In Part Two of Lawrence Lessig’s Remix, “Economies,” two different economies are defined in relation to the exchange of digital content: commercial and sharing. A commercial economy can be defined as any economy in which “money or ‘price’ is a central term of the ordinary, or normal, exchange” (Lessig 118). Any situation in which we pay money in exchange for materials (whether digital content or simply one’s weekly groceries) is representative of an exchange within a commercial economy. For those who engage in these exchanges, the monetary component—even if sometimes burdensome—is collectively accepted as necessary. Within a sharing economy, however, money can have no productive place: it is, in fact, potentially “poisonous” (Lessig 119).
[For more info about sharing economies in relation to fanfiction, click here!]
In a sharing economy, money cannot fit because “access to culture” is regulated “not by price, but by a complex set of social relations” (Lessig 145). While the sharing economy is also built upon exchange, this exchange is closer to that which occurs within a gift economy. In a gift economy, gifts function differently from money in that they do something else: something precisely communal. Lessig writes:
Gifts in particular, and the sharing economy in general, are thus devices for building connections with people. They establish relationships, and draw upon those relationships. They are the glue of community, essential to certain types of relationships, even if poison to others. It is not a gift relationship that defines your employment contract with a steel mill. Nor should it be. But it is a gift relationship, or sharing economy, that defines your life with your spouse or partner. And if it isn’t, it better become so if that relationship is to last. (Lessig 148)
Sharing economies ultimately work successfully because they are motivated by connection rather than money. Those who participate in a sharing economy are willing to participate in exchange without the promise of monetary gain because doing so permits them to both participate in and strengthen a community of which they see themselves as an active and integral part. If money were to be involved in such an exchange, the bonds that would potentially be formed could be either weakened or cheapened.
What type of economy is represented by the course blog? Or, can we even think of the blog as a system of exchange? The answer—I think—is yes, a sharing economy: students who contribute to the course blog by posting and commenting on peers’ entries ultimately contribute to a community of learning from which they can reciprocally benefit. While students of course have little choice in whether or not they post—failure to do so would likely result in an unsatisfactory course grade—students who approach the blogging platform in earnest cannot help but contribute to a community of writing.
In theorizing the course blog as a sharing community, students ‘share’ their individual blog posts with the wider course community. Other students can benefit from these posts—almost as if they were gifts—in a variety of ways. For example:
- a student may be assisted by a peer’s analysis of a class text they struggled with,
- a student may be comforted to see that other classmates had similar questions/concerns,
- students can be encouraged to think differently about a certain text after reading another student’s interpretation,
- students can gain greater awareness of how to converse in writing through commenting on other blog posts/responding to comments on their own blog posts,
- and finally students can gain greater awareness of a very real potential audience if the course blog is hosted on a public blogging platform.
Ultimately, students learn not only from the instructor (who necessarily maintains a certain level of authority) but also from one another. Through frequent writing and reading of one another’s blog entries, students both create and benefit from a system of learning that places themselves rather than the instructor at the center.
Also, there is an important point to be made about the extent to which the course blog as a sharing economy can extend well beyond the walls (both physical and virtual) of the specific writing classroom. Given that many collective course blogs are public and thus indexed by Internet search engines, they are available and readable by anyone with Internet access and sufficient interest in the course material. This is particularly relevant for potential learners who, for whatever reason, may not have access to formal education. When course blogs make available course syllabi, assignments, and whatever readings can be posted without copyright infringement, potential learners are able to silently participate from afar. Such learners can read what interests them, including the individual blog posts of students. Also, these readers can also like and comment on student posts, entering themselves into the ongoing conversation. Students in other writing classes, whether in a different course section or different institution, can also benefit from reading what other students are doing in their own classes, particularly in cases where students are engaging with the same texts. Students, however, are not the only ones who can benefit from the public nature of the course blog; other writing instructors are offered a variety of pedagogical ideas if they are to consider the wide variety of past course blogs that have been shared and archived on the web.