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Report on the First Interdisciplinary Research Workshop on Free Culture

Mike Linksvayer, September 22nd, 2008

Giorgos Cheliotis has written a report on Free Culture 2008, last mentioned here when the program was announced. Here’s an excerpt describing the final session, A Research and Action Agenda for Free Culture:

This was the most important session for the future of research on free culture. The aim of the session was to (a) identify future directions that would be ripe with research challenges but also promising to yield insight that would be useful to the practice of free culture advocacy, and (b) make an assessment of the workshop and decide whether to repeat it and in what format.

The session started with a discussion of potential areas of research, where the collection of more data and the visualization of this data for intuitive exploration and communication of findings was proposed as one potential area of focus. Action research was also mentioned as a methodology that would be relevant in the context of practice-inspired and practice-informed research. Global-scope studies and comparative studies across multiple jurisdictions were also favored by some participants as areas needing much more development. But the discussion quickly turned to practical issues, such as how to organize a network for continuous communication and collaboration among interested researchers and whether we should plan a journal special issue, or a special track in an existing research conference.

Participants tried to propose solutions to the perennial problem of engaging in interdisciplinary collaborations while at the same time being respected in one’s own scientific community. There was some consensus that we should not attempt to create a new discipline, but that we nevertheless need venues and opportunities to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue and do research across disciplinary boundaries, as the phenomena that interest us the most tend to cut across multiple dimensions of the Internet, including law, IT, economics, communications, media studies and policy (just to name a few).

The most concrete and positive outcome of the entire workshop was the unanimous agreement of all participants to the idea of repeating this gathering on an annual basis. Epitomizing the positive assessment of this year’s proceedings was Lawrence Lessig’s proposal to help find a venue for the workshop next year and also to help turn it into a larger and more substantive academic conference, a proposal that was greeted with enthusiasm by the rest of the participants in the session.

The rest of the discussion focused on what the envisioned conference should look like, in light of the lessons we learned from Free Culture 2008. It was tentatively agreed to raise the bar for participation at the conference next year by requiring that presenters submit a full paper at some stage in the process (this year it was optional and selection was based solely on extended abstracts). This, along with having more time dedicated to research presentations and research-focused discussion will help ensure that next year’s event will be more focused and session participation will be more consistent, which will be essential to building rapport and promoting genuine dialogue among participants.

Some participants also voiced concerns with respect to the conference potentially attaining too much of a traditional academic character and losing the relative spontaneity and participatory nature of the iSummit. It was therefore suggested that we maintain some slots for open discussion and seek to synthesize perspectives and findings in the form of panels or by any other means, instead of focusing only on single-person presentations. Finally, several potential publishing venues were brought up but it was agreed that it is somewhat premature to be concerned with this at the moment and we should rather focus our energies in planning Free Culture 2009.

Read the whole report and look forward to Free Culture 2009!

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