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Ontological Commoning Q & A


The topic of ontological commoning has been popping up in many places in recent days. People seem to be getting the idea; or at least, nearly. The below represents actual questions from a different place, with my answers given there; and I will add more as they arise.

Please do ask more questions for me to answer below.

In this page (only) we're using the abbreviation “OC“. This is not recommended for wider use!

1: “OC is (to put it in different words) a method of finding a shared language/set of concepts (ontology) which organize further activities (particularly when the context is complex/aims to solve a complex problem)”

Yes, a method, and also I would say more, an attitude or orientation — I don't see much hope for a method without that internal attitude or orientation — towards seeking a deep understanding of the other's ontology, enquiring into the worldview, mindset and psychological precursors which may have led to the other's ontology, including the trendy topics like trauma awareness, and my own idée fixe of healing narrative.

To me, this vitally involves practices like deep listening, which I see as much more effectively carried out collectively than individually, though some individuals are either gifted of practiced in it. Also a fundamental openness and humility, expressed perhaps in the recognition that one's own perspective is just one among many equally plausible or valuable or useful other perspectives.

2: “Can OC just be seen as 'human self-organization' (in regards to 'establishing some 'community' or 'social system')”

The word “just” brings up flashing amber warning lights for me!

Yes, I think it could be seen through the lens of human self-organisation. How complex, rich and diverse is that! So, I would say, please no need for the word “just”.

It could also be seen through the lenses of organisational design, development, change, etc. That is, it could be facilitated by an outsider, and this might be necessary if the attitudes and orientations mentioned above in (1.) are lacking.

3: “An example of OC which also might be meaningful: education reform?”

The tricky word here seems to be “reform”, as that very word, contrasted for example with “revolution”, has its own agenda and worldview. If I were to look at OC around what needs to change around the education system, OC would need, among other things, to look into the belief systems attached to using the terms “reform” or “revolution” (or any other choice of word representing change)

The distinction I'd like to make here is in the depth of change — the Overton window, perhaps. You could have a restricted OC exercise between reformists of different flavours. They would perhaps agree on a common set of undisputed (among them) assumptions, aligned with the “reform” mindset, and perhaps that would help them feel enough common ground then to talk about their different reformist agendas.

An OC process including reformists and revolutionaries would need to be much more radical, with fewer shared starting assumptions. This seems to me both more challenging and more potentially generative, as the initial mismatch between ontologies would likely be greater.

4: “It does make sense to consider the psychological dimension (more so just agreeing)”

Thank you! To me, OC starts when the psychological dimension is recognised as significant. Thus, more than making sense, I would say it is essential ­— of the essence.

5: “I am not sure what you mean by 'technical systems' — also, does ontological commoning mostly refer to 'digital' spaces?”

Second part of this: certainly not: OC refers very much to human ontologies independent of technology.

My main point about technical systems is to do with the difficulties in establishing technical interoperability in cases where there is no ontological common ground. Dealing with IT brings out the need to make things explicit that we have been able to get away with as implicit in normal human communication. A consideration of IT systems bring to a head the need for OC as preparatory to the implementation of systems that are designed to serve “the commons” in any meaningful way.

6: “If someone is born into a particular culture, and more so absorbs, opposed to creates, certain concepts (or activities or processes), and they readily participate in such processes, is that an example of ontological commoning? (assuming that it is)”

Thanks for bringing this up, as I would be inclined to say, no. There is another view possible, as represented by the “psyCommons” concept of Denis Postle. And you could say that the cultural ontology is a kind of commons — a matter to discuss, with reference to Elinor Ostrom? One challenge is that culture is not governed by its participants through any explicit process. Would people collectively have designed and consented to a social media culture that algorithmically promotes strife?

But what an absorbent process doesn't get is what I see as a characteristic, essential process of OC, which I do see as something that needs to be conscious. If it's not conscious, I would just lump it in with “enculturation” as has been written about much, and I know very little of that literature.

d/2023-10-07.txt · Last modified: 2023-10-28 14:11 by simongrant