scobel - Kulturtechniken im Umbruch

Gert Scobel disktuiert mit Sybille Krämer, Dirk Becker und mir die Bedeutung von von Kulturtechniken im Kontext der digitalen Transformation. (08.09.2022)

The ‘Known Unknowables’ of Quantification and the Paranoid Self.

This is my contribution to "Digital Unconscious – Nervous Systems and Uncanny Predictions!” Autonomedia 2021: Eds: Konrad | Becker, Felix Stalder You can get a nice printed copy directly from the publisher, Autonmedia.


Driven by the need to manage large-scale, complex systems in real-time, the notion of rationality shifted during the cold war. Rationality was no longer seen as something that required the human mind, but rather as something that was requiring of large, technical systems (Erickson et al. 2013). While the enlightenment idea of rationality emphasized reflectivity (as in ‘know thyself’) and moral judgments (as in Kant’s categorical imperative), this new notion emphasized objectivity (in the form of numbers) and the strict adherence to predetermined rules (in the form of check-lists, chains of command, and computational algorithms).

The study of the self has long resisted this shift. Throughout the 20th century, psychology, with almost all its variants based on individual introspection, remained the predominant mode of learning about oneself (Zaretsky 2005). Within the domain of psychology, the exception, of course, was behaviorism, which was strictly based on external observation and disregarded all accounts of mental states. Its impact on the study of the self was rather limited, due to its primary use being focused on learning about others rather than oneself, as well as its methodological and political groundings having been quite controversial. Its main proponent, BF Skinner, was, as Noam Chomsky (1971) put it, “condemned as a proponent of totalitarian thinking and lauded for his advocacy of a tightly managed social environment”.

Review: Re-enchanting the world: feminism and the politics of the commons by Silvia Federici

Federici, Silvia (2018): Re-enchanting the world: feminism and the politics of the commons (foreword by Peter Linebaugh), Kairos, Oakland, CA: PM Press.

federici book

This book is a collection of essays by Federici, with a new forward by Linebaugh. The majority of the essays is from the last 10 years, but a few date back to the early 1990s. The early essays have a new introduction to provide context and perspective.

In the following, I will not to review the essays per se, but read them with a focus on the definition of the commons itself and the role digital technology plays in creating new commons. This is slightly unfair because both of these issues are not really her concerns, but coming to terms with the role of technology strikes me as critical in any discussion of contemporary issues.

Breakdown 2.0? Systemic blockages in late-stage statism and late-stage liberal capitalism

This is the short (I know!) version of a paper, written for the "25 Years of Network Society" Workshop, organized by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

I want to return to Castells’s analysis of the breakdown of Soviet statism. Today, the question of systemic breakdown is worth revisiting because from the theoretical structure of Castells’s account, a sharper perspective on our contemporary crisis, this time of liberal democracy, might be developed.

This might be counter-intuitive as the late Soviet Union seems far away from our current techno-capitalist world. One was a sclerotic system, closed, rigid, opaque and inflexible to the point of crumbling when attempting to reform itself, the other one prides itself of its transparency and its innovation capacity. Indeed, supposedly radical innovation, “disruption”, has become a ubiquitous and largely positive term in the business literature, a mantra in the popular, Silicon Valley-inspired discourse on the relation between technology and society, and a trope even in critical activist cultures. But underneath these obvious differences, there are systemic blockages that share certain similarities.

Limits to complexity: systemic blockages in the Soviet ‘statism’

Von der repräsentativen zur vernetzten Demokratie

Die alten Formen der Demokratie, die etablierten Wege, wie die Öffentlichkeit aufgebaut wurde, befinden sich in einer tiefen Krise, und Appelle an eine idealisierte Vergangenheit werden sie nicht retten. Sie sind eindeutig nicht mehr der Aufgabe gewachsen, eine immer komplexere Gesellschaft zu organisieren. Gegen die Wende des erneuerten Autoritarismus sollten wir darüber nachdenken, wie wir uns mit der Kapazität des Digitalen verbinden können, mit der Fähigkeit, neue Wege des Wissens und des Zusammenseins mit der Erfahrung des physischen Raums zu bieten, um der gegenwärtigen Tendenz zur Fragmentierung in immer kleinere Gemeinschaften und der daraus resultierenden Unverständlichkeit der Welt zu begegnen.

Die parlamentarische, repräsentative Demokratie mit ihrem System der Gewaltenteilung, die noch in den 1990er Jahren den Siegeszug um die Welt anzutreten schien, ist unübersehbar in der Krise. In den vereinigten Staaten mit Trump, in Ungarn mit Orban, in den Philippinen mit Duderte, in der Türkei mit Erdogan und an vielen weiteren Orten hat ein neuer Typus von Politikern (aktuell nur Männer) die Macht erobert, der sich ganz offen gegen demokratische Regeln stellt und neue autokratische Strukturen implementiert. Von ehemaligen Volksparteien, die die Nachkriegsordnung geprägt und deren Verankerung in der Bevölkerung Demokratie legitimiert haben, ist, etwa in Frankreich, kaum mehr etwas übrig, und wo sie noch stärker sind, sind sie zum Verwalter des Status Quo geworden, die außer ein müdes “Weiter so!” programmatisch wenig zu bieten scheinen. Die Demokratie wird von außen angegriffen und ist von innen her ausgehöhlt.

Die Gründe dafür sind sicherlich vielfältig. Im Folgenden möchte ich auf einen, aber meines Erachtens sehr wesentlichen, Grund fokussieren: die Veränderungen in der Struktur der Öffentlichkeit, in der demokratische Fragen verhandelt und Entscheide legitimiert werden.

