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<nettime> gentrification of hacking
biella on Sat, 15 Aug 2015 18:26:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> gentrification of hacking


I want to chime in but can only do so briefly as I am at CCC camp and
not online much. I found the essay provocative and it is undeniable that
these processes are under way but two things come to mind: this cycle has
long existed and in many quarters of the hacker community from the
security industry to hardware (the Homebrew club went from an informal
association of hackers building association to a capitalist gold mine).
These processes are deeply cyclical and on going and I don't really
expect them to go away given how central computing is to capitalism.

What was ommitted was the rather expanisive politicization of hacking we
have witnessed in the last five years thanks to the likes of Wikileaks
and Anonymous (or as Julian Assange put it " The political education of
apolitical technical people is extraordinary.") This is not to say we
should not worry about cooptation/gentrification/recuperation. But it is
as important to understand what has helped secure this flowering of
political activisity today so that we can protect it in the future.

I wrote a paper, Weapons of the Geek about the political turn in
hacking. It is under review but am happy to share for those who want to
see an early copy. I am also pasting a section of the introduction below.


Even as they attain to a social primacy alongside the global
communications technologies they have helped steward, entrenched
stereotypes have precluded serious studies of the contemporary politics
of hacking. Peering past the caricatures, we can see that hackers have
long used their skills for protest and overt political transformation
(Jordan and Taylor 2004). Hacking itself has long exhibited a powerful,
albeit latent, political sub-text (Soderberg 2012; Wark 2004).But in the
past five years, activist-motivated hacking has significantly enlarged
its scope and continues to demonstrate nuanced and diverse ideological
commitments. Many of these commitments cannot be reduced to
"libertarianism," that ideology universalized by many observers as the
crux of hacker politics. For one, civil disobedience has surged in a
varietyof formats and styles, often in relation to leaks and
exfiltration. We see lone leakers, like Chelsea Manning, and also
collectivist and leftist leaking endeavors, perhaps best exemplified by
Xnet in Spain. Other political engagements, similarly irreducible to
libertarian values alone, center around collective engagements at the
level of software: hackers have recently coded up protocols (like
BitTorrent) andtechnical platforms (like The Pirate Bay) to enable
peer-to-peer file sharing and anti-copyright piracy (Beyer 2014;
McKelvey, forthcoming); sincethe 1980s, free software hackers have
embedded their collectively produced programs with legal
stipulationsthat have powerfully tilted the politics of intellectual
property law in favor of access (Kelty 2008; Coleman 2013);
AcrossEurope, Latin America,and the United States, anti-capitalist
hackers run small but well-functioning collectives that
offerprivacy-enhancing technical support and services for leftist
crusaders;Anonymous, a worldwide protest ensemble specializing in
digital direct dissent, has established itself asone of the most
populist manifestations of contemporary geek politics -- requiring no
technical skills to contribute (Coleman 2014); and finally,on the more
liberal front, civic and open government hackers throughout North and
South Americahave sought to improve government transparency by creating
open standards andapplications thatfacilitate data access and sharing
(Gregg and DiSalvo 2013; Schrock, forthcoming). Julian Assange, one of
the most prominent activist hackers, has recently highlighted the rather
dramatic turn to activism and political engagement among geeky
technologists. "The political education of apolitical technical people
is extraordinary" (2014: 116), he noted during an interview.

There are no obvious, much less given, explanations as to why a group
once primarily defined by obscure tinkering and technical exploration
now engages so frequently in popular media advocacy, traditional policy
and lawmaking, and activism -- including forms of civil disobedience so
risky that some in the community are currently in prison or living in
exile.Working technologists are economically rewarded in*s*tep
withdoctors,lawyers,and academics -- and yet these professions produce far
fewer politically-active practitioners. Why and how have hackers who
enjoy a significant degree of social and economic privilege managed to
preserve pockets of autonomy? What historical, cultural, and
sociological conditions have facilitated their passage into the
political arena, especially in such large numbers? This does not mean
hackers should be blindly celebrated or denigrated, (as has often been
the case in the popular literature on hackers),but it does beg for
analysis andexplanation.

Ideally, thebeginnings of an answerwould deeply charthacker activity
along two distinct vectors: thehistoricalandthe socio-cultural.
However,an article of this lengthaffords only a single thread of
analysis. While my article will gesture at historical events and
circumstances, this article will foremost provide an introductory
inventorya basic outline of an explanation -- of thesociological and
cultural attributes most likely responsiblefor the unprecedented and
multitudinous intensification ofhacker politics duringthe last five
years. To begin, let's consider the idea of the "hacker" itself.

     Dear Brett,

     your essay is brilliant and obvious at the same time. I did enjoy
     reading it, but still feels like scratching the surface as it does not
     dig into other historical examples of cultural gentrification.

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