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Medien – Wissen – Bildung: Kulturen und Ethiken des Teilens

Wolfgang Sützl
Felix Stalder
Ronald Maier
et al.


Wolfgang Sützl, Felix Stalder, Ronald Maier et Theo Hug

Texte intégral

1This is a volume of essays about sharing. Few people could have predicted that practices of sharing would gain such prominence in contemporary society. It is, arguably, one of the most unexpected developments of the early 21st century. Surprising, but not inexplicable. Over the last decade, numerous developments have taken place that created conditions under which new practices could flourish and the roles of sociability and sharing are being re-examined. For example, the very idea of man and woman as homo economicus, that is creatures that will naturally gravitate towards the pursuit of narrow self-interest and, thus, the need of society to organize itself as to make productive use of this supposed essential characteristic, has been called into question with renewed vigor. A global protest movement exposed the depth of the desire to articulate alternative trajectories based on a different set of values than those that appeared to have caused the current financial crisis. At the same time, access to advanced information and communication technology for sharing is increasingly not only available virtually everywhere, but also warmly welcome by vast numbers of people in our societies who allocate substantial amounts of attention, time and effort to experimenting with it and thus interweave it into the fabric of their everyday lives. A number of flagship projects – most notably Free Software and Wikipedia, but also the social web more generally – have shown that sharing and collaboration can lead to results that are comparable, if not superior, to traditionally produced products and that new types of organizations which embody these principles are sustainable, adaptive to changing environments and resilient in the face of dynamic economic developments. An entire generation of media savvy, radically globalized people is growing up with an experience in their personal, daily lives that sharing (digital) goods is an essential dimension of how friendships and communities of all kinds are being built and maintained. At the moment, this experience stands in stark contrasts to other experiences of social life where competition and individual possessiveness are dominant and it is impossible to predict how such fundamentally diverging value sets will coexist and interact. What is clear, though, is that sharing as basal form of social interaction is being reexamined and this opens up new perspectives on human culture and history and as well as on diverse contemporary dynamics, far beyond the digital domain.

2With this volume, we want to contribute to this collective effort of rethinking sharing and its role in society. The individual texts in this volume where first presented at the conference “Cultures and Ethics of Sharing” which took place at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, in November 2011 (​mwb2011). It was a multidisciplinary and bilingual effort to bring together a wide range of perspectives on sharing to examine the potential of putting sharing as a social practice at the center of the debate. The first impression during the conference was, indeed, that there are many new questions opened by these perspectives, questions that need to be addressed from different disciplinary perspectives and from many different cultural backgrounds. It became also clear that the enthusiasm for sharing needs to be tempered with critical attention to practices where sharing might lead to either undesired outcomes or are embedded in wider social practices whose dynamics run counter to the ethos of sharing and cooperation.

3This impression has deepened as we revised and edited the papers. The bilingual format of the conference has been preserved in this book, which has an English and a German section. Each reflects the particular intellectual resources that either tradition can bring to bear on the theme of sharing. In any language, the focus on sharing yields an unusual combination of practical and utopian perspectives. Sharing is always done in concrete settings, under particular conditions, yet these very practices often point beyond themselves, towards a horizon of transformed social relationship, cultural dynamics and normative frameworks. This characteristic of the discourse on sharing is reflected in the table of contents of this volume. In the English language section, there are two chapters, the first focusing on context and horizons, entitled the Social Dynamics of Sharing, the second focusing on particular case studies, entitled Communities and Institutions . In the first section, Volker Grassmuck reviews the literary role of sharing in cultural evolution over the last 5000 years. He notes that increasingly, the Darwinan view of cultural evolution as driven by needs and competition, is complemented by recognizing the role of collaboration and sharing throughout history. Katharine Sarikakis focuses on how current policy and political economic environments are constituting sharing as particular acts, creating differentiation between sharing practices that are welcomed and those which are demonized. Nicolas John examines the spread of the use of the word sharing in the context of social media. As he points out, the expansion of the term is rather problematic as it serves also to paper over contentious practices, as in commercial platforms “sharing personal data with third parties”.

