Context - Spring 2016 - (Page 27)

OPINION benjamin Franklin: Social Justice and the Cultural Commons BY JON CODDINGTON When considering the principles of social justice and equity that ground our democracy, it serves our interests to look to Benjamin Franklin for guidance. Though it remains difficult to tease apart the scientist from the printer, the diplomat from the artisan, or the inventor from the citizen, it is in combination that Franklin created the kind of useful knowledge that he thought to be of greatest benefit to society. Franklin's attitude toward social justice was embedded in a broader idea of the "cultural commons". For Franklin the cultural commons was an expansive public realm, creating opportunity for social justice to flourish while simultaneously establishing "durable knowledge" that was useful to all. He would have been sympathetic to Thomas Paine's assertion in The Rights of Man - published one year after Franklin's death - that it was the obligation of society and its institutions to give, "genius a fair and universal chance," enabling members of society to meet their obligations as citizens and be given an equitable opportunity to achieve their personal aspirations within society. The interrelated characteristics of social justice and the cultural commons share principles that are relevant to the contemporary practice of design in the public interest. First, the uniting of the limited "I" with the social, cultural and communal existence of "we" enables an individual to identify with another's life; similar to the arts, they operate not just through reason and argument but also through feeling and engagement. Second, our infinite capacity for association through the sharing of experiences, ideas and things, affirms the deeper relationships between humans and the world they inhabit. And third, Franklin's reliance on the rigorous and creative combination of experience melded to experiment and social justice have an intensity and intentionality about them that are accessible to all through practicality and craft. As a creature of the Enlightenment, Franklin viewed the acquisition of knowledge as a common good and the primary means to create an equitable and just society. Print - and by extension the free and open exchange of ideas - was his means for achieving this end. Print extended the reach of innovation, where through open, consecutive, and cumulative discourse, ideas and things could be improved through use, criticism experimentation and application. (Interestingly, the Millennials and their promotion of the open-source revolution and its accompanying "next generation democracy" echo much of Franklin's ethos.) AIA Philadelphia | context | SPRING 2016 27

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Spring 2016

Editor's Letter
Community
Up Close
Equity: The Intersection of Community Development and Design
Innovation: Tactical Urbanism in Underserved Communities
Practice: The Rowhouse: Reimagined and Relevant
Opinion
Design Profiles
Index to Advertisers

Context - Spring 2016

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