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New digital ethnography reading group

July 8, 2015

By Allister Hill
PhD candidate
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
RMIT University, Melbourne

Due to scheduling clashes, this month we are running the first group Thursday 9 July 2015, 12-1:30pm, Room 9.3.5A/B [RMIT city campus, Melbourne]. Moving forward they will be run on the second Wednesday of each month, starting on 12 August 2015 (12-1:30pm). See also the meeting invite.

As this is the first session we’d like you to think about some of the following. What ethnography means to you and to your research? How does your understanding of ethnography shape your practices as a researchers / how do you expect it to, if you are just starting out now? Where is the digital located, for you, in relation to ethnographic practice?

This month’s reading is (see attached, NB if the link doesn’t work you may need to right click and open link in a new window).

Horst, H., Hjorth, L., & Tacchi, J. (2012). Rethinking ethnography: An introduction. Media International Australia, 12(145), 86-93.

With regard to the reading for this week, Rethinking ethnography, perhaps one or a few of the following matters could be considered and discussed with the group:

  1. What are the ways in which the article encourages the reader to ‘rethink’ ethnography and ethnographic practice? How does this rethinking facilitate understanding the world (in particular digital lives and media) in ‘useful and insightful ways’ and more?
  2. Nightingale (2012) ties the development of media ethnography to the cultural or ‘reflexive turn’ in anthropology. What does this ‘reflective turn’ refer to? Furthermore, in what ways could this have lead to improved ethnographic practice in media and cultural studies and the expansion of media anthropology?
  3. Do you agree with Small’s (2009) differentiation between the ways that sociologists and social/cultural anthropologists have used and approached ethnographic research? What are the ways that sociologists approach ethnography, that may differ from anthropologists, if they are more inclined to encounter questions as to the validity of their research based on ‘how many’ and ‘who’ are in their study?
  4. Explore the notion of ‘being in fieldwork’ as used, with a nod to studying virtual worlds, by Boellstorff et. al (2012) and how that compares to what anthropologists may have considered ‘participant observation’ in the past.
If there are any digital ethnography readings that you would like to recommended, start thinking of them now and/or email them through and we can work towards setting up the list of readings for future reading groups.

Educating ‘bilingual’ children in Spain and Denmark

June 26, 2015

Educating ‘bilingual’ children in Spain and Denmark: childhood bilingualism as opportunity or constraint

by Kenn Nakata Steffensen
University College Cork/University of Tokyo

See PDF 

The word ‘bilingual’ has acquired vastly divergent politicised meanings in contemporary Spanish and Danish discourses on childhood education. In the former, it tends to denote competence in a foreign language, which is almost universally assumed to be English, while in the latter it refers to relative lack of competence in Danish. The two conceptions of ‘bilingualism’ as an opportunity or constraint are thus positive and negative, both in an evaluative and descriptive sense.

In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is a desirable marker of success and upward social mobility, in Denmark it is an obstacle to the same. In both national discourses, language comes to stand for something else, namely class and ethnicity, as well as integration into (in the Spanish case) a transnational elite and (in the Danish case) the national community. In the Spanish context, ‘bilingualism’ is constituted as a personal and public good to be developed through the education of children and adolescents, hence the growth of ‘bilingual’ schools in recent years. In Denmark, childhood ‘bilingualism’ is seen as an ill to be eradicated through the education system.

The language that Spanish parents and politicians want their children to become ‘bilingual’ in is, above all, English. It represents global power, progress, modernity and recovery from imperial decline. Following the maxim ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’, Spain was historically defeated by English-speaking imperial powers and now seeks to join an ‘Anglobalising’, post-imperial, world order on its terms.

In Denmark, fluency in English is also – but to a much lesser degree – a marker of elite status which is widely distributed among the population and not associated with ‘bilingualism’. The mostly Middle Eastern, South Asian and African languages that pose the ‘bilingualism’ problem in Denmark are associated with backwardness, poverty and ignorance. With the strong historical link between ethnic nationalism and the Danish/Scandinavian welfare state model, failing to address the problem posed by ‘bilingualism’ threatens the survival of the state as a community of shared values embodied in a strongly monolingual conception of the nation.

