The Independent wrote a piece on spam, and I was interviewed as well. The main driver for the story is Finn Brunton’s forthcoming book on the same topic (and I can reveal that it is a great study). I also consider it a highpoint of my academic career that I am in the same story with Beyonce. Sort of.
Tony D. Sampson’s new book Virality is a good read: on network culture, Gabriel Tarde, affect, HCI and politics. I interviewed Tony for the Theory, Culture & Society blog and he elaborated some of his thinking behind the book in relation to Evil Media and non-cognitive capitalism.
The TCS blog has also – for a limited time though – the PDF of the forthcoming TCS review of Sampson’s book.
Capitalism is sticky – it is able to attach to such a variety of objects, things, practices, and new fields that it almost seems to be productive in itself. Reading some interesting texts recently, I thought to pick up the concept of “viral capitalism” that I discussed in an earlier piece in 2005 and in Digital Contagions as an attempt to understand how it worked in relation to security politics of software in digital culture. Hence, it played the dual role of referring to virus cultures and anti-virus discourse, as well as pointing to a wider logic outside software of capitalism as that sticky, viral-like mode of spreading – not however just objects that are contagious, but environments, or milieus in which infection becomes possible. In such affective environments, capitalism as a sticky machine is able to operate. As part of the logic of security, then, it relates to how in milieus of (in)security , you are able to modulate affects, actions, practices and discourses so that you can get value even from risks, accidents and insecurity.
As such, one could say that an idea of viral capitalism relates to;
- the attraction power to which capitalism bases so much of its marketing power; this is the power of the affect to draw us in, to create worlds in which we feel natural to live in (capitalist worlds as leibnizian, as analyzed by Lazzarato). This is the aesthetic power of affect/attraction.
- Pass-on-power where social relations are in their already mimetic (Tarde) and infectious nature as if ready for appropriation into for instance marketing; (stay tuned for something we have written together with Tony Sampson – see his piece on Contagion Theory).
- The power of capitalism to turn even adversary practices as part of itself, directly or indirectly.
As a figure of network politics, viral capitalism functions in the aesthetico-technical regime.
An excerpt from Digital Contagions:
In a way, it seems as if capitalism invents such accidents and risks to keep itself busy. This idea that “if it’s not broken, break it” provides, then, an interesting way to approach the functioning of so-called information capitalism. Dangers and risks produce excellent needs and products in the consumer market, which aims to provide tools for controlling the uncertainties and anxieties of everyday life. The previous themes can be synthesized under the notion of viral capitalism, which stems from an idea of capitalism as capable of continuous modulation and heterogenesis. […]
The power of capitalism resides in its capability to appropriate the outside as a part of itself. In a sense, capitalism incorporates the ability to subsume heterogenesis as part of its production machinery, and heterogeneity is turned as part of the capital itself. In its functioning, capitalism is a continuing abstract machine of the new, inventing itself all the time, refusing to tie itself to any transcendent point (even though the actual workings of capital do constantly stop at some intervals of profit-oriented points, such as companies, corporations, and monopolies).
Of course, similar trends occurred in the cultural history of diseases long before viruses. As Nancy Tomes notes in her history of germs in America, the fear of microbes was, from the 1880s onward, turned into a lucrative business, with special goods and services designed for hygiene. This meant, for example, “safeguards against the dangers of sewer gas and polluted water, such as special toilet attachments and household water filters”, and on to antiseptic floor coverings and wall paint as well as sanitary dish drainers and fly traps. Hence, commodity interests were very active long before the media ecology of capitalist network culture.
Massumi argues that in information age capitalism, it is the circulation of things that counts, replacing their mere production as the key energetic principle of surplus value. This amounts to a change also in the commodity’s status where it becomes a self-organizing and living entity—a form of self-reproductive object. “The commodity has become a form of capital with its own motor of exchange (fashion, style, ‘self-improvement’) and cycle of realization (image accumulation/ image shedding (…)). Its value is now defined more by the desire it arouses than by the amount of labor that goes into it.”The commodity works as a virus— and the virus as part of the commodity circuit.
