Free Culture and the University @ Knowledge Rights (2008)

Free Culture and the University: Innovation, Information Sharing, and the Future of the Academy

Presented at
Knowledge Rights and Information Sharing in the 21st Century
Information Fluency 2008
University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2008

Jan. 31 at 2:15 pm

Abstract: In recent years, a number of social movements arising from and catalyzed by information technology have become the subject of public and academic fascination. These movements and their projects — open source, free software, Wikipedia, open access research, Creative Commons — propose new methods and new models of social organization in the intellectual, cultural, and innovative arenas. These movements are best understood under the rubric of “free culture”, drawing on the 2004 book of that name by Professor Lawrence Lessig. These movements are also linked to related topics of public debate, such as media reform, electronic privacy, freedom of speech online, and Net neutrality.

The place of universities in society makes them powerful actors and advocates in the intellectual, cultural, and innovative arenas. Have universities learned the lessons of free culture?

I will examine how the historical commitments and traditions of the university align with the modern concerns of free culture. I argue that these concerns matter more now than ever as ours is more and more an information society, in which the intellectual, cultural, and innovative arenas are ever more important to economic growth and opportunity as well as social concerns.

I will develop a model of the university as a key component in the intellectual, cultural, and innovative infrastructure of society. I argue that, de facto, universities play this role to considerable extent already, although that the official and popular understanding of universities is often limited their role in education or accreditation of individuals and the conduct of scientific research. I articulate a modern vision of the university that properly locates it as an institution to address the needs of the knowledge society, and I explore the practical implications of that vision.

I argue for praxis in the administration of universities along the values of academia and free culture. I aim to develop a theoretical framework for the practical application of learning in this context, and to provide the intellectual and rhetorical ammunition for those who would do so. Finally, I connect the vision to several topics of current interest — such as access to knowledge — and investigate the role of a praxis-engaged university.

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