[iDC] introduction

Christopher Kelty ckelty at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 21:49:49 UTC 2008


This language of exit, voice and loyalty (All Hail Albert Hirschman!)
is in the background of my thinking, and one way to think about why
the public sphere is the appropriate concept here is that it can be
compared with Hirschman's corporation.  The structure of that choice
(exit voice or loyalty) is different in a corporation than it is for a
sovereign people, who may or may not take the form of an organization.

there is another crypto-economic notion that makes sense of your
observation here, which is the notion of path-dependency, which got a
lot of play in the 1990s, and which is often used to make claims about
the advantages of standardization in technology (QWERTY being the
canonical object lesson).  In terms of exit, then, it may ultimately
become very difficult for an entire group to exit from something like
Linux (to say nothing of something like Facebook) because of path
dependency.  However, Charles Sabel once had a very nice counter
example, which is that even though we are all locked-in to the QWERTY
keyboard, we somehow engaged in a massive conversion from typewriters
to word processing software, arguably a bigger and more expensive
shift than converting to a new keyboard layout.  The lesson therefore,
is that depending on the cultural value of the difference between the
options, some kinds of exit are more likely than others... the danger
that free software recursive publics try to guard against is that of
simply maintaining a meaninful technical and legal possibility for
exit, even if no one chooses to go there...


On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 6:28 AM, Frank Pasquale <frank.pasquale at gmail.com> wrote:
> Your points about moving from a "privacy-protecting" paradigm to a
> "publicity promoting" one are very important.  People using these new
> technologies need to recognize a basic asymmetry of information: as many
> proprietary software providers accumulate more and more data on individuals,
> their own uses of that data become increasingly opaque due to trade secrecy
> protections.
> One solution would be to make individual privacy as protectible as corporate
> trade secrecy. But the "fast capitalism" of a neoliberal order makes it
> almost impossible for anyone with a job and family to take the time to
> meticulously tend a garden of privacy and fend off myriad marketers' coaxing
> and cajoling.  The privacy problem has to be assimilated into a larger
> public debate on how to regulate projects like 23andMe so they serve public
> ends.
> You've asked "why are all these versions of openness, sociality,
> distributedness and so forth
> considered good?" Let me try a response, based on some of your ideas on the
> recursive public, which you've defined as "a public that is vitally
> concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of
> the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence
> as a public."
> Several scholars have recognize the importance of "groups" in social
> software, but the term "public" appears both more expansive and more
> political than the idea of a group. It reminds me of Habermas's work on The
> Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, which focused on the ways in
> which new communication technology affected the self-organization and
> recognition of new spaces of contestation in politics. Habermas's story is
> largely one of missed opportunities, where the extraordinary technologies of
> broadcasting and radio gradually fall into the hands of commercial interests
> more interested in cultivating consumerism than creative citizenship.
> Later reflections by Habermas (and works ranging from Ithiel de la Sola
> Pool's to Benkler's) have been more optimistic about communication
> technologies. The main justification for optimism has been the prevalence of
> "exit" options–for example, if the software company enabling your group gets
> too bossy or prying or commercial, you can always jump ship and try another.
> But the difficulty of getting your entire group to switch may be the biggest
> challenge to such exit options. To the extent the group is outwardly
> directed, it pays for it to ignore "hiccups" (which can gradually accrete
> into massive invasions of privacy and limits on corporate transparency) and
> simply "muddle along" using existing the technology it's always used.
> Kelty's work reminds us that, even as new technologies amplify "voice" by
> allowing millions to connect, we may just be trading old masters for new
> ones if we fail to demand voice. Their massiveness is almost dictated by the
> laws of what David Grewal calls network power, so exit is not a scalable
> solution.
> PS: links at
> http://madisonian.net/2008/12/02/the-structural-transformation-of-the-recursive-public-sphere/
> On Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 6:05 PM, Christopher Kelty <ckelty at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Trebor asked me to introduce myseflf to this list, which i'm very
>> happy to do since it includes lo ts of people whose work I know and
>> respect and a few people I know personally.  For those who don't know
>> me, I am trained in anthropology and history (science and technology
>> studies, more specifically), and I wrote a book about Free Software
>> called /Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software/
>> (http://twobits.net).  Trebor and I had a very interesting discussion
>> about one of the concepts central to that book, namely "recursive
>> public" which was a way of trying to capture what made free software
>> distinctive--and whether it remains distinctive in this way as its
>> ideas and practices percolate into all kind of other areas of, as this
>> list has it, distributed creativity (Michel Bauwens excerpted my
>> explanation of this concept on the P2P foudation wiki
>> http://p2pfoundation.net/Recursive_Public).
>> For me, that concept was specific to free software, as it existed in
>> the period from roughly 1998-2002.  Lots of things have changed since
>> then, obviously, some features of which are explored in part 3 of my
>> book.  But it's clear that the purity of the idea of a recursive
>> public as I describe it doesn't apply to most of the current
>> generation of "open" "free" "social" "web 2.0" etc. projects out
>> there, whether facebook and myspace or the new generation of web
>> services, clouds, grids and so on.  Nonetheless, I like to think the
>> concept remains diagnostic for new projects because it points to the
>> role of democracy, participation and dialogue which increasingly
>> occurs not only in discourse, but in software, infrastructures, and
>> tools.  In part, this comes from my desire to shift the discussion,
>> occasionally, away from mechanism and towards function... why are all
>> these versions of openness, sociality, distributedness and so forth
>> considered good?  And how can we more rigorously examine whether or
>> not they are goods of the sort presumed?
>> My current projects are turning towards places where I think this will
>> matter most in the future.  One has been nanotechnology, which is both
>> a collaboration (http://opensourcenano.net) and an academic project.
>> Nano matters in this realm for a particular reason:  distributed risk
>> forecasting of new and unknown environmental and biological materials.
>>  Most of nano is focused on making fancy new toys and devices, but
>> there is also a surprisingly large community of people trying to
>> figure out how to forecast the risks of nanomaterials.  The old
>> paradigms associated with the FDA, EPA and chemical regualtion (in the
>> US, the EU has REACH, which is much more interesting) are clearly
>> insufficient, not only for nano, but for all kinds of new risks, like
>> melamine in chinese milk products.  I think there is a role here for
>> "distributed creativity" whether that takes the form of DIY Nano, or
>> something more like citizen science.
>> The other is the life sciences (especially genomics, post-genomics,
>> epigentics, post-epigentics, etc).  Current hype around companies and
>> projects like 23andMe and the Personal Genome Project is focused on
>> the applying the power of Google to our genomes.  I think this is a
>> good point to take a very critical approach, one grounded in the
>> ideals of Free Software.  One reason is to shift the discussion from
>> Privacy, which dominates the ethical discussions, to publicity, which
>> is virtually absent from discussions about these projects.  What
>> public function does commercial genome mapping serve, and how should
>> it be configured?  I'm at the beginning of these projects and I hope
>> this will be a place to discuss them as they evolve.
>> ck
>> _______________________________________________
>> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity
>> (distributedcreativity.org)
>> iDC at mailman.thing.net
>> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
>> List Archive:
>> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
>> iDC Photo Stream:
>> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
>> RSS feed:
>> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
>> iDC Chat on Facebook:
>> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
>> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

More information about the iDC mailing list