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[ox-en] participatory research (was: the role of science and universities)

Hi Graham, 

On Wed, 22 Oct 2003 Graham Seaman <graham> wrote:
On Wed, 22 Oct 2003, Thomas Berker wrote:

--On 18. oktober 2003 19:21 -0400 graham wrote:
On 17 Oct 2003, Rich Walker wrote:
Free software has peer review, peer contribution and end-user review.

This is a significant difference from the processes that occur in

This is NOT a significant difference from the processes that SHOULD occur
in academia.

In other words, (once again) free software may have been influenced by
academia in its origins ( TeX, Knuth, and the academic maths community
spring to mind) but now the important influences (even if they are more
potential than actual) are in the opposite direction.

Research that "has peer review, peer contribution and end-user review" 
(Rich) does exist. Some call it Action Research. And I guess that is not the 
only kind of research, which takes all the freedom promised during the early 
stage of the age of enlightenment seriously. Instead of freedom of  theory 
and praxis for all - after all "there is no God, no superiour being", we now 
have freedom of theory and action for few, freedom of theory for some more, 
no freedom at all for the rest. 

I'm reading an old book by Ivan Illich - 'Shadow Work'. He talks about a
movement called 'research by people' (as opposed to research for people, 
the 'normal' kind). Googling gives me some possible traces of this but
only related to people with disabilities:  

I have a suspicion that Illich's description of 'research by people' as
a 'movement' may have been wishful thinking. Have you ever heard of it?

No. But it sounds similar to other efforts especially from the 1980s,
which sought to establish more democratic (i.e. radical democratic)
modes of knowledge production. It is true, there has always been a lot
of wishful thinking involved. It often turned out the gap between the
experts and lay persons is broader than anticipated. The outcome then
typically is paternalistic behaviour and frustration. If you are
interested in these questions, you might find some useful descriptions
in a chapter of a report I had to write recently - as part of my

And, yes, it was marginalised as soon as it threatened the (then) newly 
established power structures [1]. 

I cherish Free Software for having the potential to realise the initial 
promise of enlightenment  ("everyone has the right to be every possible 
potentiality of mankind, freely chosen by every individual") behind the backs 
of everyone involved. 

Thus, I see a deeper link between academia and FS, which - in my opinion - 
should not be easily discarded pointing at mainstream research, which never 
was particularly different from today: providing legitimacy for the powerful 
and their privileges.

La universidad moderna ha alienado su oportunidad de proporcionar
sencillamente un marco para encuentros aut�³nomos y an�¡rquos, 
orientados pero no planificados, entusiastas. En cambio, ha elegido 
convertirse en gerente de un proceso que fabrica los productos llamados 
investigaci�³n  ydocencia. []

[The modern university has thrown away its chance to simply provide a 
space for autonomous, anarchic meetings, with direction but without 
planning, based on enthusiasm. In exchange, it has chosen to convert 
itself into the manager of a process which manufactures the products
called research and teaching.]

I like this - the convergence of teaching and research, which should not 
be separated (as they are not separated in free software). 

I like it, too. In a historical perspective this is how modern
universities actually started. Wilhelm von Humboldt, one of the most
prominent founding fathers of German universities, called it the unity
of research and teaching (Einheit von Forschung und Lehre). You will
still find remnants of this above all in some publicly funded research
institutions. The more recent trend is to increase efficiency by a
division of labour between teachers and researchers.

But it seems
to me that teaching in universities has gone so far down a different road
it would be extremely difficult to get it back, however deep the 
underlying links are.

There is a lot of participatory research going on in the depths of
existing academia all over the world (at least here in Norway ;-). All I
want to say is that someone interested in application of FS-development
outside software design can learn from experiences made in these
experiments and vice versa - because they share important traits. 

Best, Thomas b


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