Blog for the course offered at Teachers College, Columbia University during Fall 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Agre on Issue Entrepreneurship

In case you haven't seen this buried in the comments, Michael found an interesting piece by Agre discussing Issue Entrepreneurship (thanks, Michael!). The whole piece, which focuses on the life and work of Czech activist Vaclav Havel, is interesting. But the following paragraph might be particularly helpful to you:
The pattern in Havel's life is what I call issue entrepreneurship: pick an issue, gather a network of people with an interest in it, and organize activities among them. In the case of the Thirty-Sixers, the issue concerned the distinctive experience of a generation and its literary expression; in the case of Charter 77 it was human rights; and in the case of the Civic Forum it was the creation of new political structures to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. Successful people, in my experience, engage in a great deal of issue entrepreneurship, repeatedly evolving their issues and expanding their networks as they go along. A well-chosen issue will identify what sociologists call a structural hole: a bunch of people, preferably already well-connected in other ways, who ought to know one another but don't. By identifying such an issue, the issue entrepreneur spots an opportunity to become centrally located in newly emerging social networks -- a position that can generally be converted to some kind of advantage, even if the details of that advantage are not necessarily clear at the outset. There is nothing wrong with this. It is a powerful way of understanding the world, and I wish that everyone knew how to do it. Yet this central skill of social life is a mystery to almost everyone, with the result that society is filled with misguided theories, e.g., that power is completely seamless and static, or that success is simply a matter of hard work or else entirely arbitrary. Issue entrepreneurship is rarely taught, and until recently it has scarcely been codified. So the real puzzle is how anyone ever learns it at all.
The way I see it, this class is an attempt to 'teach' issue entrepreneurship through the use of social software. Except that, because there is no pre-defined pedagogy for doing this, we are going to try to figure it out together... Some interesting ideas are starting to emerge, and I look forward to our discussion around them.


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