Open Works, Open Cultures, and Open Learning Systems

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* Paper: Open Works, Open Cultures, and Open Learning Systems. Michael A. Peters. Chapter 4 of Putting Knowledge to Work and Letting Information Play: The Center for Digital Discourse and Culture. Edited by Timothy W. Luke and Jeremy Hunsinger. Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, December 2009.

URL = (pp. 76+)


Concepts and Metaphors of Openness

"The idea of openness as a political, social, and psychological metaphor has been part of a set of enduring narratives in the West since the time before the flourishing of modern democracy, scientific communication, and the rise of the knowledge economy.

Principally these narratives have been about the nature of freedom, the primacy of rights to self-expression, the constitution of the public sphere or the commons, and the intimate link between openness and creativity. The core philosophical idea concerns openness to experience and interpretation such that a work, language, and culture consider as a semiotic system permit multiple meanings and interpretations with an accent on the response, imagination, and activity of the reader, learner, or user. The classic work that philosophically develops this central idea is the Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953) who draws a close relationship between language as a set of open overlapping speech activities or discourses he calls “language games” and a “form of life” (or culture).


In Wittgenstein’s account of rule-following we see a view of openness to language and to the text that permits multiple interpretations and the active construction of meanings. This emphasis on the openness of language, of the text and, indeed, of ‘openness to the other’ as aspect of subjectivity, which rests on the values of multiplicity and pluralism, is in part a reaction by Wittgenstein against the logical empiricist understandings of logico-linguistic rules that allegedly allow for only pure and single meanings unambiguously correlated with words that depict the world.


In 1962 Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and semio-cian, published his Opera aperta (The Open Work) which while belonging to his pre-­‐semio-c wri-ngs nevertheless utilizes the underlying notion of a linguistic system to discuss the development and values of open works where openness stands for multiplicity of meaning, freedom of reader, and the plurality of interpretation.


Eco distinguishes between three forms of openness in the work of art in terms of interpretation, semantic content, and the works in movement. While all works of art are capable of bearing a number of interpretations, the open work is one in which there are no established codes for their interpretation.

Open Cultures

As many scholars and commentators have suggested since the “change merchants” of the 1970s —Marshall McLuhan, Peter Drucker and Alvin Toffler-­‐-­‐first raised the issue we are in the middle of a long term cultural evolutionary shift based on the digitization and the logic of open systems that has the capacity to profoundly changed all aspects of our daily lives — work, home, school — and existing systems of culture and economy. A wide range of scholars from different disciplines and new media organizations have speculated on the nature of the shift." (