In both cases, the supposed objectives are unlikely to be met and are not ultimately grounded on language and bilingualism as such. The different meanings ‘bilingualism’ has acquired in the two countries have their historical origins in the nature of their particular early-modern composite monarchical states, the rise and demise of their colonial empires, and their respective 20th century experiences of modernising authoritarianism and welfare capitalism.

Real full paper (PDF)…

Review of The Logic of Connective Action by Bennett and Segerberg

June 25, 2015

tempThe Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. W.L. Bennett and A. Segerberg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 240 pp.

John Postill
RMIT University
24 June 2015

Book review for International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP) (forthcoming 2015). See PDF

The Logic of Connective Action asks a timely question, namely ‘how digitally networked action works in an era of increasingly personalised political participation’ (p. 211). The book’s premise is that the long-term decline in membership of civic and political organisations observed across the West, along with a ‘personalisation’ of lifestyles and media practices, suggests people’s engagement (or not) with politics may have changed.

To explore this shift, Bennett and Segerberg coin the concept of ‘connective action’, a form of contentious action based on sharing personalised contents through social media. This they contrast with an earlier logic of collective action that relies on the formation of collective identities. The challenge for ‘connective’ action networks is not how to get individuals to contribute to a cause. After all, people are already routinely contributing their free labour, or ‘sharing’, through social media. Instead, the challenge is how to turn that sharing into ‘public engagement, policy focus, or mass media impact’ (p. 58). More often than not, argue the authors, part of the answer is not to subsume individuals under a collective identity but rather to get them to share ‘personal frames’ derived from inclusive ideas, e.g. variants on the “I am the 99%” meme.

Chapter 1, ‘The logic of connective action’ develops a three-part typology of collective vs. connective action (see the helpful diagram on p. 47). In contrast to the collective action of ‘organisation-brokered networks’, two different types of connective action are introduced: crowd-enabled vs. organisation-enabled action. The Occupy movement is a crowd-enabled action network, whilst the London-based coalition Put People First (PPF) typifies an organisation-enabled network.

Chapter 2, ‘Personalised communication in protest networks’, compares two coalitions linked to the G20 London summit of 2009 – the organisation-enabled PPF and a classic collective action network named Meltdown. Despite its more personalised approach, PPF attained a high degree of organisational coherence (p. 78) and remained ‘managed and focused’ (p. 86).

Chapter 3, ‘Digital media and the organisation of connective action’ compares once again two 2009 networks. Here, however, both are connective action networks: the crowd-enabled #cop15 protests in Copenhagen vs. the organisation-enabled #thewave in London. By examining in detail two key Twitter practices (hashtagging and hyperlinking), the analysis reveals that the ‘crowdsourced’ gatekeeping of the Copenhagen Twitter stream was no less coherent than that of the organisation-managed London stream.

Chapter 4, ‘How organisation-enabled networks engage publics’, compares another pair of action networks: fair trade networks in Germany and the UK. It argues that public engagement as a desirable goal for all action networks is not a given. To establish which conditions favour or inhibit organisation-enabled connective action, we must identify the ‘opportunities and trade-offs in the political environment’ (p. 145).

Chapter 5, ‘Networks, power, and political outcomes’ compares the UK’s organisation-enabled Robin Hood Tax (RHT) network with the crowd-enabled Occupy movement in the US. The aim is to examine ‘[h]ow power operates in different kinds of connective action networks’ (p. 149). Bennett and Segerberg introduce the notion of ‘power signatures’ to gauge ‘the degree to which recognition (prestige and influence) is concentrated or dispersed among actors in a network’ (p. 152) who can ‘set conditions on how power is organised’ (p. 155). Despite their different power signatures, both networks managed to ‘change the conversation’ on inequality in their respective nations (p. 165).

Finally, ‘Conclusion: when logics collide’, is more than a recapitulation, as it takes up a new issue: the conditions under which internal strife can arise within action networks. Thus, within Occupy ‘fundamentally different ideals and ideologies of organisation and action’ arose over online deliberation technologies during the post-encampment phase (p. 200).

