[iDC] recursive publics

Samuel Rose samuel.rose at gmail.com
Thu Jul 9 23:47:26 UTC 2009

Some replies follow

>Date: Thu, 9 Jul 2009 16:01:49 -0400
>From: "Dean, Jodi" <JDEAN at hws.edu>
>Subject: Re: [iDC] "recursive publics"
>To: Christopher Kelty <ckelty at gmail.com>, Trebor Scholz
>       <scholzt at newschool.edu>, "idc at mailman.thing.net"
>       <idc at mailman.thing.net>
 >      <A9CB20B2E922894AB91C979CE39066F5F5E14C0694 at EXMAIL.hws.edu>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="Windows-1252"

>I have a question about 'recursive publics.' Here is an excerpt from the
interview with Geert Lovink. (The cases are Debian and Ubuntu). Chris says:

>The concept of a recursive public was my way of articulating the
significance of these pure forms, not just the conditions of their
>And that significance is

>1) that they treat technical infrastructure and decisions about its design
as political through and through, as far down the ?recursive? stack of
technical layers as possible and

>2) they do so in order to maintain the possibility not only of an authentic
public sphere that they inhabit, but the possibility of the emergence of
publics oppositional to themselves, and to those that emerge, and so on.

>Whether or not people take advantage of these publics to develop
counter-hegemonic discourses and new political powers is uncertain, it?s not
implied by the form of the technology, but it is enabled by it.

>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.

This is true in the way that 1 is described above. I think the focus on
technicians is reflective of the current environment within which "recursive
public" behavior is currently usually observed. People can socially
negotiate, and also "stigmergically" collaborate (
http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php) around sets of
standards if they have a basic co-constructed language around which to
organize those standards, social norms, etc. Right now it just so happens
that technical realms already have some form, or forms of co-constructed
language readily available (for those that understand it).

This does not limit the phenomenon to areas that require technical
expertise. What is required fundamentally is trust, plus shared
understanding. We could pursue any human activity in a so-called "recursive
public" fashion, if we found a way to make co-construction of language,
standards and mutually agreed-upon social norms part of core operating

> To this extent, 'public' means 'group of experts talking about the
conditions of talking.' What makes characteristic 2 connect with
>characteristic 1 (or is the combination contingent?)? 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).

Another way to say #2 is that there is a byproduct of pooling and sharing
creative output, and creating rules that allow others to copy and re-use,
and extend creative output. The byproduct consists of a right of any one
participant in the current scheme to "leave", to stop participation. Another
by product consists of any one participant's right to create "fork" of your
project, to rebuild and refashion to meet emerging needs.

Now, the "recursive public" could also choose to make itself inherently
adaptive, by arranging processes, social norms, and conventions in a way
that allow for atomization down to the individual, and interoperability of
any output of any one individual with uptake/input of any other. But maybe
that is a wholly different topic? ;-) )

>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?


>From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On
Behalf Of Christopher Kelty [ckelty at gmail.com]
>Sent: Wednesday, July 08, 2009 3:23 PM
>To: Trebor Scholz; idc at mailman.thing.net
>Subject: Re: [iDC] "recursive publics"

>On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 6:12 AM, Trebor Scholz <scholzt at newschool.edu
<mailto:scholzt at newschool.edu>> wrote:

>2. Infrastructure.  The thread about data centers struck a nerve.    Free
Software is a creature of the era of the PC and the widely distributed (in
the sense of not-centralized) Internet.  It is not a creature >of the
heavily concentrated data center, massively clustered "cloud" computing era
we are now living in.  This is important to me, because whatever the
priniciples of free software are, they now confront >changed technical
conditions of massive concentration and control at a particular layer of the

The technical potential, the possibility to alleviate this situation exists
now. The situation literally is that because these concetrated systems do
not currently exert the full potential of their ability to control, they are
not seen as an obstacle relatively free flow within the system.

Since the technical potential, and barrier to entry are now very low for the
decentralization of these systems, when concetrated systems present
themselves as a barrier, you will generally see the network of people move
into a more distributed set of processes.

>So in terms of recursivity, one can have Free software on the desktop, or
on a mobile device, and one can have free software operating systems running
the servers in a cluster, but it is much harder >to have a Free Software
"cloud" system.  Web services and cloud computing could be created in a Free
Software-inspired manner,  (see http://autonomo.us/ for dicussions of just
this problem)  but >the reality of the situation is that Americans seem to
love Really Huge Shit, and so the tendency is towards Google and Facebook
and their hundreds of Millions of users and hundreds of thousands of
>servers since it feels big, solid and fundable, like a natural resource.
This sort of sucks when we are talking about Facebook and its exploitation
of your data to sell advertising... but where it really >sucks, in my
opinion, is in healthcare and in science, where it's clear that the
concentration of data+control leads to badnesses of all sorts.  But that
would be a new thread :)

I think it is *this* thread.

Americans love Really Huge Shit because the systems we have created around
ourselves on all scales are optimized for a Really Huge Shit-way of solving
problems. This way of solving problems is now collapsing in many ways. The
part of America that I am in (Michigan) happens to be at the cutting edge of
this collapse (or at least in a tie with California). This collapse is
spurring an emergence of exploration towards localized production of the
majority of basic existential needs. You will see more and more of this if
you are not seeing it already.

The conceptualization/world view that is being discussed here as "recursive
publics" is extending itself in different ways into every sphere of
operation in the US. Students of Complex Systems theory will recognize that
change tends to begin on localized scales, especially in human systems. So,
if you watch for signals on the *local* scales, and add them up, you will
see something emerging which may very well be far, far more *important* than
Google and Facebook, or current health care providers, or the infrastructure
they are creating.

The more that people discover useful ways to pool and share, and
co-construct language/shared meaning and conventions on smaller local
scales, the closer you are to seeing the sun set on large and unwieldy
systems, no matter how entrenched and immovable they may seem right now.

Sam Rose
Social Synergy
Tel:+1(517) 639-1552
Cel: +1-(517)-974-6451
skype: samuelrose
email: samuel.rose at gmail.com

"Long ago, we brought you all this fire.
Do not imagine we are still chained to that rock...."

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