[-empyre-] Free Cooperation

Dear list,

In the next few paragraphs I talk about post-modem situations of learning,
open content initiatives and I included a sketch for a "constitution of
collaboration." I'm curious what your constitution of collaborative work
would look like. What are the rules that you apply and which ones worked?
Do you think that the emergence of  web-based open content formats is really
comparable in history to the introduction of print culture as some suggest?



Is this the end of universities as we know them? Many class rooms today
accommodate a circular positioning of the chairs that is a must for class
room cooperation. Students in the US interact with each other and other
learners world wide almost constantly through online communication forums.
Teachers may become no more than (online) linkers to knowledge.

Collaborative networked education, might become a much more serious
alternative to the costly and sometimes slow and disconnected structures of
the university. Free software and open source are still not widely used in
academia but that will hopefully change. An example of stable open source
software is "Open Office," which as a community, aims to create the leading
international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide
access to all functionality. Free text books are put online at
Wikibooks(.org), and many texts can be found at the Gutenberg Project
(textz.org). The project Opentheory(.org) is the application of ideas of
Free Software to the development of texts, theories and forms of thought.
Users of the site improve on each others texts. Wikiversity, a project just
recently under way expressed the goal facilitating e-learning and distance
learning via Wikis. Online learning environments may have better chances to
accommodate differences in communication styles, temperaments, and
fundamental beliefs and values than a class room situation. E-learning
software also allows for long distance learning and the sharing of
educational resources such as videos or audio across poor regions.

A Constitution of Collaboration

In East Germany I often experienced a commonality of values when working
together with others. Due in part to a a shared opposite- the state, but
also a certain monoculture of the everyday. We read the same books and
listened to the same Pete Seeger records. Learning from this experience I
realized that it builds trust to start a collaboration testing out the
compatibility of values and commonality of interests first instead of
immediately focusing on the goals. Social resources like trust, mutual
RESPECT, tolerance, and shared values make it easier for people to work and
play together. Based on this trust true communication can take place. Within
the shared space of the collaboration, participants must feel free to

Collaborators need to get to know each other as people and need to find out
about each other's agency and professional needs. This dedication to the
other person can be at times a bit scary and collaboration does not work for
everybody. Getting to know each other always works much better offline,
chest to chest rather than online, which can be very slow. The Constitution
of collaboration demands that needs are addressed and the lines of
communication are kept open. Each collaborator needs to be given full
authority about their task. Collaborators need to respect the mentioned
professional priorities of other participants.

Geert Lovink pointed me to Christoph Spehr's work and I was very inspired by
his book "Gleicher als andere" in which Spehr argues passionately that
absolutely all our relationships should be based on freedom and equality to
each other and the cooperation. If we can't negotiate this, we should PUT
PRESSURE on the cooperation. If that does not work we should WITHDRAW our
cooperation or leave altogether. Spehr asks for the RULES of the cooperation
to be acknowledged, as there always are rules. Spehr talks, with Gayatri
Spivak of "rules as always being the old rules." CONFLICT that occurs while
renegotiating the rules builds respect. Conflict is a scary thing in the
face of loosing territory or even a position within the cooperation.
Conflict, pull backs, silent times for reflection all lead to INDEPENDENCE
within the cooperation, which makes us stronger contributors. We need to
find save zones for conflicts. Always and again: NEGOTIATE! Get organized.
LOYALTY, Spehr claims, should always be to people, never to structures. We
should be self-reflected and SELF-CONFIDENT, instead of acting like slaves.

Metaphors for individuation within cooperation include that of life lived
singly and free like a tree, yet brotherly united in a forest (Wader); John
Donne's "No man is an island, entire of itself..." and Indra's net of jewels
with each jewel reflecting all others. For all members of the network to
shine in caring interdependence TRUST that the other will do her part needs
to be developed. REPUTATION is another crucial aspect of cooperation.

Over the past years communication tools like video conferencing, live chats,
web cams, instant messaging and the Indymedia software became inexpensive
and readily available, which aids cooperative efforts. Online communication
forums such as Friendster(.net), Fakester, LinkedIn or Tribe(.net) make
cooperations easier and are all based on trust. Friendster, for instance is
a web-based application that allows users to network their friends based on
their social profiles.