Luciana Parisi has made important remarks concerning the basis of information capitalism and the problems with Hardt and Negri. According to Parisi, the Empire becomes too easily a transcendent apparatus of power opposed to the creative virtualities of the multitude, which leads to a dualism of death and life, organic and inorganic. Instead, she proposes an endosymbiotic conception of capitalism, where it “exposes a machinic composition of molecular bodies involving continual and differential degrees of variation between bodies that capture and bodies that are captured.” Hence, she proposes an ongoing nonlinear symbiosis instead of a dualism. Capitalism, despite functioning as an apparatus of capture, does not proceed in a rigid manner of linear capture but proliferates differences in its wake. As Massumi writes, the rationality of neoliberalism works through a type of pragmatics, not perhaps so much through grounding principles or normative laws. Its cultivation of the metastable systems of markets and affects resides in its focus not on truth but on how the future (the unknown) can be managed on the basis of the data of the past (statistics). What matters is how to keep things running.
We organized a very successful Platform Politics-conference in Cambridge, May 11-13, where our speakers included such exciting scholars and writers as Michel Bauwens, Michael Goddard, Tiziana Terranova, Nick Couldry, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Felix Stalder, and Tim Jordan. And a lot more (check out the link for names and abstracts too).
These are my short opening words to the event:
Platform Politics takes place as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council founded networking project on Network Politics. We pitched it to the AHRC with the suggestion that it takes one to know one: to understand emerging forms of social action and politics on networks and in network society, one has to develop networks, to crowdsource ideas from leading scholars, activists, artists; to map and to bring through various channels such partipants together in order to identity themes and directions which need more focus. Hence, we have arrived at the third and final event of the project – now on Platform Politics, following the first event in Cambridge on Methodologies of Network Politics research, and last year in Toronto at the Infoscape research lab with help from Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois and Alessandra Renzi we discussed object oriented and affect approaches to network politics.
We wanted to keep the notion of platform quite broad in order to solicit a more open range of papers. Hence, from software platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to robotics, from theoretical insights that draw from post-Fordist theories of politics and labour to object oriented philosophy, and much more, we have a privileged position to think through the platform (often seen as technological, as in platform studies) as a platform for our investigations (hence, also as a conceptual affordance). This does not mean to say that platform studies as represented in the Bogost and Montfort led series is techno-determinist, and solely focuses on such – quite the contrary, it tries to find a specific relation between technology and aesthetics. Yet, it is good to emphasize the mobilization of the concept as part of various transitions, and translations: platforms in technological (and again there various levels from apps to clouds, online platforms to technological hardware structures), conceptual, economic and of course political sense (expect at least a couple of references to Lenin in this conference).
So if Bogost and Montfort make sense of platform studies through this kind of layering:
I would add that the notion of platform politics is able to articulate various levels together, and bring smoothness and movement to the interaction of the layers. In other words, in addition to the specific level of “platforms” we can think of the platform itself as distributed on a variety of layers as assemblages (in the manner Manuel Delanda uses the term?). A good example of this – something we were unable to pursue because of the problem of finding the slot for it! – was the idea of organizing a circuit bending/hardware hacking workshop (with Seb Franklin). The idea was to follow Garnet Hertz’s lead, and the way he has organized such workshops both to kids as well as to media theorists — and to use hands-on tinkering, opening up technology such as battery-operated toys, as a way to think through hardware platforms, how design solutions incorporate politics, how they afford conceptual approaches, and act as one node across a variety of other platforms. (An example of such is articulated in the forthcoming “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”-text, by myself and Hertz, in Leonardo-journal where we tie the question of such design politics of hardware to media archaeology, art methods and the political economy of network culture).
Platforms reveal to be ontogenetic – i.e. creative forms of interaction, not just stable backgrounds for a continuation of the social. They organize social action in a double bind where social action organizes them. Platforms rearticulate the social. For instance software platforms constitute a catalyzer for specific social forms, and as such incorporate in themselves a multitude of social, political, economic forces. It is a question of production – and of what kinds of social relations are being produced, a good example being the Telecommunist project and the Thimbl open source distributed microblogging service that incorporates a different sociability than proprietorial web 2.0 business and software models. And yet, this sociability is grounded on the level of the potentials of networks, the P2P instead of Web 2.0, distributed instead of the centralized client-server-model.
