beyond public and private: a model for co-operative higher educationKrisis: Journal for contemporary philosophy.

Noble, Malcolm and Ross, Cilla (Eds.) (2019) Reclaiming the University for the Public Good: Experiments and Futures in Co-operative Higher Education, Palgrave Macmillan. (14 chapters on Co-op HE)

Noble, Malcolm (2019) Co-operative Higher Education is the Answer: How to Save Adult Education for the Last Time, Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 21, 1, pp. 139-44.

Perez Ruiz, P. (2015) What is university for?, The Columnist.

Puukka, J. et al (2013) Higher Education 
in Regional and City Development: Basque Country, Spain. OECD.

Reed, D. (2014). Occupy the University! Leveraging Value Coherence to Engage Higher Education as a Strategic Partner in Cooperative Development. In L. Hammond Ketilson & M. -P. Robichaud Villettaz (under the direction of), Cooperatives’ Power to Innovate: Texts Selected from the International Call for Papers (p.193 – 206). Lévis: International Summit of Cooperatives.

Ridley, David (2017) Institutionalising critical pedagogy: Lessons from against and beyond the neo-liberal university, Power and Education, 9 (1) 65-81.

Ridley-Duff, R. (2011) Co-operative University and Business School: Developing an institutional and educational offer. UK Society for Co-operative Studies.

Ridley-Duff, R. (2012, November 1). Developing Co-operative Universities. Presented at the ICA Expo, Manchester, UK

Saunders, Gary (2017) Somewhere Between Reform and Revolution: Alternative Higher Education and ‘The Unfinished’. In: Hall, Richard & Winn, Joss (eds.) (2017) Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2017) Making a co-operative university, WonkHE 8th August 2017.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education. Radical Philosophy, No.182.

Somerville, P & Saunders, G. (2013) Beyond Public and Private: the transformation of higher education. Conference paper.

Somerville, P. (2014) Towards co-operative higher education. Presentation at the Department of Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University, May 7th.

Somerville, P. (2014) Prospects for co-operative higher education. Conference paper for Society of Co-operative Studies, Colchester 6-7th September 2014.

Sperlinger, Tom (2014) Is a co-operative university model a sustainable alternative? Guardian, 26th March, 2014.

Swain, Harriet (2017) Coming soon, a university where students could set their own tuition fees, Guardian, 12th September 2017.

Williamson, Bill (2017) The Co-operative University: Notes towards an achievable ideal.

Wilma van der Veen, E. (2010) The New University Cooperative: Reclaiming Higher Education: Prioritizing Social Justice and Ecological Sustainability, Affinities journal, Vol. 4 No. 1.

Winn, Joss (2014) The co-operative university: labour, property and pedagogy. Governing Academic Life, 25-26 June 2014, London School of Economics.

Winn, Joss (2014) Reimagining the University. Keynote talk for Reimagining the University conference, University of Gloucester. 17-18 October 2014.

Winn, Joss (2014) Social solidarity co-operatives for higher educationLearning Together: Perspectives in Co-operative Education. 9th December 2014, People’s History Museum.

Winn, Joss (2015) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1).

Winn, Joss (2015) Democratically controlled, co-operative higher educationopenDemocracy.

Woodhouse, Howard (2011) Learning for Life: The People’s Free University and the Civil Commons. Studies in Social Justice. Vol. 5, Issue 1, 77-90

Woodin, Tom (2018) Co-operative approaches to leading and learning: ideas for democratic innovation from the UK and beyond. In L. Gornall, B. Thomas, L. Sweetman (Eds.), Exploring Consensual Leadership in Higher Education Co-operation, Collaboration and Partnership. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.

Woodin, Tom (2017) Co-operation, leadership and learning: Fred Hall and the Co-operative College before 1939. In: Hall, Richard & Winn, Joss (eds.) (2017) Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury.

Woodin, Tom (2018) Co-operative Approaches to Leading and Learning: Ideas for Democratic Innovation from the UK and Beyond. In: Gornall, Thomas and Steetman (Eds.) Exploring Consensual Leadership in Higher Education, London: Bloomsbury.

Wright, S. et al (2011) Report on a field visit to 
Mondragón University:
 a cooperative experience/experiment. Learning and Teaching. Vol. 4, Issue 3.

Yeo, Stephen (2014) The co-operative university? Transforming higher education. In: Woodin, Tom (Ed.) Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values, London: Routledge.

Reports from Making the Co-operative University conference, 9th November 2017, Manchester. 

Hall, R. (2017) In, Against and Beyond the Co-operative University

Macintyre, R. (2017) The Co-op Uni: From Pedagogy to Governance and Back

Nerantzi, C. (2017) What are our big ideas about a #coopuni?

Winn, J. (2017) Making the Co-operative University

Voinea, A. (2017) Setting a vision for a co-operative university.

Elsewhere…

You may also be interested in articles written about the Social Science Centre, a co-operative for higher education in Lincoln.

A Co-operative Higher Education Network has been established by the Co-operative College).

Dan Cook also maintains a website about Co-operative Universities.

Examples of co-operative higher education

Mondragon University

The Co-operative College

Social Science Centre

Unicoop

Florida Universitaria

UnivSSE

Co-operative Institute for Transnational Studies

Leicester Vaughan College

Bristol Learning Co-op

Related research into co-operative schools

Davidge, Gail (2014) For “getting it”: an ethnographic study of co-operative schools. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University. (see also Davidge’s subsequent book).

Special issue of Forum journal (2013) edited by Tom Woodin: Co-operative education for a new age?

