requiem for certainty

Online Deliberation Conference

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I presented last week at a conference over at the Berkeley iSchool entitled ‘Tools for Participation’ on the subject of ‘Online Deliberation and Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing’ (DIAC/OD 2008).  There were a number of interesting projects, papers, and technologies presented, all of them focused around online participation, collaboration, and deliberation.  My experience at the conference reinforces my hunch that now is the time (for me) to take up cross-disciplinary collaborations in the context of internet research.  These should be collaborations amongst theorists and empirical inquirers (but also with practitioners, users, and developers).  One of the best ways of doing this is collaborative concept work – since concepts face both theory and practice at once.  Conceptualization need not aim for theoretical system-building nor empirical fact-collecting, but can rather aim for articulating our practices in the sense of both explicating their theoretical commitments (articulation as explication) and drawing out their empirical interconnections (articulation as linkage).  A guiding thought for me in this context is that we currently lack concepts adequate to the emerging internet practices that take an increasingly prominent place in our lives.  These practices demand the labor of conceptualization.

Two of the best papers at the conference were those which I found myself on a panel with, one by Warren Sack (also at UCSC with DANM and Film & Digital media) and the other by Tonya Thompson (who works with Jean Camp at Indiana).  Sack presented work on the need for an approach to search engine design which would explicitly take ‘public’ values like democratic deliberation into account — so the goal for example would be a search engine which helps us better pursue democratic deliberations as measured by for example the reduction of consensus bias — very interesting!  Thompson presented work on developing a design toolkit for elder home-assistance technologies which would explicitly design in ‘privacy’ options: she employed a nice model of contextualist privacy which she called person-as-context.  My paper was fortunately sandwiched between these other excellent offerings.  I suspect my stuff is a little too theoretical for most of the crowd here but connections to Sack’s and Thompson’s papers helped.

Another interesting presentation was by Mike Mussman (at SUNY Albany) who described his work on an open-source model for governance which he is calling efficasync (there’s enormous detail on the blog).  I find the proposal here quite engaging and it would be useful to see how it might work in actual deployment (though admittedly that’s a little difficult).  One way of describing the project is as a conceptualization of already-existing open-source governing practices.  Conceptualization, of course, in my sense of articulation wuch that efficasync helps make explicit what is already going on but with insufficient self-awareness.  Anyone interesting in open source or even in the way in which the internet is changing contemporary governance should go to his blog to check it out.

The paper I presented is part of a larger project aimed at conceptualizing what I am calling ‘pragmatist public pluralism’ such that this conceptualization might be adequate to emerging internetworking practices.  I urge the pluralization of public and private in conceptualizing these practices.  The title of the paper I presented is Networked Publics (here is a pdf of the paper).  I’m making it available here though it’s very much a work in progress and also just one piece of a much bigger project.  Here’s the larger project (whish is also itself part of an even bigger project on the history and future of public and private in America):

1. Introduction – Public and Private in Internetworking practices
2. Analytics – Foucaultian Problematization plus Deweyan Pragmatism
3. The Problematization of Separate Public/Private Spheres in Internetworking
-Layer-Based Protocol Infrastructure
-Informational Availability and Ubiquity
-Changing Modes of Governance
4. The Reconstruction of Public Pluralism in Internetworking
-p2p protocols
-Search Engines
-Open Source (wiki, mozilla, creative commons)

Written by Colin Koopman

July 1, 2008 at 7:35 pm

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