[iDC] "recursive publics"

Christopher Kelty ckelty at gmail.com
Fri Jul 10 17:05:18 UTC 2009

On Fri, Jul 10, 2009 at 4:15 AM, Gabriella Coleman <biella at nyu.edu> wrote:

> Another point is that while knowing about tech is necessary, tweaking with
> tech is not requisite for participation in this public, at least as I
> ethnographically understand it. My question for Chris, and this came out in
> both my undergrad and grad class when we taught your book: is what is the
> status of those who don't tinker? Is this a distinction that we should
> bother to make?

well I guess I wouldn't draw a very sharp distinction.  The great thing
about 'participating' in free software is that all kinds of things count:
reporting a bug, translating a manual, and indeed, just using the software
(or maybe even just talking about using the software!) can result in that
feeling of being on the winning side.  Perhaps there is a notional
difference here akin to the consciousness of/consciousness for distinction,
namely that it requires an intentional engagement and understanding of what
Free Software is and what it is for in order to have that feeling of
winning; without that, one is just using software, which many  many people
(most?) do not experience as having any political content at all.  So the
fact that all kinds of people on this list use gmail, which runs on modified
Linux servers (with or without knowing that), does not count as
participation, whereas the fact that I use gmail only my own Linux machine

> I also wondered why, given you drew on Warner's work, why you did not frame
> this recursive public as a counterpublic as counterpublics as defined by
> Warner exist in ethical or political tension with dominant values. Maybe it
> is just implicit, but thought I would throw this out there.

because I don't understand what makes a counterpublic different from a
public.  Warner makes a big show of insisting on the difference between The
Public (a social imaginary) and A Public (one of many possible empirical
instantiations of this social imaginary).  If that's so then what's the
difference between A Public and A Counterpublic.  To what does it have to be
oppositional to qualify?  What makes one public dominant and one... what...
submissive? :)

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