Spring - Summer 2019 Data Together Reading Group

Oct 20, 2019

This semester's syllabus is a set of conversations on themes relevant to information and ethics.



Knowledge Commons

April 9

Let’s revisit last semester’s ideas around governing the commons, but with more emphasis and focus on how knowledge, information, and digital data might be treated and governed as common pool resources.


  1. Ostrom and Hess “A Framework for Analyzing the Knowledge Commons” (Chapter 3, pages 41-81 of Understanding Knowledge as a Commons) (http://www.wtf.tw/ref/hess_ostrom_2007.pdf)
  2. Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Hervé Le Crosnier. An Introduction to the Digital Commons: From Common-Pool Resources to Community Governance., 2012.
  3. This twitter thread from mmildenberger: https://twitter.com/mmildenberger/status/1102604887223750657
  4. Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons”

We’re hoping these readings will spur us toward frameworks for understanding how open resources beyond nature can be sustainably governed.

If you have any questions or want to dig into other works we considered, feel free to chime in on our planning github issue: https://github.com/datatogether/reading_datatogether/issues/40


May 7

A major lens through which governance of communities is understood is civics and citizenship. Even our own texts talk about “a civic layer for the web.” But it's not clear that we really know what we mean by that! In order to think about communities, and more compellingly, what forms of space and collective action could be built around decentralized forms of governance, let's read about civics!


  1. Iseult Honohan, Chapter V “Common goods and public virtue” in Civic Republicanism. This is a somewhat academic text, and to some extent refers to concepts that are defined in the first (mostly historical) part of the book. Still, it's really very interesting and helpfully discusses the tension between a liberal and “republican” view of society and the rights and duties it confers. If it feels long and difficult, maybe concentrate on the sections labelled “Introduction”, “The Common Good”, “Is Civic Virture Oppressive?", “Specifying Civic Virtue”, and “Conclusion” – together these are about half the full chapter, and should (we hope!) be intelligible without the remaining sections.

  2. Paul Frazee Information Civics. Available at: https://infocivics.com/. This is also a somewhat philosophical text, but focused on the new possibiliies that information technology opens up for civic engagement. Hopefully we can bring (1) and (3) (if you read that optional reading) into conversation with this text.

  3. Optional Johnson, P., & Robinson, P. (2014). Civic hackathons: Innovation, procurement, or civic engagement? Review of Policy Research, 31(4), 349-357. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ropr.12074 – Read the Intro and Conclusion, Skim the rest . This text is largely a reminder of where many of us come from, and a prompt to think about what we might want to be doing differently or better.

  4. Optional Rethinking the Civic and Citizenship These optional readings flesh out the problem of citizenship especially through an examination of the No one is Illegal anti-racist and migrant movement. We often construct our sense of “civic” around a rights-based and liberal “citizenship regime”. By examining places where that construct breaks down – especially around immigration status – we can maybe come to grips with the ways that “citizenship” can let us down, and maybe even the limitations of “civic” as a concept.

Alternatives to Capitalist Structures

June 4

When we explore current centralized data models, many of our fears and challenges are driven by the power of capitalist incentives; the reduction of privacy, disproportionate influence by advertisers, and concentrated ownership of data by a few corporations are all seemingly justified by the capitalist imperative to deliver maximum value to shareholders.

If the levers of capitalism place it in opposition to just data practices, can we imagine an alternative? What systems are imagined or practiced outside of capitalism, what is their power, and what do they center?


  1. Kathi Weeks (2011): The Problem with Work p5-8, 42-47, 51-57 Available at: libcom.org
  2. Hanna Hurr (2016): Silvia Federici interviewed in Mask Magazine Available at: maskmagazine.com/the-control-issue/struggle/interview-silvia-federici
  3. Cory Doctorow (2017): Walkaway (a novel) [Excerpt]. Available at: tor.com/2017/04/03/excerpts-cory-doctorow-walkaway-chapter-2/
  4. Gibson-Graham, J.K. and E. Miller (2015): “Economy as Ecological Livelihood” Available at: communityeconomies.org/publications/chapters/economy-ecological-livelihood
  5. Frase, Peter (2011): “Four Futures” Available at: jacobinmag.com/2011/12/four-futures/
  6. Michael Johnson (2012): The Cooperative Principles, the Common Good, and Solidarity Available at: geo.coop/story/cooperative-principles-common-good-and-solidarity
  7. Arturo Escobar (2018): Designs for the Pluriverse intro p7-21 Available at: dukeupress.edu/Assets/PubMaterials/978-0-8223-7105-2_601.pdf
  8. Optional All of Doctorow's novel Walkaway
  9. Optional Adrienne Maree Brown (2017): Emergent Strategy Resilience, Creating More Possibilities p77-98
  10. Optional Nora Marks Dauenhauer (1990): Haa Tuwunáagu Yis on potlatch (jsoo.éex’) p75-109


August 6

Topic description coming soon!


  1. Pastor Henry Wright (2019). The Stewardship of Time
  2. Nora Marks Dauenhauer (1990). Haa Tuwunáagu Yis
    • pp. 263-267, 277-281, Elders Speak to the Future
  3. Kat Anderson (2005). Tending the wild
  4. Trevor Owens (2017). Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation
  5. Karasti, Helena & Baker, Karen & Halkola, Eija. (2006). Enriching the Notion of Data Curation in E-Science: Data Managing and Information Infrastructuring in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. Computer Supported Cooperative Work. 15. 321-358. 10.1007/s10606-006-9023-2
  6. Definititon of post-custodial theory of archives
  7. Hannah Alpert-Abrams, David A Bliss, Itza Carbajal (2019). Post-Custodial Archiving for the Collective Good.
  8. Nadia Eghbal. Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure


What is Decentralization?

November 12, 2019

True to form, we gathered readings in a decentralized way. Themes that emerged were: looking critically at how “decentralization” is defined, how it could/should be measured, and the sticky problems that aren't automatically solved (and sometimes are actually caused) by technology. The readings are chunked to break them up a bit. The first 3 focus on decentralized tech and apps, the next 3 on political decentralization, and the last 2 on decentralized knowledge creation and stewardship.


  1. Sarah Friend. Decentralization and its Discontents
  2. Angela Walch. (2019) Deconstructing ‘Decentralization’: Exploring the Core Claim of Crypto Systems
  3. Kleppmann, Martin & Wiggins, Adam & Hardenberg, Peter van & McGranaghan, Mark. Local-first Software

  1. Brancati, D. (2006). Decentralization: Fueling the Fire or Dampening the Flames of Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism?
  2. Elinor Ostrom. Green from the Grassroots
  3. Rachel-Rose O’Leary. This North Syrian School Is a Baby Step Toward a Blockchain Society

  1. James C. Scott. (1998) Seeing Like a State
  2. Jessica J. Prentice. The Most Dangerous Notion in Reinventing Organizations


  1. Adi Robertson. How the Biggest Decentralized Social Network is Dealing With its Nazi Problem
  2. Darius Kazemi. Run Your Own Social
  3. Longer talk of Sarah Friend. Decentralization and its Discontents