This is a remarkable book that doubtless accomplishes its mission of understanding ‘how digitally networked action works in an era of increasingly personalised political participation’. The book straddles the conventional pre- and post-Tahrir divide running through much of the current protest movements scholarship. It also develops an original conceptual vocabulary, spearheaded by the notion of ‘connective action’. In addition, it makes fruitful, systematic use of the comparative method, as well as developing methodological innovations around web crawling and other digital techniques. As if that were not enough, The Logic of Connective Action even wrestles with one of the more vexing problems of social network analysis: its customary inattention to questions of power (see Chapter 5). In doing so, it opens collaborative avenues with social movements scholars currently attacking power from other angles, including field theory. As the authors point out, there are limitations to the network analysis approach adopted in the book, and therefore much scope for future collaboration with ethnographers and other qualitative scholars.

The book suffers from two main weaknesses. First, the authors succeed in making the more ‘boring’, technical sections accessible to non-specialists, yet most chapters are rather too lengthy, and there is a fair degree of redundance. The more fundamental problem, though, is the idea that different action networks possess their own ‘logics’ – and indeed that there is such a thing as a ‘logic’ of connective action. Although this idea drives the book, it is left unexplained. In fact, there appears to be a manner of causal linearity in the argument. So long as the analyst can identify the unique logic (or mix of logics) ‘at work’ in a given action network, the rest (digital media, internal frictions, political outcomes, etc.) will follow logically, as it were. In avoiding the technological determinism of cruder accounts, Bennett and Segerberg may have veered too close to morphological determinism by presuming that network form begets contentious action type. This brings us to the perpetual question of agency. Does the power and agency of network participants end at the very point at which they have co-created a given ‘logic’ of action? This is unlikely, suggesting the need for a revised theory of action that can handle the messy, multi-directional causality of contentious politics.

About the author

Dr John Postill is Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University, Melbourne, and Digital Anthropology Fellow at University College London (UCL). His publications include Localizing the Internet (2011), Media and Nation Building (2006) and the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Practice (2010, with Birgit Bräuchler). Currently he is conducting anthropological research on new forms of digital activism and civic engagement in Indonesia, Spain and globally. He is also writing a book on the connection between techno-politics and new citizen movements around the world, as well as the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Change (with Elisenda Ardèvol and Sirpa Tenhunen).

21. Review of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

June 12, 2015

9781781685839_Hacker__hoaxer-294b89cbd6b3950d9cdbfb0e39e66884Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Gabriella Coleman. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2014. 464 pp.

John Postill
RMIT University
Melbourne, 12 June 2015
forthcoming, American Anthropologist

The past five years have seen a global flourishing of political initiatives in which tech-minded actors of different kinds (geeks, hackers, bloggers, online journalists, citizen politicians, etc.) have played prominent roles. From whistleblowing to online protests, from occupied squares to anti-establishment parties, these ‘freedom technologists’ can no longer be dismissed, particularly after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the surveillance abuses of America’s NSA and allied agencies. Based on long-term anthropological fieldwork, Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, is a riveting account of one these new collective actors: Anonymous.

Written for a general readership, in the conclusion Coleman reveals that the book has two ‘clashing objectives’. ‘First and foremost’, it has the ‘Apollonian’, ‘empirical’ aim of setting the record straight about Anonymous. Contrary to their popular image as reckless online hooligans, Anonymous has now ‘matured into a serious political movement’ (p. 392). The book also has an ancillary, ‘Dionysian’ aim: to “enhance enchantment” by learning from Anonymous’ exploits on their own terms, not through academic jargon, so as to ‘nudge forward [the ongoing] process of historical and political myth-making’ (p. 394).

To elaborate on this idea, I wish to suggest that Coleman has actually written two (thoroughly entangled) books within the covers of one. Book 1 could be titled Coming of Age on the Internet: How Anonymous Matured into a Serious Political Movement. This is a book retracing the group’s exhilarating journey ‘from motherfuckery to activism’ (p. 396). Coleman finds reasons for hope, for if ‘one of the seediest places on the Internet’ (p. 51) – the uncensored website 4chan – could spawn such a formidable force for change, we may still have a chance to reverse the ‘total surveillance’ course taken by the US government and its allies after 9/11.

