Collective intelligence and the cult of open production: critical reflections on theory and methodology

Alevizou, Panagiota (2007). Collective intelligence and the cult of open production: critical reflections on theory and methodology. In: Ecrea Digital Culture and Communication Section Workshop: Digital Media: European Perspectives, 1-3 Nov 2007, University of Sussex, United Kingdom.



One of the renowned, and most recently influential, philosophers of cyberculture, Pierre Lévy (1998; 2001) offers a metaphorical conceptualisation of cyberspace in terms of ‘cosmopaedia’, a space that is not ordered by pre-determined taxonomies, but by limitless global cultural formations. Lévy argues for a new/revised relationship between technology and knowledge, a relationship that allows the cultivation of a mutually developed and enhanced knowledge space through collective intelligence and interactive potentialities. Inspired by Lévy, Henry Jenkins argues that collective intelligence can be seen as an ‘alternative source of media power’ and as a means for understanding ‘consumption as a collective process’ – a process that involves ‘learning how to use that power through our day-to-day interactions with convergence culture’ (2006: 4). Taking further Lévy’s utopian track, Lessig (e.g. 2004; 2006) and Benkler (e.g. 2006) offer prescriptive accounts of how ‘architecture’ and ‘governance’ structures of FLOSS movements and specific collaborative formations in the Web 2.0 cyberspace, also function as sources of alternative media power.

This paper offers a critical approach to such theorisations to argue for a need to conceptualise the heterogeneous spaces of Web 2.0 by considering their ‘historical emergence’ and by combining the ‘material specificity’ of such formations with the discursive frameworks that enable participation and reception. It firstly considers how critical traditions that range from Actor Network Theory (e.g. Latour, 1993; Latour and Woolgar, 1984; Latour and Serres 1995; Serres, 1983), critical and post-hermeneutical theories of technology (e.g. Kittler, 1990; Feenberg, 1999) to post-Marxist approaches on labour value (e.g. Terranova, 2000; 2004), may challenge utopian and prescriptive theorising outlined above. Secondly, it proposes how a critical reconsideration in theoretical approaches to the sociology of genre may address the methodological challenges for researching the heterogeneity of contemporary spaces of communication, representation and participation enabled by social software.

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