Benjamin J Birkinbine

Benjamin J BirkinbineBenjamin J Birkinbine is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at University of Nevada, Reno. Whilst based at WIAS (2 May 2017 – 31 July 2017), Benjamin will be working towards a critical theory of the digital commons.

What is your research project about?
The concept of “the commons” has been used as a framework to both inform and understand various social movements that are actively working against the enclosure of public goods or commons-based resources. These resources range from natural resources like water, fish, grasslands, forests or the atmosphere to human-created resources like education, housing or ideas and their expression.

Whatever the resource, these movements are linked by their attempts to escape the ever-expanding tentacles of capitalistic enterprise that seek to commercially exploit these goods which, in turn, leads to either overconsumption or the imposition of artificial scarcity. I am interested in a critical examination of some of the foundational political economic work that undergirds our understanding of “the commons.” Specifically, I am interested in revisiting the work of Elinor Ostrom (the commons and the knowledge commons) and Yochai Benkler (commons-based peer production) to expose what I perceive to be a faulty reliance on the assumptions of liberal political economic theory that inform their work.

This project not only explores the theoretical shortcomings of theorising the commons, but also asserts the need for a critical political economic understanding of the commons that foregrounds (digital) labour, class struggle, and uneven power distribution within the digital commons.

What are you looking forward to during your stay at WIAS?
I am most looking forward to connecting with other scholars, exchanging ideas and perhaps exploring the possibility of collaborative research. I think WIAS and London each provide unique opportunities for intellectual exchange.

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