Wednesday, July 16, 2008


A Lesson from Free Software

I’ve just finished reading through Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits, which is a review of the Free Software movement from an ethnological standpoint, as well as an exploration of his concept of the ‘recursive public’. (True to the open source mission, the book is available free on the Web.) I was particularly struck, though, by the remark he makes in the Conclusion:
The Mertonian ideals [disinterestedness, communalism, organized skepticism, objectivity] are in place once more, this time less as facts of scientific method than as goals [for society]. The problem of stabilizing collective knowledge has moved from being an inherent feature of science to being a problem that needs our attention.

I think this translates into a very powerful statement about what the Forum approach can address. It can encourage the participants to strive to the ideals Robert Merton defined in the context of the scientific method, but in the context of understanding political discourse and governance. And it sets a goal of achieving stable (i.e., tested, validated, and accepted) collective historical and social knowledge with which to pursue that understanding.

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