The story begins in 2008 (chapter 1) when Anonymous, until then a brand used primarily for trolling, ‘unexpectedly sprouted an activist sensibility’ (p. 19). This sensibility soon blossomed when some Anons took on their ‘evil doppelganger’, the Church of Scientology. Although a successful operation, their use of strictly legal tactics earned them the accusation of ‘moralfaggotry’ from hardcore participants (chapter 2). Other political milestones would follow, including their defence of WikiLeaks in the late 2010 ‘Cablegate’ affair (chapter 4), the campaign against Tunisia’s authoritarian regime whose downfall ushered in the ‘Arab Spring’ (chapter 5), various operations launched against the security industry (chapters 7-9) and in support of Occupy (chapter 10), ending with the outing as an FBI informer of an influential Anon named Sabu (chapters 10-11).

If Book 1 tells a compelling story of transformation, then Book 2, the eponymous Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, is an account of the continuity-in-diversity that makes Anonymous what it is. Taking our guidance from its title, we can divide Book 2 into four main parts, each emphasising one of the ‘many faces’ of Anonymous. Part 1 (chapters 1-3) could be aptly named ‘Hoaxer’, for it is here that we learn about the more ‘lulzy’ exploits of the collective, that is, about its penchant for online trickery and mischief. Part 2 (chapters 4-5), where WikiLeaks looms large, could be named ‘Whistleblower’, followed by Part 3 (chapters 7-9), ‘Hacker’, devoted to a range of ‘security ops’, and ending with Part 4 (chapters 10-11) ‘Spy’, where Sabu’s betrayal is dramatically confirmed.

Beneath this broad typology lies a wealth of ethnographic detail. We follow the trajectories of a range of research participants, both online and offline, as they traverse a labyrinthic social world in constant flux. Some are skilled hackers, others merely geeks, still others have a way with the media, or simply don the Guy Fawkes mask during street protests. Yet amidst all this diversity there is also unity, as Coleman explains in the Introduction. For all their differences, most regular Anons enjoy gathering around IRC channels, share a predilection for ‘deviant humour’, despise the cult of celebrity, and are always keen to tinker with digital tools (or ‘weapons of the geek’, chapter 3). Although it may look chaotic to the untrained eye, Anonymous is held together by its ‘relationships, structures, and moral positions’ (p. 114).

Who in academia would benefit from reading this work of popular scholarship? While the volume as a whole deserves to be widely read, the helix I am calling Book 1 will be of particular interest to scholars and students of politics, political anthropology, social movements and activism. For its part, Book 2 is essential reading for those with an interest in media, communication, and digital culture. As Douglas Rushkoff puts it in the book sleeve, it is ‘a perfect initiation for all those n00bs out there still wondering what a ‘n00b’ is’. Moreover, this double-helix volume will make a very strong addition to courses on research methods, ethnographic writing and public anthropology. Indeed, by pursuing her two ‘clashing objectives’ simultaneously, Coleman sets a worthy example for students and scholars wishing to experiment with new ways of writing (digital) culture – and reaching diverse audiences while they are at it.

Back to freedom technologists series…

About the author

Dr John Postill is Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University, Melbourne, and Digital Anthropology Fellow at University College London (UCL). His publications include Localizing the Internet (2011), Media and Nation Building (2006) and the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Practice (2010, with Birgit Bräuchler). Currently he is conducting anthropological research on new forms of digital activism and civic engagement in Indonesia, Spain and globally. He is also writing a book on the connection between techno-politics and new citizen movements around the world, as well as the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Change (with Elisenda Ardèvol and Sirpa Tenhunen).

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnPostill

Barcelona’s local elections in the global spotlight

May 29, 2015

Less than a week ago, on 24 May 2015, local and regional elections were held across Spain. In Barcelona, Madrid and other major cities, new anti-establishment candidates either won or came very close to winning, signalling a major change in the country’s political landscape. These events are being followed with great interest around the world. Here is a quick round-up of some of the reports coming out of Barcelona. Screen-Shot-2015-05-26-at-1.36.52-PM

Image by Maria Castelló Solbés via Popular Resistance

Soon after midnight, the Diagonal news site already reported (in Spanish) that ‘the citizen candidatures have overturned the political panorama’, with the grassroots coalition Barcelona en Comú, led by the anti-eviction activist Ada Colau, ‘making history’ with its Barcelona victory. “A victory of David against Goliath”, as Colau put it. “We had a historic opportunity and took advantage of it. Like so often before, the common people have risen”.

Meanwhile, Xavi Herrero and Lali Sandiumenge reported (in Catalan) from the winner’s camp that ‘the 15M [indignados] citizen mobilisation will run the municipality’.