At the beginning of the project, we started with the question of “”what is network politics?“” and requested initial position papers from some key writers in the field – today of those we have Tiziana Terranova and Greg Elmer attending. Other theorists included Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Katrien Jacobs and Geert Lovink.
The idea was to organize this as a form of request for comments – the RFC format, familiar from internet design culture, of questioning, lining up comments and positions, which however did not pan out as extensively as we wanted (this has to do with other organizationally interesting themes concerning spam management in participatory platforms, and so forth). However, what we got from the position papers were some initial leads. Furthermore, we started with some assumptions where to start tracking network politics:
- politics of new network clusters, services, platforms – Twitter, Facebook, as well as mapping alternative forms of software-based ways of organizing traditional political parties as well as new formations, NGOs, and temporally very different groupings/phenomena – whether the suddenly emerging and as suddenly disappearing “like” protests for instance on Facebook, or the more long-term effects of Wikileaks– leak not only in the meaning of leaking secret information, but leaking across media platforms, and reaching a long term sustainability through “old” media trying to come grips with such online activities.
- biopolitics of network culture, or in other words, the various practices which form internet cultures – hence a step outside of the technological focus, to look at what practices define network politics, and as such the links between work and free time, of play and labour, the circulation of affects, sociability, and so forth. Cognitive capitalism but as much affective capitalism. Yesterday (referring to the pre-conference event with Michel Bauwens and Michael Goddard) we got a bit into talking about investments of affect, desire and such topics.
- we were interested too in the metaquestion: what form would investigating network politics have to take? Outside the normal practice of humanities, writing and meeting up in conferences, what are the specific pedagogic and research tools/platforms that are actively changing the politics of education and research inside/outside academia. What are the research/creation platforms that are able to articulate this, so that we are not only stuck with “master’s tools”?
- And in a way, as a more unspecified but as important was the question of politics of the imperceptible: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? From artistic practices to the grey work of engineers, new arenas of expertise, skill and again, social action contribute to the way in which politics is fleeing from traditional institutions.
The project has been able to map various positions to such questions, and raise new ones – which has been the purpose of this all: to produce more leads for further work. The same thing applies to this conference, and we are hoping to come out with excellent contributions, that do not fall within such original ideas. During the project’s unfolding, “network politics” became a wider popular media phenomenon too, where old media started to focus on what is was able to brand as “twitter-revolutions, or facebook-revolutions” – and yet this only emphasized the need to complexify the notions, and the histories of such events and platforms, as has been done on various email lists, and various other debate forums already. I am sure we can continue on that, and produce some really exciting discussions – and as always in our events, we really hope that a lot of the emphasis is on discussions in the sessions, as well as outside them.
After a long wait, it’s out like nature itself! The Fibreculture-journal Media Ecology-special issue, titled “Unnatural Ecologies”, and edited by me and Michael Goddard.
The idea for a journal issue was picked up and continued from a panel organized for the MeCCSA conference in Bradford (2009) where I spoke with Matt Fuller and Michael Goddard on the media ecological approach in media and cultural studies. With Michael, we picked up on the idea of rethinking media ecology “after Matt Fuller’s work”, i.e. how we can transport the concept and practices into new directions that differ from those of the more classical media ecology work by (post-)McLuhan scholars. Hence, we ended up thinking more about Guattari’s three ecologies, Simondon, political and art practices, as well as nature itself as media. One of the leading ideas that Michael emphasized was how to think media ecology as a practice itself – how to understand it as a set of theories in practice.
Hope you enjoy the issue!
(My own text addresses “ecomedia”, nature as a communication framework [Harwood-Wright-Yokokoji and Mediashed art project] and extending that towards imaginary media as a reimagining how far back in time and as practices we can extend “media”.)
Now that Insect Media is out, I am organizing a couple of events sort of as book launches—with a little help from my friends!
