We are very happy and proud to announce the publication of our new book: Cultures and Ethics of Sharing / Kulturen und Ethiken des Teilens, edited jointly by Wolfgang Sützl, Felix Stalder, Ronald Maier, Theo Hug. It is a bilingual (English/German) collection of papers on empirical and theoretical aspects of sharing, both on-line and off-line. Some papers develop quite optimistic perspectives, but others show also how activities of sharing can be captured by very problematic interests. They all manage to highlight the richness of sharing in social setting and the wide-ranging questions a focus sharing brings to the fore.

Thanks a lot to all contributors to this unusual, because truly multi-disciplinary effort. We would also like to thank Innsbruck University Press for making available the book in full as free download (2mb).

From the Introduction

This is a volume of essays about sharing. Few people could have predicted that practices of sharing would gain such prominence in contemporary society. It is, arguably, one of the most unexpected developments of the early 21st century. Surprising, but not inexplicable. Over the last decade, numerous developments have taken place that created conditions under which new practices could flourish and the roles of sociability and sharing are being re-examined. For example, the very idea of man and woman as homo economicus, that is creatures that will naturally gravitate towards the pursuit of narrow self-interest and, thus, the need of society to organize itself as to make productive use of this supposed essential characteristic, has been called into question with renewed vigor.

A global protest movement exposed the depth of the desire to articulate alternative trajectories based on a different set of values than those that appeared to have caused the current financial crisis. At the same time, access to advanced information and communication technology for sharing is increasingly not only available virtually everywhere, but also warmly welcome by vast numbers of people in our societies who allocate substantial amounts of attention, time and effort to experimenting with it and thus interweave it into the fabric of their everyday lives. A number of flagship projects – most notably Free Software and Wikipedia, but also the social web more generally – have shown that sharing and collaboration can lead to results that are comparable, if not superior, to traditionally produced products and that new types of organizations which embody these principles are sustainable, adaptive to changing environments and resilient in the face of dynamic economic developments. An entire generation of media savvy, radically globalized people is growing up with an experience in their personal, daily lives that sharing (digital) goods is an essential dimension of how friendships and communities of all kinds are being built and maintained. At the moment, this experience stands in stark contrasts to other experiences of social life where competition and individual possessiveness are dominant and it is impossible to predict how such fundamentally diverging value sets will coexist and interact. What is clear, though, is that sharing as basal form of social interaction is being reexamined and this opens up new perspectives on human culture and history and as well as on diverse contemporary dynamics, far beyond the digital domain.

With this volume, we want to contribute to this collective effort of rethinking sharing and its role in society. The individual texts in this volume where first presented at the conference “Cultures and Ethics of Sharing” which took place at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, in November 2011 (http://medien.uibk.ac.at/mwb2011). It was a multidisciplinary and bilingual effort to bring together a wide range of perspectives on sharing to examine the potential of putting sharing as a social practice at the center of the debate. The first impression during the conference was, indeed, that there are many new questions opened by these perspectives, questions that need to be addressed from different disciplinary perspectives and from many different cultural backgrounds. It became also clear that the enthusiasm for sharing needs to be tempered with critical attention to practices where sharing might lead to either undesired outcomes or are embedded in wider social practices whose dynamics run counter to the ethos of sharing and cooperation.