ISSP – Infrastructuring SuStainable Playbour

In one sentence, ISSP is a research that adopts a critical perspective on participation into online collaborative commons to better understand and support their sustainability.

Here you can find a brief overview of the project.


Digital Commons are usually defined as:

Digital Commons
Digital Commons (Quim Gil, CC-BY-SA)

Information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusive, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources (emphasis added, Fuster Morrell, 2010, p.5)

As such, people who participate in the creation and maintenance of such resources are vital to them. However, despite literature on the governance and preservation of the commons (natural or human-made) being wide and thorough, it usually adopts an holistic view on the commons as collective entity and the institutional arrangements that make them.

In ISSP, I still understand sustainability as the ability of an organism or ecosystem to maintain its activity and productivity over time (Chengalur-Smith et al. 2010), but I bring the focus on the participants and their subjectivities.


ISSP engages with the following broad research question:

How is the subjective dimension of participation (e.g. fun, self-fulfillment) mediated by the participatory infrastructure of online commons and how can this adapt over time to prevent aspects such as alienation, burnout or exploitation to emerge?

and it has the overarching goal to develop empirically grounded design principles (or guidelines) that can support the sustainability of online collaborative commons, while accounting for participants’ subjectivity.


The research is based on case studies of sustainability in Free and Open Source Software (as paradigmatic example of commons), and conducted through (cyber)ethnography (Hakken, 1999).

Three case studies will be conducted in different domains of FOSS, and the collaborative, participatory infrastructures that constitute them will be observed through the following lenses, borrowed from STS infrastructure studies (Bowker and Star, 2000; Star 1999; Bowker et al., 2009):

  • Infrastructural inversion: shifting the emphasis from changes in infrastructural components to changes in infrastructural relations;
  • Breakdowns: moments of ‘malfunctioning’ that reveal the complex relations of infrastructures, and understood in this research as ‘breakdowns of participation’

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