My recent reading re sustaining open communities

I've been interested in the sustainability of open communities for a while, and with the NIH Data Commons effort, was finally able to start connecting some dots and finding some reading material. As far as I can tell, the relevant literature is fragmented across a bunch of fields that include social and technical studies, sociology, economics, and political science. This reading has led in some interesting directions (see a high level post as well as my overall collection of CPR blog posts).

Every time I talk to someone in depth about it, I get some more reading. Notwithstanding that, some of the reading I have already found is really interesting! And (at the encouragement of Josh Greenberg, among others) I thought I'd post a few of the books and links that I've found inspiring. I'll also give my "first read" impressions of them - this is very different from what I'd do if I were a true scholar, but hopefully those impressions will help motivate people to look into these books more!

Acknowledgements are due first - Michael Nielsen is a rich source of references, as are Cameron Neylon and Nadia Eghbal. Thank you!!

Governing the Commons, by Dr. Elinor Ostrom. This is a classic book that covers the topic she is most well known for, and for which she received the Nobel Prize in Economics. The first third of the book is a bit of a heavy slog, but the last two thirds contains a number of fascinating case studies about how common pool resources can be managed sustainably and how these "commons" can be governed in such a way to promote sustainability.

Logic of Collective Action, by Dr. Mancur Olson. This is another classic book that talks about how there is no incentive for large groups of people to act collectively to reach a common goal. I have a long blog post on this in waiting... but it needs a lot of editing first.

The Social Life of Things, edited by Dr. Arjun Appadurai. This is a collection of mind-blowing studies of how commodities acquire and retain value. Two particularly pertinent quotes out of (literally) a hundred I noted down:


Here Renfrew shows us very persuasively that the decisive factors in technological innovation (which is critical to the development of new commodities) are often social and political rather than simply technical. (p34)


This circuit ensures barrenness and death instead of fertility and prosperity. It is based on the transformation of reciprocity into commodity exchange. (p53, referencing Taussig, 1980:224).

Fractivism, by Dr. Sara Wylie. This is a recent book by Professor. Wylie, who is at at Northeastern, and it talks about her efforts to coalesce a community around collecting reports of fracking. Several themes of this book that stuck with me is that people are hungry for community, and that technology can be used in very intentional ways to build this community. (Thanks to Gabriella Coleman for the introduction to this work and to Dr. Wylie!)

Generous Thinking, by Dr. Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Dr. Fitzpatrick is a professor at Michigan State who ironically enough arrived just as I left for UC Davis! Her book is about how to change the way we engage with each other in the university to embrace a more generous kind of engagement - one in which we take inspiration from each other, rather than diving straight into a critical analysis.

Josh Greenberg pointed me at "club goods", and in particular the matrix of excludable/rivalrous types of goods. See my tweet for a hand drawn version that some people liked and some people hated :).

World after Capital, by Albert Wenger. This (free!) book has a lot of great discussion about the role of attention in the modern world.

That's all for now. I have about 50 other links and books to look at after this, too! More ...not soon.

Feedback welcome!


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