Dynamics of Self-Organizing Systems

One of the most commonly cited benefits of the Internet has been the ease with which it has enabled individuals to create diffuse networks around areas of collective interest that transcend geographic and temporal boundaries. Two of the most visible examples of this can be seen in Wikipedia and Free/Libre Open Source Software (F/LOSS). Researchers have been intrigued by the way they imply a shift from a centralized model of production to one that is much more diffuse and decentralized (e.g., Benkler, 2006; Hippel, 2005; Weber, 2004). More particularly, they have been drawn towards better understanding two compelling aspects of this phenomenon: (1) their capacity for self-organizing a diverse arrangement of human and material resources and (2) producing tools or knowledge-related artifacts that rival that of a traditional, vertically stratified organization with more tightly constrained communication and workflows.

While there exists a robust volume of research regarding the nature and dynamics of the decentralized infrastructures of Wikipedia and Open Source Software, there has been significantly much less attention devoted to how this model has emerged in other venues of knowledge production including geography (e.g., Open Street Map), education (e.g., Open Educational Resources), Citizen Science (e.g., Public Library of Science, Aurorasuarus), and Agriculture (e.g., Farmhack). In what ways do these lesser known collectives follow or emulate the practices of Wikipedia or FLOSS? Where do they diverge? What are the underlying dynamics that facilitate their growth? How do they maintain or sustain the various activities that enable their identity as a peer-production system? By exploring these and related questions, this research initiative seeks to better understand the dynamics of self-organizing systems.

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