[iDC] Re:From Counter Culture to Cyber Culture

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri May 11 16:32:58 EDT 2007

Bernie Roddy's defensive post lacks arguments but sure shows affect.
While some people feel more morally entitled than others, Bernie,
Michael and many of us on this list have something in common-- a strong
desire for collective action. We can listen, work together, and learn
from one another.

Michel Bauwens "favors the tactic/strategy of 'concrete utopias', i.e.
identifying which existing innovative social practices have a
productive/ethical surplus, and supporting platforms where such
initiatives can learn from each other." Fred Turner is curious about
ways of connecting networks and brick and mortar institutions. Chantal
Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau argue for temporary coalitions of people from
different walks of life around a specific short-term goal such as
founding a kindergarten. They come together, make it happen and

As a pragmatic utopian I write about (and lead teams building) specific
participatory technologies. Descriptions of contemporary technological
phenomena, for me, need to lead to a critique of the social, cultural
and political forces that push them into existence. 

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins describes himself as a critical
utopian. "As a utopian, I want to identify possibilities within our
culture that might lead toward a better, more just society. My
experiences as a fan have changed how I think about media politics,
helping me look for and promote unrealized potentials rather than reject
out of hand anything that does not rise to my standards." (p247)

Jenkins first lays out detailed case studies of fan communities of the
TV series Survivor and American Idol, Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars, The
Matrix Trilogy, and Harry Potter. He describes in detail how these fan
communities formed, how they steered the content production of unfolding
media narratives, and how they migrated across media, convergence
culture. Convergence means that content flows across multiple media
platforms, between old and new media. 

Consumers appearing as fan communities, Jenkins elaborates, have a
bargaining power that they never had before and this collective action
can force capitalists to change, he says. Instead of simply thinking of
the vote of the pocketbook, he is interested in possibilities of
collective intelligence and participatory culture. Collectively, fan
communities can make demands to corporate media producers. They can show
us new ways of thinking about citizenship and collaboration, Jenkins

I agree that consumer collectives can be sites of empowerment. Their
feedback and co-creations will indeed be listened to by corporate CEOs
who try to improve their products and services in this new "economy of
affect." This collective consumer action, however, has nothing (or very
little) to do with civic participation. 

"Too many critical pessimists are still locked into the old politics of
culture jamming. Resistance becomes an end in and of itself rather than
a tool to ensure cultural diversity and corporate responsibility. The
debate is getting framed as if the only true alternative were to opt out
of media altogether and live in the woods, eating acorns and lizards and
reading only books published on recycled paper by small alternative
presses. But what would it mean to tap media power for our own purposes?
Is ideological and aesthetic purity really more valuable than
transforming our culture?" 

This speaks to the hybridity that I proposed earlier, a position that
goes beyond imagined ideological purity and autonomy, and yes, ... faux
radicality. Are there other, perhaps more truly transformative examples
that tap power for our own purposes?
Trebor Scholz

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