— Really? We’ve won?

— We’ve won the fucking elections!

For the green activist David Cid, this was “the left’s most important political victory since 1931”.

Communication and ‘the common people’

Writing on 27 May about ‘the common people’ behind Ada Colau (in English), Kate Shea Baird points out that ‘since the launch of Barcelona en Comú less than a year ago, Colau has taken pains to emphasize that she is just the most visible face of a movement that is horizontal in structure and collective in spirit’.Their electoral programme was drafted by over 5000 people, ‘with contributions made in open assemblies and online, and the strategic and political decisions of the platform are made by the ʻplenaryʼ assembly, held twice a month’.

The new platform also gave birth to SomComuns, a network of internet activists campaigning on social media, as well as a collective made up designers and artists called The Movement for The Graphic Liberation of Barcelona.

For the Dublin-based Municipal Revolution research group, writing on their website soon after the results were announced, the Spanish citizen platforms ‘were doing something that resonated with people. If [you are] doing something people don’t really care about, then whatever way you communicate it people still won’t really care about it’. Communication was, nevertheless, key to their success. This took on two main forms:

Firstly, the platforms used the lexicon and the ‘vibe’ of the 15M movement – this is all about people, the 99%, against corrupt and incompetent political elites who had facilitated public institutions being held hostage by private interests. It was about getting involved, participating, having your voice heard. It was positive, creative and confident – the emphasis wasn’t only on how much the people are suffering or how bad the other guys are, but on the fact that there’s more of us and we’re smarter and more intelligent than the elite. …[T]his message was communicated online and through various media (image, video, music), as well as through traditional media (TV). Secondly, beyond the campaigns run by the platforms themselves, there were spontaneous art and images produced by individuals and artist collectives, especially clear in the case of Manuela Carmena, who heads up Ahora Madrid (check out the Madrid for Manuela Tumblr).

Colau’s digital guerrilla

The El Periodico journalist Saul Gordillo perceives a powerful confluence between ‘the real Barcelona’ and ‘Twitter Barcelona’ as one of the keys to understanding Barcelona en Comú impressive results (in Spanish).

While the ‘spin doctors’ analysed the candidates’ clothes and appearance, or the appropriateness of this or that soundbite, [Ada Colau] played an understated role that was inversely proportional to the 2.0 buzz. The nationalist trolls merely confirmed that Colau was the queen of the Twitter trending topic. The squares and streets were converging in the networks.

Gordillo anticipates novelties in the digital realm should the winners continue to link politics with transparency. In this spirit of openness, he promises to monitor the new councillors’ digital activities lest they fall into the tired old patterns of their predecessors.

Writing on the eve of the elections (in Spanish), Lali Sandiumenge highlighted the ‘intensive, creative and collaborative use of technology’ as an integral part of Colau’s campaign. As a result, the then candidate ‘was taking social media by storm’ (arrasa en las redes). Quoting the data researcher Pablo Aragón, Sandiumenge refers to the platform’s ‘technopolitical’ approach as consisting of ‘harnessing the potential of the new technologies to connect and coordinate like-minded multitudes without the need to organise closed structures such as political parties’ (see also Monterde et al 2015).

SomComuns participants are free to experiment with language and media formats. As one political technologist put it, ‘If a message works, we promote it, regardless of who created it. In fact, some of our top virals were made by anonymous people’. An example of this ‘new electoral narrative’ is the video “El run run” (The buzz), featuring a joyful Ada Colau. This idea was put forth by the musician Ivan Lagarto, who had already been a YouTube sensation with his song “El Caloret” (The warmth), a remix dedicated to Valencia’s mayor, Rita Barberá. Not only did “El run run” strike a chord with the campaigners, it also found its way into the mainstream media.

A new municipal agenda in Spain

The activist and writer Jerome Roos believes the Barcelona election has put social movements ‘in control of the city’. Quoting the ROAR editor Carlos Delclós, he adds: “Barcelona has decided that for the next four years it will be governed not by a party, but by the legitimacy we built as a radical democratic movement.” For the first time, argues Roos, ‘a major political project revolving around the commons has claimed an electoral victory in Europe’. This author regards the commons as a ‘radical alternative’ to the obsolescent state vs. market dichotomy.

