Teamwork Utopias, Community Troubles in Collective Action Theory, and the Translation Tables of Academia as Babel in the Agora

AS a non-traditional educator I find myself constantly engaged in a dual process of seeking out team-members who admit they experienced a form of isolation in graduate school not too different from the social isolation during Corona 2020, and a barrage of terms that seem to change with the seasons in silos of disciplinary domains. Before I graduated from community college and then the public University, I was the first in my family to graduate with a degree, I worked in political campaigns and for a not-for-profit focused on civics and human rights education for high school kids. That experience guided me through law school where I worked on the pragmatic implementation of human rights from the ground up instead of the lofty ideals of chambers at the United Nations. I had experienced the constant need to work across differences, backgrounds, and opinions, unlike many of my colleagues in academia. Through this project, with a team of faculty members across differences, I intend to further my work to bridge the gap between law as ideal (among elites) and the reality of law for ordinary folk. Like others, I am convinced that a practical use of rights consciousness and social change comes through education.  

In a published article from 2018, I responded to a claim by Andy Lane (2016) that the “rhetoric” about “open education” and pedagogical practices was “ahead of the reality.” While I agreed with Lane that emancipation in the learning process requires a more political stance by educators, I argued that for social change to occur (beyond platitudes and citations to Freire) in the classroom, “technology must be integrated into course work in the humanities so that students can engage with social, political, and legal institutions and behavior.” I ground this epistemological claim in the work done by political scientists who push beyond a pluralist model of politics. Lukes (2005) and McCann (2020) have long articulated the work done by Foucault and feminist scholars such as Patricia Hill Collins for a view of power and social change that includes not only the dominant position, but also the resistance strategies and the social construction of reality evident since the turn toward empirical science 100 years ago (2019)

In my work, I have tried to work with others to study collective action problems in the shadow of work done by Ostrom, Hardin, Bateson, Lator, Levi, and many others. While the successes have been modest and the failures persistent (2016), I am encouraged by the turn towards equity among institutions, faculty, and students.  As social science theorists know well, our attempts to construct a shared language around open pedagogy, equity, and social change will largely influence what successes we are able to implement in reality. I am optimistic about this work and hope others join us as we try to think of ways to integrate urgent modern problems into the curriculum at our community college in one of the most diverse areas in the world.  

6 thoughts on “Teamwork Utopias, Community Troubles in Collective Action Theory, and the Translation Tables of Academia as Babel in the Agora

  1. Shawna Mary Brandle

    This is such an interesting post- thanks for sharing. Since you mention Ostrom, I wonder what your take on OER as a commons might be? Jim Luke, who is an economist at a community college in Michigan, has presented and written about it a bit (partly in response to David Wiley’s argument that OER are not a commons; it is likely his opinion is at least partly affected by being an owner of Lumen Learning, a company that sells OER + courses)- here’s some of his writing about it- https://econproph.com/2018/10/09/oer-higher-ed-and-the-commons/

  2. Jason Leggett Post author

    Thanks Shawna! Of course I would need to spend much more time thinking about this but I think Luke (your reference) setups a contradiction: “Resources just are. They’re resources. Things. Stuff people use to make other things. It’s the institutional, social, economic, and technological structures and norms that people create that constititute the commons.” He then goes on to call the Commons a Verb but then locates it within Education, Institutions, as if it were a Noun. Metaphors, similes, analogies, oh my! My thoughts:

    1) I think an Ostrom take on OER would be seen as a collective action problem, not a view on the commons as an object; Luke is right this is hard to do without a grounding in game theory as a method to analyze scripts and behavior, not economic change;

    2) I think the limits of looking at the commons as a place neglects the fact that it is socially constructed (Bateson and Latour speak a lot on this dilemma within the Academic world);

    3) At this stage in my research I am leaning in toward anthropology, biology, and cybernetics and away from economics and power as domination or a strugggle for who gets what (Dahl, Lasswell, but see Lukes, McCann, Foucault). In this way, open educational resources would be tools that groups would have access to that they typically do not have in collective action problems; one way folks have overcome “free-riding” and rational egotism is through information sharing (Ostrom, 2000, Collective Action and Social Norms- see Prisoner’s Dilemma experiments of recent decades). I find that Bruno Latour’s Modes of Existence, Down to Eath, and work on Actor Network Theory provide a good methodology to measure how information is shared across networks (epistemologies) that can collectively build knowledge to confront urgent (global) social problems.

    At least this is where I am working now in my work on Law, Rights Conscioussness, Mobilizationa and Social Change.

  3. Stuart Parker

    I will try to ignore the fact that Jason’s original post was written on April 1st.
    I was re-reading the readings this weekend trying to get a better handle on how this initiative that my peripheral gaze had told me was just a technical maneuver to use new technology to break, or at least weaken, the grip of the publishing industry on its monopoly rents and inordinate influence over what it taught in classrooms, could become the latest new curricular innovation. As I tried to make sense of this the following analogy occurred to me. It seems moderately helpful to me, but I welcome feedback to see how close a fit it is.
    Imagine a skier getting ready to go down a difficult ski slope. The folks in the ski shop hand her a trench coat along with her rented skis and she slowly makes her way up to the ski lift. Coming down, the heavy trench coat weighs her down, is very difficult for her to maneuver and she fall frequently. When she gets down to the bottom of the slope she goes back to the ski shop and complains to the staff. They take back the trench coat and hand her a light jacket. She heads back to the lift feeling a little chill.
    This second time, she comes down the hill fast because she is cold. She takes some short cuts, missing a several nice moguls and hangs out by the fireplace at the bottom for several minutes before going back to the shop.
    Finally when she goes back to the shop the attendant feels sorry for her and hands her a ski parka. She spends the rest of the day happily skiing down the slope.
    This is what the first phase of OER seems to me. The trench coat was the cost heavy textbook that weighed students down. The light jacket was the resulting strategy many students took of just doing without the textbook altogether and the parka was supposed to be the right fit where we can go back to the world as it was with students doing their damn homework (finally) with no excuses.
    Phase two seems to me to be very much a work in progress. “Open” as a founding metaphor of a movement is more vacuous that anything I have seen in the last 40 years (yes, I have been around), but that is not necessarily a criticism. It seems to be linked to open codes and the promise of democracy, self-determination and transparency. Much of which Dewey was talking about as he was working on his typewriter.
    The task I think we face today is that we need to rethink the ski’s we are on and whether we are even on the right slope which is going to hopefully involve more than just having students write new Wikipedia pages.

  4. Shawna M. Brandle

    Stu, this is a really interesting post, and I think you mean it as a standalone post, and not a comment on Jason’s post. Do you want to repost it? (Go to our blog page, and click the + New, then select Post, to make a new post. If you just hit reply, it is entered as a reply/comment on an existing post.

    Also, I kind of love your Skiing metaphor. You may find the open dissertation by Catherine Cronin interesting- she does a long history of Open in the opening chapter, which is linked here: https://catherinecronin.net/resources/phd-thesis-openness-and-praxis/

  5. Pingback: Old Reply, New Post | Kingsborough Community College Sustainable Development Goal Open Pedagagy Fellowship

  6. Dominic Wetzel

    Love the analogy here Stu.. lol. Very effective. Now I’m going to think of a ski slope every time i see a textbook..


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