[iDC] IPF09 Conference Report

Christian Fuchs christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Wed Nov 18 16:02:05 UTC 2009

Trebor has asked me to post my IPF conference report to the list. You 
find it below.

Conference Report: The Internet as Playground and Factory (November
12-14, 2009, The New School, New York City, USA)
Posted November 16th 2009 at 3:10 am by christian fuchs

By Christian Fuchs

Published in: tripleC (cognition, communication, co-operation): Journal
for a Global Sustainable Information Society 7 (2): 228-299.

Several hundred people attended the conference "The Internet as
Playground and Factory" that took place from November 12th-14th, 2009,
and was organized by Trebor Scholz and his colleagues at the New School
in New York City (see http://www.digitallabor.org).
The topic of the conference was that on the Internet, and especially on
what is by some termed web 2.0, social software, or social networking
sites, play and labour tend to converge and how this play-labour
convergence should be assessed.
Numerous scholars, activists, and artists presented their works in 20
sessions. The presented works can be situated within an emerging
transdisciplinary field that transgresses the boundaries between the
social sciences and computer science and that has been labelled with
terms such as ICTs and society, social informatics, information society
studies, Internet research, or new media & society (compare: Christian
Fuchs. 2008. Introduction to the special issue on "ICTs and society: PhD
students' transdisciplinary research projects. tripleC 6(2): i-viii,
The methods used in the scholarly works that were presented can in my
opinion be roughly divided into three types: First, the narrative style:
scholars who used this method based their presentation on the discussion
of concrete examples for the Internet as playground and/or factory and
tended to discuss quotations from various theories and approaches. This
was the most frequently employed method of analysis. Second, theory
construction: some of the participants tried to construct new theories
of Internet labour and/or Internet play that are grounded in existing
theories and go beyond these theories. Third, empirical research: others
presented results of case studies that were conducted by employing data
analysis or empirical social research. Also any kind of combination of
these methods could be found at the conference.
"The Internet as Playground and Factory" has shown that the field of
ICTs and society is continuously growing in size and importance, that
this field has also created a multiplicity of critical approaches, and
that it is important and promising that critical Internet studies are
further pursued and advanced.
If the Internet is a playground and/or a factory and what kind of
Internet is desirable are highly normative and political questions that
were at the heart of the discussions at the conference. This political
dimension is also related to the question to which extent the
contemporary Internet is or is not a democratic space, which democratic
and anti-democratic potentials are inherent in the interrelation of the
contemporary Internet and contemporary society, and which strategies for
political transformation make sense and should be employed in this
In my opinion, three positions on these questions could be identified in
the presentations and discussions at the conference. These positions
partly overlap, are partly complementary, but to a certain extent also
stand in contradiction to each other.
Representatives of the first position hold that there is a symmetric
exchange between users and Internet companies so that the latter make
money profits and in exchange provide benefits in the form of free
access for users to technologies that allow information sharing,
communication, and community building. The Internet is conceived in this
position as being a participatory system because it allows users to
become information producers and to create and share user-generated
content. Representatives of the second position tend to argue that the
Internet is not a truly democratic or participatory space, but has
deficiencies and is shaped by asymmetric power structures. However,
there would be democratic projects and potentials of the Internet that
allow envisioning the realization of an alternative, people-centred
Internet. The representatives of this position are thus rather
optimistic and argue that projects such as for example peer-to-peer
platforms, open access, open content, free software, open source,
alternative online media, digital art projects, cyberprotest, public
online media, public access projects, etc are likely to bring about
positive changes. Representatives of the third position see the Internet
as being shaped by asymmetric power relations. They tend to argue that
there are positive potentials and projects for an alternative
participatory Internet, but that the contemporary Internet is largely
shaped by powerful actors, especially corporations, that derive material
benefits at the expense of Internet users, commodify the Internet,
exploit Internet users, and appropriate the Internet commons. Categories
employed in this context include exploitation, class, capitalism,
alienation, enclosure, appropriation, or expropriation. The political
implication of this position is that political movements and
organizations are needed that bring about wider transformations of
society so that a commons-based and participatory Internet becomes
These three positions on the one hand partly overlap or are
simultaneously present in approaches, and on the other hand are to a
certain degree opposites that result from different political and
theoretical positions. Opposites need not and cannot always be overcome,
it is possible that they stand side by side and create productive
tensions that advance the overall field. This requires to acknowledge
that there are certain commonalities and to agree that there are
Overall, the conference "The Internet as Playground and Factory" has
shown that Critical Internet Studies is alive and well and is a subfield
that is growing in size and importance of the transdiscipline ICTs and
society. The practical hope for the future is that Internet scholars
will continue to work in the critical spirit that has shaped this
conference and thereby will try to contribute to bring about a
participatory Internet in a participatory society.

Conference links:
Conference web site: http://www.digitallabor.org
Twitter: http://twitter.com/idctweets
Conference Twitter hashtag: #IPF09
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/user2103510/videos/sort:date
Conference video streams: http://streamingculture.parsons.edu/
Mailing list: http://digitallabor.org/discussion

- - -
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
Associate Professor
Unified Theory of Information Research Group
ICT&S Center
University of Salzburg
Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
5020 Salzburg
christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Phone +43 662 8044 4823
Personal Website: http://fuchs.uti.at
Research Group: http;//www.uti.at
Editor of 
tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge. 

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