4The second set of articles focuses on particular communities and the institutional setting they create bottom up through the practice of sharing. Magnus Lawrie looks at the interplay of institutional and self-instituted dynamics in the context of a European research project called Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP). Also situated within an educational context is the study by Manuela Farinosi and Leopoldina Fortunati who examine practices of sharing within a distributed group of students at two universities in Northern Italy. Sebastian Sevignani examines the tension between sharing and privacy within social networking sites. Julia Rone offers a detailed and wide-ranging examination of the contradiction of sharing within commercial online forums in Bulgaria. There, the rhetoric of sharing is often contradicted by the crude practices and commercial/political interests of the owners of the platforms on which the exchanges take place. This stands in stark contrast to Andrea Hemetsberger's study of sharing within free software projects and the rich and subtle institutional and normative frameworks that have evolved over the last decade.

5The German language section starts with a set of papers on theoretical aspects of sharing. Alexander Unger investgates how mediatization has impacted on sharing as a basic social practice, using the cultures of remix and modding as examples. Next, Manfred Faßler describes how the meaning of sharing shifts away from caring and distributing towards sharing as a contribution towards production. Hans-Martin Schönherr-Mann begins his contribution with the seemingly simple question “was heißt Teilen”— meaning both ‘what does sharing mean’ and ‘what calls for sharing?’— in order to then explore the motivation to share as simulation and seduction, drawing on Baudrillard and Lacan, amongst others. Tobias Hölterhof examines the relevance of German 20th century philosopher Max Scheler’s phenomenology and ethics for social networks, focusing on the key concept of sympathy and its potential for an ethics of sharing. Claudia Paganini takes us back to the earliest writings of the Jewish-Christian traditions, enquiring into the modes of sharing information described in these books, and what they might tell us in terms of a current ethics of the media. Michael Funk examines the sharing of knowledge by distinguishing between theoretical knowledge and bodily knowledge and explores sharing in Indian and European classical music.

6The last section of the book is on practices of sharing. The first of three contributions to this section is by Doreen Hartmann, who enquires into the relationship between openness and competition, looking at the subcultural values of the hacking, cracking and demoscene subcultures. Next, Aletta Hinsken looks at citations in pop literature as a way of sharing that is used in building identities. The final contribution of the book is by Klaus Rummler and Karsten D. Wolf and their empirical examination of the use of shared videos in learning processes.

7The papers point into a lot of different directions, many hopeful, others less so. The debate on, and the research into practices of sharing are only beginning and we hope that these essays will contribute to deepening and expanding our vision of how sharing can transform society.

8The conference ‘Cultures and Ethics of Sharing’ was the third in a series of conferences on “Media, Knowledge & Education” organized by the interdisciplinary forum Innsbruck Media Studies (http:/ in collaboration with the Department of Information Systems, Production and Logistics Management at the University of Innsbruck ( It was conducted as part of a research project on media activism funded by the Austrian Science Fund (project P21431-G16) and held by the editors with support of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Austrian Association of Research and Development in Education (ÖFEB), the University of Innsbruck and its Faculty of Education as well as its School of Management. Furthermore, it was solicited by two media partners, namely the Austrian Knowledge Management Platform ( and the European Learning Industry Group (​). The editors wish to thank the sponsors and partners and especially Valentin Dander for his excellent help in preparing and organizing the conference, Gerhard Ortner for maintaining the conference-website and his reliable layout work, Petra Grassnig for her accurate accounting, Pamela Johannes for her careful English language editing, Victoria Hindley for her masterful design of the book cover, Birgit Holzner and Carmen Drolshagen for their flexible and unfailing publishing support, and our principal supporters for the book production, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Faculty of Education, the University of Innsbruck School of Management and the Vice Rectorate for Research at the University of Innsbruck (special budget HYPO 2012).

9Innsbruck/Vienna, July 2012

© innsbruck university press, 2012

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