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A Chat with Nathan Schneider

About how saving democracy must include creating self-governing spaces

For well over a decade, Nathan Schneider has been as perceptive a journalist-observer of the intersections between politics, digital life and media culture as you could hope to find.

At just under 200 pages, his new book, Governable Spaces: Democratic Design for Online Life, is brief but packed with insights into authors from Tocqueville to Cadwell Turnbull, Johan Huizinga to Mariame Kaba, Allen Ginsberg to Lani Grenier. If you weren’t aware of the “Californian ideology,” he’s got a great analysis of where it came from how it (still) works.

The main thrust of the book is his timely reflections on the very tricky business of designing democratic spaces—i.e., the organizations and groups most of us inhabit most of the time.

The critical thing is to design them so that they’re truly democratic, not just more instances of what Schneider calls the “implicit feudalism” of most digital life.

Mentioned in our conversation, two earlier books by Nathan:

  • Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy (2018)— “Since the financial crash of 2008, the cooperative movement has been coming back with renewed vigor. Everything for Everyone chronicles this economic and social revolution—from taxi cooperatives that are keeping Uber and Lyft at bay, to an outspoken mayor transforming his city in the Deep South, to a fugitive building a fairer version of Bitcoin, to the rural electric co-op members who are propelling an aging system into the future. As these pioneers show, cooperative enterprise is poised to help us reclaim faith in our capacity for creative, powerful democracy.”

  • Thank You, Anarchy (2013)—“This book charts the origins and growth of Occupy Wall Street through the eyes of some of its most determined organizers, who tried to give shape to an uprising always just beyond their control. I try to bring to life the General Assembly meetings, the chaotic marches, the split-second decisions, and the moments of doubt as Occupy swelled from a hashtag online into a global phenomenon. Thank You, Anarchy is a study of the spirit that drove this watershed movement. And, for those not faint of heart, it is also an invitation.”

Finally, Nathan is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado (Boulder), where he heads up the Media Economies Design Lab or MEDLab. You can sign up for their newsletter here.

See you next time—peace.


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Dorothy's Place
A conversation about rebuilding community and creating a moral economy. Catholic-flavored but ecumenical, kinda radical, lots of books mentioned. My friend Pete Davis and I direct the show.