Toward a literacy of cooperation

Very cool new class at Stanford looks at new forms of cooperation. Very cool, with an especially cool list of speakers. Only one thing worries me:

Readings will include Peter Kollock, Elinor Ostrom, Steven Weber, Garrett Hardin, David Reed, Bernardo Huberman, Howard Rheingold, and many others.

All of whom are interesting writers and thinkers. And it may be far too soon to judge: after all, the readings list isn’t up. But this smacks of chronocentrism.

Darwin had a blind spot. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the role of cooperation in evolution. He just didn’t see how important it is. So for two centuries — a time during which the world passed from an agrarian landscape into a global post-industrial culture of unprecedented scale and complexity — science, society, public policy and commerce have attended almost exclusively to the role of competition.

Yes, this is all true. But the “almost” is important here. It’s hard to read this and not see Kropotkin rolling in his grave. Where are Axelrod and Wenger? Or the rich literature in economics on public goods, or sociology of intentional communities, or on group communication?

But maybe that’s all a bit picky, especially for a one credit undergrad class! A small tweak: from “Toward a literacy of cooperation” to “Recent trends in understanding cooperation,” would assuage this criticism. And in any case, it’s bound to get some students thinking, and that’s what it’s all about.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 12/3/2004 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Waaaaaaaaaa… I wanna teach a course like that. I used to teach with Ostrom and Hardin’s work in my envsci courses. To munge them with Kollock and howard and others would be great.

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