Stanford Course open to public: Toward a Literacy of Cooperation
November 30th, 2004

Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Jan 5-Mar 16

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. The stories people tell themselves about what is possible, the mythical narratives that organizations and societies depend upon, have been variations of “survival of the fittest.” The role of cooperation has been largely unmapped.

Now is the time to finally build this map, not because we’re feeling altruistic, but because scientists are beginning to see how cooperation actually works in biology, sociology, mathematics, psychology, economics, computer science and political science. And in the last two decades, we’ve seen a variety of new challenges to business models that stress competition over customers, resources, and ideas. Companies in emerging high-tech industries learned that working with competitors could build markets and help avoid costly standards wars. The open source movement showed that world-class software could be built without corporate oversight or market incentives. Google and Amazon built fortunes by drawing on, even improving, the Internet by facilitating and building on the collective actions of millions of web publishers and reviewers. Thousands of volunteers have created over one million pages of the free encyclopedia Wikipedia – in over 100 languages. Collective knowledge-gathering, sharing economies, social software, prediction markets – numerous experiments in technology-assisted cooperation are taking place.

In this lecture series we want to begin to put these pieces of the puzzle together to build a practical map of cooperative strategy, starting with the basic social dilemma that has forever defined the tension between self-interest and social institutions. Social dilemmas arise when you or I act rationally… in our own self-interest…but our individual rational acts add up to a situation in which everyone is worse off. That is, our choices add up to less, not more.

Readings will include Peter Kollock, Elinor Ostrom, Steven Weber, Garrett Hardin, David Reed, Bernardo Huberman, Howard Rheingold, and many others. The class will begin with a first hand game experience. A wiki and a blog will continue discussion and group learning online between classes, and enable participation by others off-campus or on the other side of the world. Guest lecturers include Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), Peter Kollock, Bernardo Huberman, Ross Mayfield (social software entrepreneur and one of the authors of “Emergent Democracy,”) Howard Rheingold, Zack Rosen (creator of Deanspace and civicspace.org), and others.

Classes will be held WEDNESDAYS 4:15 pm to 5:45 pm Wallenberg Hall (Bldg 160), Room 127. Lecture video will be streamed in real time and available on archives. The first class will be Monday, January 5. The syllabus and information about online participation will be available online by the last week in December.

We’re hoping that this course will be the start of an interdisciplinary learning network, focused on issues of cooperation and collective action in science, public policy, business, and everyday life.


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