Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Piracy article

To my nerdy friends interested in copyright (you know who you are) I very much enjoyed reading this chapter by Ramon Lobato today:

The six faces of media piracy: global film distribution from below

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Knowledge foundation for democracy not egalitarianism

In 1958, British sociologist Michael Young published a very odd book, The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033. It was wildly popular, largely on the strength of the word he invented – the word ‘meritocracy’, a combination of Latin and Greek that his friends said would never work. It did. The book sold millions of copies and was translated into several languages, including Japanese, even though the story really only makes sense in Britain and its Empire. The book imagined itself to have been written in 2033, as an essay describing the declining influence in the 19th century of the power of the aristocracy, substituted by the rise of a system that privileged individuals with intelligence.

The story resonates with the ideals expressed about the early universities in Australia. While they were expressions of high culture and the ideal education of the upper class gentleman, the founders of Australian universities – in particular William Charles Wentworth – expressed the ardent desire that those universities would ensure that students of talent, regardless of birth, race or religion (sometimes even gender) were given the opportunity the hone their intellectual skills in the universities. That this group of citizens might, in Wentworth’s view, form a new, Antipodean aristocracy reveals the tension embodied in the concept. This is what Michael Young’s book highlighted. Meritocracy was not only egalitarian, it defined a new source of legitimacy for ruling and, in the intelligensia, a new ruling class. Their education supplied the substance with which people would rule themselves, since birth no longer granted that right. Knowledge was the foundation for democracy, though not (in Young’s imagined future) for egalitarianism.

Monday, 13 December 2010


"Everybody in Australia is entitled, without cost to the individual, to the same educational facilities, whether it be in respect of education at the kindergarten or tertiary stage or the post-graduate stage"

Gough Whitlam, 1953.

What the banks are to money, the universities have become to knowledge

What the banks are to money, the universities have become to knowledge. Over eight hundred years or so, the power of universities has increased so that – perhaps with some parallels to the medieval church – its authority over knowledge is very nearly absolute. The university built an economy based on knowledge: as it was produced, knowledge was reinvested into the community of scholars, its surplus value ever-enhancing the university’s monopoly over knowledge. As centuries passed, other communities and institutions lost their purchase on knowledge as the university’s control of knowledge grew. The church, the state, trade guilds, patenting offices, commercial laboratories even academies of science all lack the legitimacy possessed by the university. The university decides what knowledge is, who may have it and benefit from its fruits. Modern nation states have been built on the power knowledge has provided. Democracy itself depends on flourishing and widespread knowledge. In the second half of that most violent of periods, the twentieth century, knowledge was the object of great bloodless battles as the state, industry and commerce tussled for its control. That battle is the subject of this thesis.

Draft opening paragraph, 14/12/2010