Die enttäuschten Hoffnungen des Internets

From inter-subjectivity to multi-subjectivity: knowledge claims and the digital condition

Beautiful and open accessAbstract: One of the consequences of digitization is a deepening crisis of epistemology, caused by the proliferation of social, biological and machinic actors that overwhelm established methods of generating and organizing knowledge. Machine-driven analysis of large data sets is introducing a new way of doing science. In this, it is answering to this crisis while, at the same time, deepening it. Continuing to claim ‘scientific objectivity’ is becoming ever more impossible and in practice is likely to serve as a way to abdicate responsibility for the actual research and its consequences. Rather, we should seek to highlight the positionality and partiality of any claim, also and in particular in data science, thus rendering more obvious the need to combine competing claims into an understanding of the world that is not so much inter- but rather multi-subjective.

Keywords: epistemology, digitality, data science, reproducibility crisis, multi-subjectivity

One of the consequences of digitization is a deepening crisis of epistemology, caused by the proliferation of social, biological and machinic actors that overwhelm established methods of generating and organizing knowledge (Stalder 2018). And, since there is a close relationship between epistemology and politics, between ways of knowing and ways of managing the world, we are also in a deep political crisis. This manifest itself not the least in a populist rejection of ‘science’ and ‘facts’ (Manjoo 2008). This crisis of the established – let’s call it modern-liberal – epistemic-political order has created a space for the establishment of a new one, which doesn’t yet have a name, even if its outlines are already visible.

Anti-communication and fictious commodities

15 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, then still called thefacebook, as a network for students at Harvard University. Today, almost 2.7 billion people use its services. And for 15 years he has been stressing like a prayer wheel that "connecting" and "sharing" make the world a better place and that Facebook stands for the epochal transition from oppressive hierarchical bureaucracies to liberating horizontal networks.

Today, he's pretty much on his own with that statement. On the one hand, Facebook Inc. has grown into an overpowering, opaque company that has incorporated 72 companies to date, including Instagram (2012), WhatsApp (2014), and virtual reality developer Oculus VR (2014). Moreover, the ownership structure is such that Zuckerberg can exercise almost unlimited power. On the other hand, Facebook is accused of facilitating the dissemination of false or manipulative information and thus contributing to the division of societies and the intensification of conflicts, for example in Great Britain, Sri Lanka, the USA, and Myanmar.

How could a harmless idea - people should be able to communicate easily and quickly with their friends and acquaintances - unfold such a destructive force? The answer is less to be found in the idea of horizontal communication itself or in digital media in general, but in the specific way Facebook implements this idea.

Agency. Digitalität und Handlungsfähigkeit.

Felix Stalder

Der englischsprachige Begriff agency hat keine direkte deutschsprachige Entsprechung. Er wird meist mit Handlungsfähigkeit, Handlungsvermögen oder auch Handlungsmacht übersetzt. Gemeint ist damit die Fähigkeit eines Akteurs, innerhalb einer gegeben Situation nicht nur determiniert zu reagieren, sondern mit einer gewissen Offenheit auf sich selbst und andere Einfluss zu nehmen. Warum taucht dieser Begriff nun in einem Band zu Kulturöffentlichkeit und Digitalisierung auf? Wir gehen davon aus, dass durch den zentralen Stellenwert, den komplexe, dynamische Technologien der Kommunikation in der Konstitution von Öffentlichkeit(en) spielen, neue Formen von Handlungsfähigkeit entstehen. Die Digitalisierung verändert also die Akteure und damit die Dynamiken, wie Kultur wahrgenommen und reflektiert wird, tiefgreifend. Um diese besser zu fassen, ist eine Klärung des Begriffs für diesen Kontext sinnvoll.

Agency and the digital condition

The term agency is particular to the English language. It has, for example, no direct German equivalent. It is usually rendered by the German words Handlungsfähigkeit (ability to act), Handlungsvermögen (faculty for acting), and even Handlungsmacht (power to act). What is meant is the ability of an agent within a given situation to react not only in a predetermined way but also to influence oneself and others with a certain degree of freedom. Why, then, does this term appear in a book about the cultural public sphere and digitalization? We start from the assumption that as complex, dynamic technologies of communication play in central tole in constituting the public sphere(s), new forms of agency emerge. The digital condition thus profoundly affects the agents and dynamics in which culture is perceived and reflected. To better understand this, it makes sense to clarify the concept of agency in this context.

Commons Are not the Sharing Economy. A comment to Ossewaarde & Reijers (2017)

This was written in the context of the research project"Creating Commons". And while the paper I'm commenting on is not particularly good, it's symptomatic for a lazy-left critique of the commons and thus warrants the comments.

Ossewaarde, Marinus und Wessel Reijers (2017): „The illusion of the digital commons: ‘False consciousness’ in online alternative economies“, Organization 24/5, S. 609–628. (paywalled)

From the abstract:
“Digital commons such as Wikipedia, open-source software, and hospitality exchanges are frequently seen as forms of resistance to capitalist modes of production and consumption, as elements of alternative economies. In this article, however, we argue that the digital commons cannot by themselves constitute genuine forms of resistance for they are vulnerable to what we call ‘the illusion of the digital commons’, which leads to a form of ‘false consciousness’.”

This is both an interesting and annoying article. It's interesting as it details how „sharing“ can be put into the service of profit-driven centralization. It's annoying because it uses a small number of cases to make sweeping claims that feel more than a little disingenuous.

For example, while Wikipedia and Open Source Software are mentioned in the first line of the abstract, they play no role in the subsequent analysis. That focuses entirely on three “hospitality exchanges”: Airbnb, Couchsurfing and BeWelcome.

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