[iDC] "recursive publics"

Dean, Jodi JDEAN at hws.edu
Thu Jul 9 22:55:11 UTC 2009

Another question:

Your account of Free Software is celebratory rather than critical. That is, it seems like you endorse and applaud the geek mentality you describe. It seems as if
you think that markets and publics share enough of the same ideals as to be thought together. This, then, makes it seem as if collective interest were only
the aggregation of self-interest (and as if this could happen immanently, as if there were no fundamental antagonism).

That publics (I think the term society is better here) and markets can be treated as spheres into which governments should intervene minimally does not mean
that they should be treated this way or that they are symmetrical or that minimal v. maximal intervention is the best way to describe matters or even that
intervention is the best term (insofar as markets and societies depend on forms of law and legality).

Another way to put this: the justice of the market is not the same as political justice.


From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On Behalf Of Christopher Kelty [ckelty at gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 09, 2009 4:54 PM
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Subject: [iDC] "recursive publics"

On Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 1:01 PM, Dean, Jodi <JDEAN at hws.edu<mailto:JDEAN at hws.edu>> wrote:
It seems to me that characteristic 1 restricts the notion of recursive public to the reflections of technicians and experts, that is, to expert debates about design (which could be
about laws as well as protocols or roads. To this extent, 'public' means 'group of experts talking about the conditions of talking.'

yes, but the meaning of "experts" is also recursive amongst free software programmers--anyone can become an expert given the desire and the stamina to become one.  Or in the language dear to geeks, "you are a hacker when another hacker calls you a hacker."  I'm sensitive to the critique that there are hidden and not so hidden reasons why "becoming an expert" is not as open as all that (as with any attempt to claim a public sphere).

What makes characteristic 2 connect with
characteristic 1 (or is the combination contingent?)?

Based on the above claim, the logic is that what makes free software public is the potential to become an expert, (or a user, or a developer or an advocate) not the actual discussions of current experts.

It seems to me that characteristic 2 is a statement about politics--basically, politics designates the impossibility of closing
off a sphere, of preventing the emergence of opposition, of eliminating closure, or completely stifling resistance, etc. So, there really isn't anything to maintain--unless one wants
to say that this maintenance has to take a specific form (say, non violent but even that is impossible to maintain).

if I understand you, the "maintenance" part here is tied to the technical conditions.  Maintaining the publicness of free software is absolutely something that takes the constant and vigilant work of programmers, lawyers, activists, and users, who argue endlessly about it so that they might argue endlessly about it.  That's also what I meant by the "pure" form of it.  There are lots of free software projects and projects that use free software (Google) that very quickly "de-maintain" this openness in order to achieve closure, control politics (in the sense you mention) and pursue a different set of goals.

Can you also say something about how it is the case that markets and publics are basically indistinguishable in your view. Doesn't this lead to the view that anything that is good
for the market is good for the public?

they are not indistinguishable.  I think what I wanted to get across was that I could have developed the concept as a "recursive market" instead of a "recursive public" because for the kind of liberalism that most free software geeks express (consciously or not), an ideal market and an ideal democracy both have the same characteristics of radical openness, and both can deliver justice when properly maintained.  My way of connecting this line of thought to the practices of free software was via the language of "social imaginaries" in Charles Taylor... and for him, markets, publics and self-governing populations are all species of the modern western social imaginary, for what that's worth.  That being said, I do think there is a sense in classical liberalism that markets and publics are, if not indistinguishable, at least alternative regimes of veridiction--they can both be treated as spheres that governments should intervene in minimally because they can be relied on to provide better solutions, better forms of distributive justice, etc.  than a government or individual can.


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