One takes place in Berlin, at the Generalpublic.de cultural venue on Schönhauser Allee 167c ( 10435 Berlin) on March 4, Friday, 7 pm – Shintaro Miyazaki will be interviewing me, and hopefully with drinks and nibbles (there has been talk of some Japanese finger food!). Also the book is on sale there, with a small launch discount.
Even before that, in Cambridge, we are organizing a joint event with Joss Hands whose own book @ is for Activism came out in December as well! This takes place February 22, Tuesday, 5 pm at Anglia Ruskin University at 5 pm. The room will be Helmore 251.
Below, a short blurb about that event which we use to discuss more widely some interesting current and future directions of media studies as well:
‘New Directions in Media Studies: Questioning The Digital Turn’.
In their new books Anglia Ruskin lecturers Joss Hands (@ is for activism) and Jussi Parikka (Insect Media) address some of the pressing new issues in Media Studies emerging from the digital revolution in communication technology. This event will act as a book launch, but also offers the chance to address the relevancy of innovative cross disciplinary themes in contemporary Media Studies.
Both books are characterized by distinct theoretical and political perspectives on issues such as the impact of digital networks on collective action, the ontology of politics, economic production, the ‘post-human’ subject and science-arts interdisciplinarity.
Hands and Parikka will offer short introductions to key themes in their books and welcome questions and discussion over wine and nibbles.
The event is sponsored by CoDE – Cultures of the Digital Economy research institute at Anglia Ruskin, and the campus bookshop John Smith’s is offering both books to be purchased during the event.
>A forthcoming talk in Cambridge hosted by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences and CoDE-institute, Anglia Ruskin University:
1 Feb, 17.00, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, room Helmore 251
Dr Dave Boothroyd (University of Kent)
‘Lest we forget’: censorship, secrecy and memory in the age of total recall
Censorship and secrecy are widely regarded as antithetical to the open society and the public sphere. In the digital age the decentered communicative network of the internet facilitates the proliferation of data, data-storage capacity and the generalised intensification of surveillance as well as the apparent weakening of censorious control over information and the security of secrets all kinds. The ‘Wikileaks scenario’ not only exposes the easily ‘switchable’ nature of secrecy/disclosure in the context of digital communications culture, it raises issues pertaining to the technicisation of memory and the memorialisation of events.
In this paper I shall approach the interconnections between censorship, secrecy and memory in relation to contemporary techno-culture with a view to identifying the significance of this nexus for the cultural formation of ethical subjectivity (as Levinas, in particular, writes about this). I am not so much concerned here with normative ethical questions related to the technicisation of the censorship, secrecy and memory ‘nexus’ (interesting, even urgent as these often are) but more with how the ethical Subject is produced in this context.
Bio: Dave Boothroyd Director of Cultural Studies, School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent. He’s the author of ‘Culture on Drugs: Narco-cultural studies of high modernity’ (Manchester University Press, 2006) and is currently writing a monograph for Edinburgh University Press, ‘Ethical Subjects in Contemporary Culture’. He’s a founding Co-Editor of the on-line journal ‘Culture Machine’.
Adrian Mackenzie captures something extremely essential and apt in his fresh book Wirelessness – Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures (2010). Besides being an analysis of an aspect of contemporary “network” culture so neglected by cultural analysers, it offers a view into how does one conduct post-phenomenological analysis into the intensive, moving, profiliterating aspects of experience in current media culture. So much of what seems wired is actually wireless; so much of what seems experienced, is actually at the fringes of solid experience, which is why Mackenzie sets out to use William James’s exciting philosophical theories of radical empiricism as his guide to understanding wirelessness.
Let’s define it, or let Mackenzie define it:
“The key claim of the book is that the contemporary proliferation of wireless devices and modes of network connection can best be screened against the backdrop of a broadly diverting and converging set of tendencies that I call ‘wirelessness’. Wireless designates an experience trending toward entanglements with things, objects, gadgets, infrastructures, and services, and imbued with indistinct sensations and practices of network-associated changed. Wirelessness affects how people arrive, depart, and inhabit places, how they relate to others, and indeed how they embody change.” (5)
Indeed, Mackenzie does not remain content to just stick to the techy details or the phenomenology of how it feels to be surrounded by wireless devices and discourses, but sets out to treat these as a continuum. This too follows from James. Things go together well with our minds/brains. Thoughts are very much things even if at the other end of the spectrum than the more seemingly solid things of the world. Thinking and things cannot be separated. Mackenzie quotes James: “Thoughts in the concrete are made of the same stuff as things are.” The stuff of continuum.
