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Activist in residency (in motherhood)

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What is it?

This is a self-directed residency taking place during my parental leave. Over the next few months, between nap times and playing with my infant son, I’d like to investigate:

Small utopias. What does “a better world” mean to me? What intellectual and historical predecessors does my understanding of utopia build upon? What contributions should I make towards this utopia? Which actions will most positively impact my family, my neighborhood and the communities I’m a part of?

I will conduct this inquiry through reading, reflective writing, conversing with mentors and peers, as well as open sourcing relevant assets and outputs. The residency doesn’t cost anything and isn’t hosted by anybody. It is simply intended to give my wandering mind a structure and a space to refresh my activism and renew my sense of personal and professional purpose while caring for a tiny human being.

Inspiration for this residency comes from @lenkaclayton’s amazingly open-sourced artist in residency in motherhood that was thoughtfully shared to me by Chris Lawrence.


For the last ten years, I have been driven by the ideals of open culture and the open internet. I worked for organizations who fought for those ideals and built projects that tried to embody them. I contributed to open design and maker communities. I wrote about how open practices benefit learning, making and community organizing. I researched how openness could lead to better connected devices and how open event formats make communities more inclusive and impactful. I championed making all of human knowledge as free and open as possible, in all of the world’s languages, because this seemed to me one of the most peaceful ways to cultivate understanding and cooperation among people everywhere.

Openness used to be my utopia. Now I’m not sure.

There have been horrific political developments in the last few years. In combination with the perils of climate change, economic inequality, and the erosion of privacy, we seem to be in an general global hangover. Openness is not enough.

Becoming a mother has given me the gift of perspective. It is a chance to pause and question anew what world do I want to live in and what am I doing to get there.

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace was published in 1999. Wikipedia and Creative Commons both began in 2001. Firefox was released in 2004. They use open practices and the internet as a foundation for creating a better world. I see them with deep respect and as great achievements proving that new forms of creation and organization are possible. But they are also incomplete.

In the years since the Free Culture movement began, many other social movements have bloomed: the Arab Spring, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo to name a few. They bring other political dimensions and social issues to the fore. In parallel, there’s a growing need for more sustainable ways of producing goods under fairer conditions. The modern craft movement and new social enterprises are modeling these alternatives.

In my residency, I’d like to find who’s out there making the world “better”, engage critically to understand what that means and how they got there, and come out the other side with a sharper sense of purpose. All in the company of a little boy who will probably teach me even more than I can fathom.


Capitalism and the next economy.

What are the economic philosophies that underpin our society? How have these economic systems been rationalized in the past, and how has that changed or been challenged over time? What role does property play? Debt? Digital/virtual vs. physical goods? What assumptions are required to make these systems run? How do they disadvantage some people while favoring others? What are promising alternatives?

Empire and digital colonialism.

How has imperialism shaped our understanding of utopia? Who profits and who suffers when pursuing territory or expanding a civilization? Does utopia require “new land”? What mechanisms are used to claim and control resources? What are the historical precedents from colonialism that are being applied today digitally? What are successful forms of resistance to empire?

Philosophy of technology: utopianism, determinism and progressivism

What role does technology play in defining “a better world”? What are the prevailing themes and critiques today of technology’s role and its makers? How can social values be prioritized when evaluating technology? How can these values be embedded, rather than retrofitted?

Urbanism, neighborhood activism and the “smart city”.

How does our built environment affect our imagination of utopias and our ability to organize towards them? What are the prevailing visions for an ideal city? What role should digital technologies play? How should they be governed? Who is doing compelling organizing in my neighborhood and what does that look like?

Human development and critical pedagogy.

How do humans develop psychologically and socially? How are these stages reflected in society? How are they thwarted or fostered? How do we cultivate “human potential” throughout a lifetime? How do utopias speak to human development? What role does institutional education play in shaping our understanding of what’s possible and what is desirable?

Craft, degrowth and socially responsible making.

How does our vision of utopia get reflected in the design and production of goods? How do we create in a way that emphasizes degrowth? What are the practices and predecessors for responsible making? How can design contribute to social change?

Utopias and social critique in literature

How are utopias portrayed in literature? How are narratives used to bring utopian ideas to life? What are contemporary utopian approaches in literature? What other forms does social critique in literature take?

Syllabus updated Feb 23. Thank you to Bekka, Alper, Ame, Brett, Jen, Jon, Chris, Mark, Mushon, Hannes, John, David, and Peter for their reading recs! Check out my Github repository as well.

Think there’s something I should add? Ping me @thornet.

Written by

Leading @Mozilla’s Open IoT program. Organized #mozfest. Creative Commoner. Curious about openness, user control and the #connectedhome.

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