Posted on | September 22, 2013 | No Comments

This week I’m heading to Georgia Tech to host a ‘metahack’ – an event where we learn about hackathons by adopting many of their features and practices.

Over the past year a number of ISTC-Social researchers have been studying hackathons as unique socio-technical encounters. Fieldwork across different US cities and internationally is showing that these sites for information, enthusiasm and labor exchange produce new relationships, identities and communities as much as they do demos.

The social work of the hackathon is only partly to do with its role in normalizing an ambiguously rewarded model of binge production by adopting the values of the hacker ethic. Their additional work, as I am arguing in a paper with Carl DiSalvo, is to provide space for experimental subjectivities that can briefly enjoy the fantasy of competent civic services and the experience of data flânerie.

ISTC-Social researchers will be sharing some of this work at 4S in coming weeks; one of our postdoctoral researchers, Silvia Lindtner, hosts the second Hacked Matter workshop in Shanghai next month; and I’ll be speaking more about the Obama administration’s contradictory stance on hackers at the Apps and Affect conference later in October. In the lead up to these conversations, and to widen participation, we are starting a new space for discussion to accompany events like these. More on that soon.

Like any hackathon, Friday’s metahack will issue challenges at the start of proceedings. Here are the ones I’m most keen to see succeed:

1. The data drive: The first challenge is to develop a bibliography on hacking and hacker culture – an inventory of how the terms have evolved over time. We want this to be cross-disciplinary when it comes to academic resources, but we also want to include texts and practical materials from within and outside the formal tech sector. What are the key references on hacking / hacker culture in your field? Sign up for the hackathon and we’ll pool the resources on zotero.

2. Assembling an audio/visual archive: We want a long list of books, articles, art works, industry mythology, anecdotes, media coverage, political activism and personal reflections on what the terms hacking/ hacker mean. In addition to sharing these resources, on Friday we want people to be creative, perhaps by recording conversations with co-workers, colleagues, friends and mentors to capture the legacy of hacking and ‘hacktivism’ in different cultural contexts. We can have fun with these files.

3. Historicizing hacktivism: To begin to understand the ideological work that the term ‘hacker’ performs, we want to develop a pool of links to good journalism/ news items/ published articles that mention or draw links between Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg and previous ‘hacker’/whistleblowers associated with the materiality of information. This is in line with key themes of our center which focus on ecosystems to explain the power relations and infrastructures of computing. This language takes us away from territorializing accounts of data flow that are focused on defensively protecting the institutions of the past. To dis-articulate hacking from negative perceptions is one way to appreciate some of the bigger cultural shifts that are upon us.

By organizing the metahack, we are suggesting that hacking deserves the kind of analytical attention that, at an earlier moment, the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies applied to ‘mugging’. In Policing the Crisis, the politics of a new era were revealed to have been synecdochically transduced on to the figure of the mugger, whose actions shouldered the anxieties of a particular class formation.

With the tools of collaborative open source software at our disposal, we are perhaps even better disposed to perform this kind of shared analytical project today – not least because of the work of hackers in establishing these channels of communication for us. So, this is an invitation for anyone wanting to be involved with this work and to take part in the ongoing commentary… please get in touch this week in the lead up to Friday.


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