A2K, Practice, Nonknowledge

Congratulations to all involved on the publication of the A2K volume!  I think A2K is a provocative way of framing some contemporary debates around knowledge, information, community, property, intellectual or otherwise.  It feels like every week brings us some new shift which is being linked to A2K issues: Tunisia; Egypt; WikiLeaks to name just a few.  In many of these situations, what’s at stake is the way that knowledge is legally characterized as property: state property; private property etc.  And the ways in which our ability to reproduce and disseminate knowledge radically shifts our understanding of what an object or subject of knowledge is, bringing into being new publics and new kinds of archive.

For me, the point made at the end of Amy’s introduction, about the need to separate “knowledge” from “information” is a key one, in that if all knowledge is rendered as information and more specifically information stored and passed around in digital data networks, then knowledge has already been reified or turned into a commodity.  Perhaps I might even wonder if there was a more fundamental kind of access than “access to knowledge” that was at stake in contemporary struggles about intellectual property.  For example if communities and individuals are constituted by practices of copying, things like pleasure, affect, relation are all there, even “being”. It’s always possible to instrumentalize those things are forms of knowledge or “ethical know how” as Buddhist neurologist Francisco Varela termed it.  But it may be the case that something important gets lost if one overemphasizes knowledge at the expense of other forms of being in the world.

In my own work, I’ve emphasized the importance of practice as being important in itself, regardless of the “content”.  How do we defend particular practices of copying that may or may not be centered on knowledge production but which nonetheless are culturally significant? There’s an important body of work in critical theory, from Bataille and Blanchot through Agamben and Nancy on the importance of “nonknowledge” and “unworking” (désoeuvrement). These concepts can seem very abstract and removed from the concrete struggles of social activists, but I wonder to what degree they might be helpful in thinking and making spaces where openness and sharing prevail, spaces that can’t necessarily be defined in advance as public domain or commons  etc.

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3 Responses

  1. ooooo says:

    Mr. Boon,

    I enjoy your writing on this topic. I have had lingering feelings of fear and disgust as I watch the debates about intellectual property unfold. But it has taken a while for me to understand why I feel the way I do.

    I like your thoughts on community and identity, and even “being.” As certain institutions, organizations, and individuals discuss and act, I feel threatened by some of the underlying narratives and myths? they seem committed to.

    I have been thinking of how to bring this somewhat nebulous feeling into the broader conversation. It’s not easy, but your approach feels right. It is comforting to know that there are others who feel the way I do. Thank you for your work.


  2. Amy Kapczynski says:

    I love the idea of “nonknowledge” – how important it might be for us to have spaces also of not-knowing… Lawrence Liang has two pieces in the book that resonate quite beautifully with what you write here. One invites us to think of our relationships to “works” like books as just that, relationships (the essay is called “the man who mistook his wife for a book”). The other is a challenge to the disavowal of practices of media piracy within some A2K circles, precisely trying to pay attention to pirate practices, and also pleasures.

  3. Frank Pasquale says:

    Excellent points. I agree that there can be intrinsic value in simply engaging with a work, regardless of its potential to edify, contribute to democratic discourse, etc.

    By the way, there is a keen appreciation of “tacit knowledge” and implicit knowledge in the IP work of people like Dan Burk and Margaret Chon. Their work highlights the importance of knowledge ecosystems and human relationships that are obscured in the current vogue for “algorithmizing” knowledge. Stephen Marglin has counted four “dimensions” of systems of knowledge–epistemology, transmission, innovation, and power (The Dismal Science, 129). He is very critical of the urge to reduce everything to replicable steps, as contemporary economics often aspires to do. Emphasis on replicable and transmittable “progress in the arts and sciences” can occlude important sources of value and social stability.