In a separate piece (in English), Delclós discusses the rise of a ‘new municipal agenda’ in Spain. This agenda echoes the ideas of the founding father of libertarian municipalism, Murray Bookchin, who ‘outlined four main coordinates: a revival of the citizens’ assembly, the need for confederation with other municipalities, grassroots politics as a school of genuine citizenship and the municipalisation of the economy.

Underlying all of these coordinates is “a recovery of a new participatory politics structured around free, self-empowered and active citizens”. To understand some of the challenges ahead for Colau and her fellow activist-politicians, Delclós recommends the documentary Municipal Recipes, in which some of the candidates ‘discuss the thought process that led them to make the jump into the electoral arena, how they hope to care for the city, how to make it liveable, the relationship between citizens, social movements and institutions, and the pitfalls of representative democracy, among other key issues’.

Update 1 June 2015 Seguir fluyendo – 24M: Una victoria del 15M. Carta abierta a lxs compañerxs de Podemos (in Spanish) [The flow must go on – 24M [local elections in Spain]: A 15M [indignados] victory. An open letter to our Podemos colleagues]

20. Hacking politics: civic struggles to politicize technologies

May 2, 2015

This is the 20th of 42 posts in the ongoing Freedom technologists series.

By Sebastian Kubitschko
via Civic Media Project

Despite the longstanding equating of hacking as infused with political significance, the scope and style of hackers’ engagement with institutionalized politics remains poorly understood. Based on face-to-face interviews, participant observations and media analysis over three years (2011-2014), this case study of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC)—Europe’s largest and one of the world’s oldest hacker collectives—fills parts of this gap. It shows that hackers practice a wide range of insider and outsider tactics related to media technologies and infrastructures (MTI). The rationale is to examine hackers as actors that practice politics through, with and about MTI and by doing so to deepen the understanding of contemporary civic engagements. By considering the CCC as a civic organization that emphatically engages with democratic constellations it challenges common sense assumptions guiding understandings of the intersection of civic culture, technologies and institutionalized politics.

Considering transformations of civic engagement and politics, hackers might not necessarily be the first actors that come to mind. “Hackers” is often used as a catchall phrase to describe almost any computer-related crime and tend to be portrayed as anti-social, possibly dangerous individuals, who attack systems, invade privacy and even threaten national security (Coleman 2012). Governments’ and mainstream media’s obsession with the activities of particular groups—most prominently Anonymous and WikiLeaks—further reinforce this labeling.

Founded in 1981 in Germany and with a membership figure of around 4500 the CCC stands in stark contrast to such stereotyping and criminalization. The Club is a heterogeneous collection of multi-socialized and multi-determined citizens that bring together knowledge, experience and skills related to the functioning and political consequences of MTI.

For over three decades its members have been engaging in the area of conflict between technological and social developments.

While the Club’s organizational structure is based on decentralized local groups, prominent spokespersons and long-term members ensure that the collective communicates its political aims (more or less) coherently beyond the circle of like-minded people. Accordingly the CCC acts as an organized civic collective or what can be referred to as a civil society organization. Ever since its establishment the Club does not only practice so-called hacktivism (Jordan and Taylor 1998), but in fact engages in a plurality of political activities by acting through, with and about MTI (Kubitschko, 2015). In more concrete terms the tree attributes indicate the following practices.

First, the hackers are acting through MTI. This denotes that similar to most political organizations nowadays (Rucht 2013, 249-268), the Club’s internal modes of organization and coordination starkly rely on mediated communication amongst its members. At the same time the CCC acts through MTI by utilizing contemporary technologies in creative, explorative, playful or subversive ways. By reverse engineering a suspicious hard drive in October 2011, for example, the organization discovered that German government agencies were illegally using surveillance software.

Second, the CCC critically engages with MTI by sustaining alternative communication infrastructures like The Onion Router (Tor)—client software enhancing online anonymity by directing Internet traffic through a global volunteer network of servers. In addition the CCC is running one of the most used Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) servers worldwide – an open technology, which powers a wide range of applications including instant messaging, multi-party chat, voice and video calls. It is important to note that “alternative” in this context should not be treated synonymously with “autonomy.” As Chris Kelty puts it, “independence from power is not absolute; it is provisional and structured in response to the historically constituted layering of power and control within the infrastructures of computing and communication” (Kelty 2008, 9).

