Knowledge Commons!

Have civil societies actually learned anything from the Snowden disclosures? Did civil society actors eventually create a basis for change? Or has the political potential of this historical leak yet to be realized?

To a historically unprecedented extent, the disclosures of the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden allow insights into an excessive control apparatus operated by the biggest superpower of our time, the USA. In that sense they mark a new era: we are now living in a post-Snowden world. Yet we as civil societies are not allowed to be actively involved in this rupture. Most of the time we passively witness well-orchestrated scoops — if we are paying attention at all. How can we overcome this dilemma? How can we co-create the post-Snowden world?

When asking these questions, it seems pressing that we hold a debate about the value of democracy and public structures that is currently not taking place in mass media. In the course of doing so, we need to reset the agenda. Until today, the narratives of the Snowden disclosures revolve for the most part around individual/private problems rather than communal/public ones. For instance, they foreground privacy (a private matter after all, rendering also a private choice, whether related to the disclosures or not). In contrast to that, a debate about the value of democracy and public structures can bring issues of collective empowerment to the fore — and thereby options and strategies for co-creating the post-Snowden world.

A crucial basis for this is open and sustainable access to the Snowden files. Right now, there is no public archive for the documents compiled by Edward Snowden. Instead, the files remain privatized, stored by a few journalists/media houses.

At least some initiatives have begun collecting and archiving those files that have been publicized by the media houses. However, the situation is far from ideal, not only impeding free access to public information, but also obfuscating how we could collectively transform the leaks into actual knowledge — that is: into a commons that might serve us as a basis for changing the state of affairs.

Ours is perhaps a unique moment in history. We are facing many uncertainties as in our digital age notions of publicness and accessibility are undergoing a profound upheaval. The digital avant-gardes and traditional public institutions alike are challenged by the same situation: how can we nurture and maintain cultures and forms of knowledge as commons?...Looking at it anew, we propose to rediscover the meaning of the commons by examining those forms of knowledge, technology and life that today operate under privatized conditions, but which in the future we might transform into commons.


Text and compilation

by Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki