A Short History of the Epistemic Commons

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Citation: Hannu Nieminen (2014) A Short History of the Epistemic Commons. Javnost - The Public (RSS)

doi: 10.1080/13183222.2014.11073413



Epistemic commons:

areas of shared knowledge and information that are open to all, although what we mean by “all” is always negotiable. We can think of the epistemic commons as the reservoir of our shared social imaginaries [...] the commons of knowledge and shared experiences


European modernity is fundamentally based on the assumption that knowledge and culture belong to the common domain and that the process of democratisation necessarily means removing restrictions on the epistemic commons


  • "1970s onwards, a policy of weakening and privatising public institutions has practically halted the expansion of the epistemic commons"
  • No tradition of democratic institutions in central and eastern European countries

"Difficult questions":

  • "What can the role of critical scholars in promoting the epistemic commons be today?"
  • "How should we understand the legacy of the Enlightenment – without falling for nostalgia for the 1960s and 1970s?"

Discusses history epistemic commons in Europe:

  • First universities
  • Reformation
  • Bourgeois public sphere
  • Liberal university (first: Humbolt)
  • Nationalisation (fragmentation in service of nationalism/centralized nation state, seen most strongly in smaller states in which it occurred rapidly)
  • Role of intellectuals (authoritative/interpretative)
  • Expansion of universities in Western Europe post-WWII
  • Crisis of slower growth, neoliberalism
  • Crisis of post-communist Europe, lacking institutions/resources (but also nostalgia) for epistemic commons