What about COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP? Spehr suggests the politics of
negotiation, in which everybody contributes to the cooperation in a way that
is useful, realistic and well suited for the moment. There are always
hierarchies in collaborations. Those who formulate the orientation of the
cooperation dominate. Collective leadership would mean that those leading
the way change so that everybody at one point dominates. This is similar to
the changing order in the formation of bird migrations with alternating
birds leading the way to the unlikely example of Lenin's never implemented
plan to rotate political functionaries on a two year basis between political
office and work in factories.

But how can the cooperation motivate silent group members to take the much
needed initiative? How can we put this into action? In cross-disciplinary
artist collectives individual dominance shifts with the medium used in each
project. For a video project the artist with relevant skills is heading the
collective, for a text-based project, the writer in the group has the lead.
Leadership is usually founded on commitment of time, energy and resources,
intellectual contribution or the contribution of networks. Commonly, the
person who puts the most resources and time into a project has the most say
over the project. This dynamic endangers the cooperation, as it marginalizes
other group members. How can we positively motivate each other to avoid such

Invisible Labor

Does free cooperation have to have a leader?
In his poem "A Worker Reads History"? Bertolt Brecht took on the issue of
invisible labor. He writes: "Young Alexander conquered India." and asks: "He
alone?" "Caesar beat the Gauls. Was there not even a cook in his army?" and
"Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. Were there no
other tears? Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War. Who
triumphed with him?"

The Renaissance studios of Rubens or Rembrandt produced collaborations for
which a single creator signed therefore making these cultural objects
collectable. Andy Warhol took full credit for the low-paid production in his
studio, the "Factory." Whose labor becomes invisible whilst credit is given
to specific types of labor, particular individuals? Issues of crediting are
more developed in the film world, theatre, dance, architecture and music.
Here the choreographer is listed as such and so is the stage designer.

All Competition and No Play?

In the "Communist Manifesto" Marx and Engels argue that the free development
of each individual is the condition for the free development of all. This
does not mean that everybody does as they please. It also does not mean that
everybody takes what they think they need. That does not work. But working
in a group is often associated with self-sacrifice, giving up of individual
gain. What about personal gain? Do we lose out to the competition when we
share our networks, knowledge, or skills? Do we lose our edge like an
exhausted cowboy in a bad Western? What is the relationship between
cooperation and competition?

Teams such as the mentioned tiger teams define themselves in comparison
aiming for the creation of measurable capital. Without comparison their
competitiveness would be meaningless. Cooperations should take on a playful
productive shape without (or as little as possible) competition. Group
efforts need worthy goals- GOALS that are based on social needs, in
opposition to the needs of profit driven capitalism.

Open Content

Online spaces are shared and knowledge, and creativity are distributed.
Inside and out of the commercial realm - inexpensive online communication
tools become more tailored towards collaborative development. Participatory
cultures became yet another hot buzzword. Creators invite users to
participate, but then patronize them by limiting their interaction to a few
customizable options. Customized user interaction has little to do with true
participation, which leaves it up to the user what they do.

Web-based communication formats such as collaborative weblogs (blogs) allow
for user contribution- mainly in the form of responses or upload of texts,
audio, images or video. Discordia, for example, is a collaborative weblog
about art, techno-cultures and politics. Users log on and vote on submitted
texts, on which they can also comment. Open content initiatives include
Wikis, Open Archive(.org), Open Law, and Open Video. Electronic logging
systems known as Wikis allow real time online editing of existing texts.
Wikipedia(.org), for instance is a multilingual project with the aim to
create a complete and accurate open content encyclopedia. The website
Wikipedia states "We started on January 15, 2001 <with> articles and are
already working on 110535 <articles> in the English version."

Openlaw is an experiment in crafting legal arguments in an open forum. On
the Openlaw web site it reads: "With your assistance, we will develop
arguments, draft pleadings, and edit briefs in public, online. Non-lawyers
and lawyers alike are invited to join the process by adding thoughts to the
"brainstorm" outlines, drafting and commenting on drafts in progress, and
suggesting reference sources."

These open content formats allow for cooperative creation of content that is
free, available and would often not be made accessible by those in power.

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