Hence, what follows is also methodologically exemplary treatment of this weird phenomena of wireless communication. Already in its early phase, the fact that communication started to remove itself from solid bodies and the messaging human body, was a topic of awe and wonderment. James was roughly a contemporary to the buzzing discourses of electromagnetic fields and experiments in wireless communication closer to the end of the 19th century by such figures as Preece, Willoughby Smith and of course Marconi; this media archaeological aspect is not so much touched upon by Mackenzie. In any case, one would do well to look at it’s 19th century radical empiricist discourses as well, to examine the way bodies, solids, experience and media were being rethought in those early faces, here described in the words of one pioneer and early writer Sir William Crookes:
” Rays of light will not pierce through a wall, nor, as we know only too well, through London fog; but electrical vibrations of a yard or more in wave-length will easily pierce such media, which to them will be transparent.” (quoted in J.J.Fahie, Wireless Telegraphy, 1838-1899, p.197).
Even if not transparency, wirelessness affords new senses of mobility. For us, wireless is heavily an urban phenomena (even if touches on how rural areas are being connected, peripheries harnessed, and now, also, the human body and its organs individually connected to the internet with new wireless device surgery). For Mackenzie, the mobility relates to “transitions between places” and how such hotspotting of for example the urban sphere creates new forms of intensity that are not stable. In his earlier book Transductions Mackenzie was using Simondon’s vocabulary which offered the idea of the primacy of metastability, now James is doing the same trick with offering a conceptual vocabulary for an experience that is distributed, diffuse and coming and going.
What is fascinating is how Mackenzie moves between the various scales, and still is able to keep his methodology and writing intact. In addition the fact that the urban experiences of humans is being enabled by the variety of wireles devices, networks, accesses, and so forth, he is after such radical technological experience where hardware and software relations within technology matter as well. Talking about chipsets such as the Picochip202, Mackenzie compares these to cities: “The ‘architectures’ of chipsets resemble cities viewed from above precisely because they internalize many of the relational processes of movement in cities.” (65).
The way bodies were moved and managed in urban environments has now been transposed as a problem on the level of chips and other seemingly “only” technical solutions. Yet, what Mackenzie does succesfully is to show how we need insights into such biopolitics that engage not only with human phenomenological bodies, but biopolitics of technological bodies too. This is what I find a very exciting and necessary direction, and while I know some of the great work done in Science and Technology studies, more media studies work in this direction of new materialism is very much welcome.
So now that we got talking about technological bodies in relation, and probably going soon so far that we could say that they have affects, would some critic say, does this not mean that we losing our grip on politics — that technology is such a crucial way of governing our worlds, offering meanings, and is itself embedded in a cultural field of representation and such?
Mackenzie does not however neglect representations, or the variety of materials of which the experience of wirelessness consists; from wireless routers to marketing discourses and adverts, the ontological claim that thinking and things do not differ work also as a methodological guideline for rigorous eclectism. Similarly, Mackenzie shows how his methodology and writing lends itself also to postcolonial theory in chapter 7 “Overconnected worlds”. Here, the claim is consist with a radical constructedness inherent in how transnationality and the global are created, not received, structures of experiencing; here, various wireless projects offer such platforms for both belief as well as physical connection.
Wirelessness overflows individual bodies and act as a catalyzer, intensifier, a field for experience perhaps in the sense as electromagnetic fields afford the technical signal between devices. What the book does as well is overflows in its richness – but it is clear that it is so rigorous in its take that media theory benefits from this for a long time. It picks up on some of the same inspiration that has been catalyzed into more philosophical takes on communication and contemporary culture by Brian Massumi, but is one of the first ones to take this mode of analysis of lived abstractions into concrete media analysis – similarly as he did with Simondon already in Transductions.