Special issue of the Journal of Co-operative Studies (2011) edited by Maureen Breeze: Co-operation in Education.

Woodin, Tom (Ed.) Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values, London: Routledge.

The Open Knowledge Conference 2013

A shorter, edited version of the article below has been published on The Conversation.

Last week, I was one of 900 delegates from 55 countries who travelled to Geneva to attend OKCon, the Open Knowledge conference. We convened at Geneva’s International Conference Centre, co-incidentally located next door to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and just ten minutes walk from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).  The theme of this year’s conference (which have been running since 2005) was ‘Open Data. Broad, Deep, Connected’. Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) co-founder, Dr. Rufus Pollock explained in his opening speech that this is “the century of the open knowledge society” and that the conference aimed to broaden access, deepen commitment to openness and connect people.

A post-war legacy

If today we are living through the century of the open knowledge society, we might recognise that the roots of the movement – and it really does feel like a movement – are to be found in the development of 20th century Liberalism as it confronted the totalitarianism of Nazi Fascism and Stalinist Communism. The horrors of World War Two and the paranoia of the Cold War led to intense reflection on the nature of freedom and democracy. In 1945, Karl Popper published his two-volume critique of totalitarianism, The Open Society and its Enemies, two-years after Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, a foundational text for neo-liberalism. Elsewhere in the wartime academy, Norbert Wiener and others were developing the discipline of Cybernetics, which analysed society as a system of communication and feedback – an information society. In 1948, Wiener published the landmark book, Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine which would influence the emerging disciplines of Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Computer Science.

A convergence of this history of ideas could be clearly felt at the Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva. The themes of the conference included open government, open development, open culture, open science, open education and open innovation. While increasingly broad in its coverage, there remained a tendency in the workshops and talks to view these avenues of openness through the singular lens of open data and the efficiencies that it promises in all aspects of civic life.  In his speech, Pollock was clear that openness in itself doesn’t change the world, but that without open data, “we’re driving blind” and he identified open data with “empowerment” – enabling people to change the world. In his closing speech, Pollock said that the Open Knowledge Foundation is “pragmatic, not fanatic”, recognising that there are degrees of openness, despite having once co-authored the pivotal ‘Open Definition’.

The ‘logic’ of openness

My reason for attending the conference was to participate in a meeting around scholarly infrastructure, but having attended last year’s Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, I was also curious about how the Open Knowledge movement is progressing, especially in the areas of open education and open science. In the past few years I have been awarded grants by Jisc to undertake research and development projects which produced Open Educational Resources, Open Data and Open Source Software. You see, once you catch the openness bug, it remains infectious. This has been neatly articulated by Christopher Kelty, who wrote about the ‘recursive public’ of the Internet, which turns freedom of information advocates into activists who find themselves necessarily campaigning for open standards, open infrastructure, open source and so on, so as to protect the thing they cherish.

We can see this in the Open Access movement, having its roots in the Free and Open Source Software movement that emerged out of the Artificial Intelligence labs of the 1970s. Now over a decade old, Open Access has initiated a recursive response within the academy whereby the ‘logic’ of Open Access – free, public access to scholarly research papers enabled by the Internet – increasingly demands that the underlying research data is also made openly accessible so that the research can be reproduced and verified. But it does not stop there: The source code for the software employed during the research, as well as the algorithms and lab notes should be made open, too. And while we’re at it, why not open peer-review? During one workshop I attended on tools for open science, we were shown how some researchers are now writing ‘executable papers’, constructed in such a way that open source software can reproduce and verify the results of the paper and embedded data sources.

Open data by default

The acceptance of Open Access is opening up much more than access to scholarly research publications. With Open Access now embedded in the policies of major research funders around the world, open research data is next on the agenda. In June this year, the G8 Science Ministers published four principles for open scientific data, focusing on openness, access, efficiency and supporting policy. This statement was published concurrently with the G8’s Open Data Charter, a set of principles intended to improve the transparency and responsiveness of governments, increase innovation and improve government efficiency.

The politics of openness

This year’s Open Knowledge Conference had much to celebrate in terms of what has been achieved since the Open Knowledge Foundation was established in 2004. This was underlined by the announcement of a $1.2m grant from the World Bank, which will fund the ‘Open Data Partnership for Development’, a joint project between the World Bank, the OKF and the Open Data Institute.  The announcement highlights the three objectives of the Partnership: “Supporting developing countries to plan, execute and run open data initiatives; increasing the use of open data in developing countries; and growing the evidence-base on the impact of open data for development.” It is worth remembering that the World Bank is itself the product of and advocate of another form of openness: Open markets. It was established as an outcome of the 1944 Breton Woods Conference and along with the International Monetary Fund, intended to promote international development and trade.

Openness has always been a political project with advocates from across the political spectrum. For some it is about power and accountability, for others it is about innovation and efficiency. Choosing pragmatism over fanaticism has been a sound choice so far. However, if Kelty’s analysis is right – and in my experience it is – the recursive ‘logic’ of openness will continue to extend itself to all aspects of public life while the definition of openness will be contested and stretched to ever greater degrees. Here in the academy, it is re-shaping the nature of scientific practice and discovery and before long will contest the way science has been valorised since it was institutionalised over a century ago.

Situating this year’s Open Knowledge Conference beside the ITU and WIPO buildings was a logistical coincidence. Yet in many ways, delegates at OKCon have a deep interest in the work of both of these agencies of the United Nations and are challenging them to re-think the way in which the ‘information society’ and the ‘knowledge economy’ achieves some of the ideals of openness that were established in the post-war climate and have yet to be fulfilled.