Understanding Knowledge as a Commons

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Book: Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (eds). Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice. MIT Press, 2007

ISBN: 9780262083577 (hardcover)

Introductory Material

Publisher's overview

Summary — Looking at knowledge as a shared resource: experts discuss how to define, protect, and build the knowledge commons in the digital age.

Knowledge in digital form offers unprecedented access to information through the Internet but at the same time is subject to ever-greater restrictions through intellectual property legislation, overpatenting, licensing, overpricing, and lack of preservation. Looking at knowledge as a commons—as a shared resource—allows us to understand both its limitless possibilities and what threatens it. In Understanding Knowledge as a Commons, experts from a range of disciplines discuss the knowledge commons in the digital era—how to conceptualize it, protect it, and build it. Contributors consider the concept of the commons historically and offer an analytical framework for understanding knowledge as a shared social-ecological system. They look at ways to guard against enclosure of the knowledge commons, considering, among other topics, the role of research libraries, the advantages of making scholarly material available outside the academy, and the problem of disappearing Web pages. They discuss the role of intellectual property in a new knowledge commons, the open access movement (including possible funding models for scholarly publications), the development of associational commons, the application of a free/open source framework to scientific knowledge, and the effect on scholarly communication of collaborative communities within academia, and offer a case study of EconPort, an open access, open source digital library for students and researchers in microeconomics. The essays clarify critical issues that arise within these new types of commons—and offer guideposts for future theory and practice.

Contributors David Bollier, James Boyle, James C. Cox, Shubha Ghosh, Charlotte Hess, Nancy Kranich, Peter Levine, Wendy Pradt Lougee, Elinor Ostrom, Charles Schweik, Peter Suber, J. Todd Swarthout, Donald Waters



  1. Introduction: An Overview of the Knowledge Commons. Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom
  2. The Growth of the Commons Paradigm. David Bollier
  3. A Framework for Analyzing the Knowledge Commons. Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess
  4. Countering Enclosure: Reclaiming the Knowledge Commons. Nancy Kranich
  5. Mertonianism Unbound? Imagining Free, Decentralized Access to Most Cultural and Scientific Material. James Boyle
  6. Preserving the Knowledge Commons. Donald J. Waters
  7. Creating an Intellectual Commons through Open Access. Peter Suber
  8. How to Build a Commons: Is Intellectual Property Constrictive, Facilitating, or Irrelevant? Shubha Ghosh
  9. Collective Action, Civic Engagement, and the Knowledge Commons. Peter Levine
  10. Free/Open-Source Software as a Framework for Establishing Commons in Science. Charles M. Schweik
  11. Scholarly Communication and Libraries Unbound: The Opportunity of the Commons. Wendy Pradt Lougee
  12. EconPort: Creating and Maintaining a Knowledge Commons. James C. Cox and J. Todd Swarthout


(Excerpts will be given for individual chapters only.)


David Bollier

"a great anthology of essays, The book brings together some varied perspectives on knowledge as a "shared social-ecological system." I highly recommend it. The idea that knowledge is incubated and maintained through social communities is hardly revolutionary, of course. But the rise of the Internet has suddenly made it more imperative to understand the structure and norms of "knowledge communities," which can vary widely. This book helps sort through this variety with chapters on open access scholarly publishing (Peter Suber), research libraries (Wendy Pradt Lougee), science as a commons (James Boyle), open source software (Charles Schweik), preserving the knowledge commons (Donald J. Waters) and civic engagement and knowledge commons (Peter Levine), among others. I am pleased to be among this illustrious company with a chapter on "The Growth of the Commons Paradigm".

More Information