The UK’s new Lobbying Bill will do nothing to fight the malign influence of big money in politics, I argue in a piece for Open Democracy.
Following is the text of a keynote talk I gave at an event organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in Paris last week, also cross-posted on the Ministry’s Culture Blog. After the event, Aurélie Filippetti, the French Minister for Culture and Communication, announced a new partnership to begin to map the public domain in France.
I’m going to start by asking you to contemplate the unimaginable – the age-old fantasy of the total archive, the comprehensive record of humanity’s time on earth. Picture everything that the human mind has ever created laid out before you – every song and every story, every image, inscription, and invention – in chronological order from the dawn of humankind to the present day.
This fantastical archive is the record of the passage of history: the evolution of cultures and countries, politics and economics, science and scholarship, laws and literature. Not only the major figures, stories and works with which we are more familiar, but a kaleidoscopically rich reflection of the world and its inhabitants in all of their contingency and particularity, captured in images, documents, descriptions, and artefacts as though frozen in amber.
Following is the full version of an article that was recently published in the Guardian, arguing that the nascent ‘open government’ movement should focus on social justice and enabling citizens to hold power to account, rather than wealth creation and the technology industry.
“In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress.” Thus spoke President Obama at the UN General Assembly in September 2010.
This initial call to action gave rise to a new initiative called the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Last week senior government officials and campaigners from around 60 countries gathered in London for the OGP’s second annual summit to announce new voluntary commitments to open government, and for talks about freedom of information, civic participation, whistleblower protection, corporate accountability, and many other things.
Following is the text of my talk at the Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences event in London earlier this week, cross-posted from the London School of Economics ‘Impact of Social Sciences’ blog.
I’d like to start off by raising the question: what is research?
Perhaps we might be tempted to talk about “increasing the stock of human knowledge” as an influential OECD manual on research statistics puts it. Perhaps we might turn back to the etymology of the word, to the sixteenth century French word recerchier, “to search”: to search for truth, to search for better ways of understanding of the world around us. Perhaps we might invoke the metaphor of “the Republic of Letters”: research as a kind of a global conversation, whereby scholars from around the world build on and respond to a shared body of arguments and evidence about different matters of concern.
But perhaps all of these metaphors of quests for knowledge and scholarly republics sound a bit too grand when it comes to characterising what researchers actually do, what we are actually engaged in on a day to day basis. (If someone should ask us at the end of the day about how our contribution to the stock of human knowledge is going, we would surely assume that they were making a joke.)
On October 18, 1827, Goethe gave a tea party in honor of the philosopher Hegel, who had come to Weimar to visit him. Although each of the men genuinely respected the achievements of the other, we know from a first-hand report of the discussion that the radical difference in their basic philosophical positions emerged in sharp outline in the course of the dialogue. The poet’s deep distrust of abstract reasoning and the philosopher’s uncompromising commitment to such reasoning scarcely provided the basis for any real congeniality. Indeed, the only subject on which they discoursed with obvious mutual pleasure was that of the life and work of Johann Georg Hamann. “A great deal was said about Hamann,” reports Eckerman, “with respect to whom Hegel was chief spokesman, displaying a deep insight into this extraordinary mind, such as could only have arisen from a most earnest and scrupulous study of the subject.” In this part of the discussion Goethe played the role of willing listener, for in general he respected Hegel’s ability as a critic; in the latter part, however, Goethe launched upon a polite but nevertheless barbed attack on “dialectics,” an attack which Hegel accepted in good spirit, no doubt out of respect for his venerable host. The truth is that both Goethe and Hegel had important connections with Hamann; the former had been considerably influenced by the Magus in his youth through the mediation of Johann Gottfried Herder, and the latter was just then preparing to publish an exhaustive and brilliant review of Hamann’s collected works, a review which appeared the following year.
James C. O’Flaherty, Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: A Translation and Commentary (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 17-18.
I put these pictures in in the first instance for my own satisfaction. But as I kept doing this I realised that conceivably they had other functions in the text which one could acknowledge. They hold up the flow of the discourse and, as one knows, as a reader one tends to go down this negative gradient with the book that one reads towards the end. Books have almost by definition an apocalyptic structure. And it is as well therefore to put weirs in here and there who hold up the inevitable calamity. 29:19-30:08
Who can share what on the internet? There is an increasing awareness of debates around illegal sharing through high profile court cases and controversies in the news – through things like the Pirate Bay, Wikileaks, or the recent tragic case of Aaron Swartz. But what about legal sharing? What kinds of information should we be able to use and share with others as a matter of principle?
Insofar as the most innovative instruments of the era – the telescope and the microscope – extended the range and acuity of one sense in particular, scientific experience tended to privilege the visual, with its capacity to produce knowledge at a distance, over the other senses. Even when Bacon castigated normal vision for staying on the surface of things and failing to pay attention to the invisible world beneath, he hoped that ultimately its secrets would be “brought to light.” Paracelsus’s metaphor of “overhearing” nature’s secrets was laid to rest. Abetted by innovations in the perspectivalist depiction of space on Renaissance canvases, which seemed to be in tune with the rationalized universe assumed by the new science, the hegemony of the eye meant not only the denigration of the other senses, but also the decontextualisation of experience in general. A few unheralded figures aside – the Portugese philosopher John Poinsot (1589-1644) has been recently raised from obscurity to play the role of rule-proving exception – modern thinkers tended to suppress the semiotic and cultural mediation of experience and seek to ground it firmly in pure, primarily visual, observation and controlled experimentation.
Martin Jay, Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 37-38.
In his On the Nature of the Gods Cicero alludes to Zeno of Citium‘s discussion of flute-playing olives and harp-bearing trees:
“If melodiously piping flutes sprang from the olive, would you doubt that a knowledge of flute-playing resided in the olive? And what if plane trees bore harps which gave forth rhythmical sounds? Clearly you would think in the same way that the art of music was possessed by plane trees.”1
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, trans. Francis Brooks (London: Methuen, 1896), Book II, §VIII. [↩]