The Global Context of Standardization

The Global Context of Standardization

Timothy Schoechle (University of Colorado, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-334-0.ch003
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The purpose of this chapter is to situate this study in a global economic and social context, and to review the literature and discourses that inform this study and identify its objects of analysis. The discourse on enclosure, including its key concepts, is examined in some detail. The study is couched in an immediate discursive context and then in a greater economic, social, and historical context. The discourse on standards and standardization is briefly surveyed here, but a detailed analysis is left for later discussion in Chapter VII. The key relevant discourses are examined. Related and useful discourses on social construction of technology and on institutionalization are also examined.
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It’s the architecture, stupid!

—Lawrence Lessig, 2002


Immediate Context Of The Study

One of the defining characteristics of the modern age is the uneasy and ambiguous dichotomy between the public and the private. Although contemporary policy discourse relies on these terms, it invariably fails to define them in any consistent or meaningful way. Habermas (1962) and Arendt (1958) in particular, have dealt with these terms and traced their historical usage from ancient Greece. A thorough treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this study, but it is important to visit the general topic and notice the conflicted and conflated use of these terms and the underlying concepts, particularly how how imprecise and confused use of these terms shapes and constrains thought and discourse.

One of the common ways of thinking about public and private, as noted earlier, is by spatial metaphor. The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas1 grappled with this notion in the field of urban design within the context of globalization, commercialization, and commoditization.

The city used to be something that you get for free. It’s been a public space, and it enables the citizens to assemble in a kind of collective sense, but basically through the process, [sic] effects of the market economy and through the withdrawal of the public sector and the kind of complimentary invasion of the private sector, which is expressed through shopping, the nature of the city has changed from something that is fundamentally free, to something that you have to pay for, so that even in educational establishments, even in religious establishments and certainly in cultural establishments there is always this kind of commercial presence…[the cathedral, the museum] the economies of these institutions [are] dependent on shopping. [emphasis added] (Koolhaas, 2002)

Koolhaas also notes the difficulty of reconciling public space within a “relentlessly commercial environment” and the cultural differences between American and European levels of public “surrender and resistance” to such forces in design. It is thus an irony of our modern age that the marketplace or agora—the classic form of public space—has become reconceptualized as a privatized and enclosed space.

It is interesting to note that when Koolhaas refers to the public sector, it seems he is not talking about government, but about public space—something more akin to Habermas’ public sphere, a non-governmental physical space where private parties may gather. Koolhaas appears to lack the words adequate to describe or define the concept he has in mind and is confined by the public/private sector terminology. A similar problem seems to afflict the discourse on enclosure, where the commons is the central issue.

In its immediate context, this study engages and applies what earlier has been called the discourse on enclosure. As also mentioned earlier, this discourse can be viewed as an oppositional discourse that is a composite of several related elements: the relationship between intellectual property rights and the intellectual “commons” (Lessig, 1999); the derivative nature of ideas, the intellectual commons, and technical innovation and authorship (Lessig, 2001; Litman, 1990); the enclosure of the intellectual commons (Boyle, 2001); the classic debate on wealth generation and alternative modes of production (Benkler, 2001, 2002; Lessig, 2001a); and forms of such enclosure involving standards and standardization (Van Houweiling, 2002).

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