Third, CCC members are acting about MTI by articulating their knowledge, skills and experiences. On one hand, this is achieved by communicating to the general public via social and mainstream media channels. On the other, the Club has increasingly direct interactions with relevant actors like judges and legislators. Given the growing relevance of media environments for political constellations mainstream media continue to be exceptionally significant for actors to publicly voice their concerns (Couldry 2012). Over recent years both the amount of media coverage as well as the frequency of access by CCC members to mainstream media has increased drastically. Besides writing articles and maintaining blogs for quality outlets CCC members are regular interview partner to various well-established media and act as sources to numerous news media. In 2013 alone, the Club’s spokesperson had 8973 requests by media representatives via email. Parallel to these media related practices, interactions with institutionalized politics continue to grow in quantity and quality. Over the past decade, the CCC has been requested as an official expert by the German constitutional court on five occasions—among others, related to the use of computerized voting machines. At the same time, the Club is advising all major political parties in Germany and two CCC members took part in the German parliament’s committee on “Internet and Digital Society.”

Acting with, through and about MTI are interlocking arrangements that enable the CCC not only to question and supervise  technological developments, but also to practice both ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ modes of engagement Cohen and Arato 1992, 548-563). On one hand, their engagements are directed inward to civil society by supporting emancipatory practices related to communicative infrastructures. On the other, their activities are directed outward to institutionalized politics. By doing so, the Chaos Computer Club politicizes issues that otherwise might be understood as solely technological and are part of defining the predominant conception of what is understood as political.

Back to Freedom technologists series…


Cohen, Jean, and Andrew Arato. 1992. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Coleman, Gabriella. 2012. Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Couldry, Nick. 2012. Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Jordan, Tim, and Paul Taylor. 1998. “A Sociology of Hackers.” The Sociological Review 46 (4): 757–780.

Kelty, Christopher. 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kubitschko, Sebastian. Forthcoming. 2015. “Hackers’ Media Practices.” Convergence 21 (3).

Rosanvallon, Pierre. 2008. Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rucht, Dieter. 2013. “Protest Movements and Their Media Usages.” In Mediation and Protest Movements, edited by Bart Cammaerts, Alice Mattoni and Patrick McCurdy, 249–268. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

19. Freedoms and liberties in anthropological perspective

April 21, 2015

This is nineteenth post in the Freedom technologists series.

Republished from St Andrews Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies.

The Centre is pleased to announce a forthcoming conference on Liberties and Freedoms organised with the assistance of the Ladislav Holy Trust. (May 31st – 2nd June 2013).

Freedoms and liberties have been a theme of perennial concern across a range of human science disciplines – philosophy, history and political science – but curiously to a much lesser degree in anthropology. However, well-known anthropologists such as Boas, Malinowski and Leach have all written on the topic. Likewise, the works of Overing, Riesman, Lee and more recently Rapport, Laidlaw, Humphrey and others indicate that if the concept of freedom has not been understood as pivotal to the discipline, neither has it ever disappeared from anthropological discussion for long.

In the face of contemporary global events – including the expanded use of surveillance technologies in Europe, the American war against terror (in the name of freedom) waged in many foreign countries, and the growth of Pentecostalism with an emphasis on spiritual liberation in Africa and Latin America – the expectation is that anthropology can benefit from reassessing the place of freedoms and liberties within the discipline at distinct analytical levels. This, perhaps the first, international conference on the theme of “Freedoms and Liberties in Anthropological Perspective” will offer a stage to reassess the conceptual status of liberty and freedom in anthropological work.

During the conference we will examine freedoms and liberties in their epistemological aspect – does anthropology, as a mode of enquiry, demand certain kinds of freedom? – and from the side of ontology – ‘what kinds of object of thought and action are freedoms and liberties and where in particular do we see them foregrounded?’.

Speakers will include Mauro Almeida, Diane Austin-Broos, Veena Das, Nadia Farage, Peter Gow, Tobias Kelly, Alex Hall, Mette High, Hideko Mitsui, Stavroula Pipyrou, Nigel Rapport, Adam Reed, Noa Vaisman.

Conference organisers are Moises Lino e Silva and Huon Wardle. Read more…


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