25 January 2008

How Do You Say "Commons" in Chinese?

One of the key themes of this blog is the idea of a commons, be it one constructed out of free software, open content or DNA. But as the very word suggests, there is a very specific history behind the concept, which raises an interesting question: how relevant is it in other cultures? Is it even meaningful if there is no corresponding equivalent?

Here are some interesting thoughts on the situation in China:

Lawrence Liang, a lawyer of Chinese descent from Bangalore, gave a brilliant talk (I'm told all his talks are brilliant - this was the first time I've heard him speak) titled "How Does An Asian Commons Mean." No, that's not a typo. He points out that "the metaphor of the commons as it is used in debates on information emerges from a specific history of the enclosures movement in Europe." The task of articulating an Asian Commons requires more than merely translating existing initiatives such as Creative Commons, but rather "to answer larger questions of what it means to provide an epistemological account of the commons in Asia." This is especially challenging because the idea that one can consider oneself "Asian" and that such a label has real cultural or social meaning "is a "diplomatic fiction... neither Asia nor commons has any substantive content."

Fascinating stuff.

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