my_publications

Book Out: Digital Condition (Polity Press)

I'm very happy my new book (a translation of Kultur der Digitalität) has just been published by Polity Press.

In the book I argue that referentiality, communality, and algorithmicity have become the characteristic cultural forms of the digital condition because more and more people – in more and more segments of life and by means of increasingly complex technologies – are actively (voluntarily and/or compulsorily) participating in the negotiation of social meaning. They are thus reacting to the demands of a chaotic, overwhelming sphere of information and thereby contributing to its greater expansion. It is the ubiquity of these cultural forms that makes it possible to speak of the digital condition in the singular.

The goals pursued in these cultural forms, however, are as diverse, contradictory, and conflicted as society itself. It would, therefore, be equally false to assume uniformity or an absence of alternatives in the unfolding of social and political developments. On the contrary, the idea of a lack of alternatives is an ideological assertion that is itself part of a specific political agenda. Indeed, advanced democracies are faced with a profound choice, to continue their long slide towards post-democratic authoritarianism or reinvent democracy for the digital condition.

You can get it from the publisher (UK, US), from Amazon (UK, US), or you local bookseller (UK, US).

The great cover image is by the Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, from the series Nimbus, Probe #6, 2010.

Updates

  • Sebastian Berg, Niklas Rakowski and Thorsten Thiel discuss the book as one of five "key points of reference in the German-language discussion on the digital society." Digital Constellation (12.2020)
  • Herman, Kelly. 2020. “Felix Stalder, The Digital Condition.” International Journal of Communication 14(3).

Aesthetics of the Commons. New Book out!

We are very happy to publication of our book "Aesthetics of the Commons"

What do a feminist server, an art space located in a public park in North London, a ‘pirate’ library of high cultural value yet dubious legal status, and an art school that emphasizes collectivity have in common? They all demonstrate that art can play an important role in imagining and producing a real quite different from what is currently hegemonic; that art in the post-digital has the possibility to not only conceive or proclaim ideas in theory, but also to realize them materially. The underlying social imaginaries ascribe a new role to art in society and they envision an idea of culture beyond the individual and its possessions.

Digital Commons. Defining Concepts of the Digital Society (Internet Policy Review)


ABSTRACT

Commons are holistic social institutions to govern the (re)production of resources, articulated through interrelated legal, socio-cultural, economic and institutional dimensions. They represent a comprehensive and radical approach to organise collective action, placing it “beyond market and state” (Bollier & Helfrich, 2012). They form a third way of organising society and the economy that differs from both market-based approaches, with their orientation toward prices, and from bureaucratic forms of organisation, with their orientation toward hierarchies and commands. This governance model has been applied to tangible and intangible resources, to local initiatives (garden, educational material), and to resources governed by global politics (climate, internet infrastructure).

Digital commons are a subset of the commons, where the resources are data, information, culture and knowledge which are created and/or maintained online. The notion of the digital commons is an important concept for countering legal enclosure and fostering equitable access to these resources. This article presents the history of the movement of the digital commons, from free software, free culture, and public domain works, to open data and open access to science. It then analyses its foundational dimensions (licensing, authorship, peer production, governance) and finally studies newer forms of the digital commons, urban democratic participation and data commons.

Full text open access.

Dulong de Rosnay, M. & Stalder, F. (2020). Digital commons. Internet Policy Review, 9(4). https://doi.org/10.14763/2020.4.1530

Out Now: HYPER-EMPLOYMENT Book

24/7. Algorithmic sovereignty. Anxiety. Artificial intelligence. Automation. Crowdfunding. Data extraction. Entreprecariat. Exploitation. Free labour. Free time. Gig working. Human-in-the-loop. Logistics. Machine vision. Man-machine complexity. Micro-labour. No future. Outsourcing. Peripheral work. Platform economy. Post-capitalism. Post-work. Procrastination. Quantification. Self-improvement. Social media fatigue. Time management. Unemployment. These are arguably just a few of the many keywords required to navigate our fragile, troubled, scattered present, in which the borders between life and work, home and office, sleep and wake, private and public, human and machine have faded, and in which the personal is not just political but economic.

Edited by Domenico Quaranta and Janez Janša, featuring words by !Mediengruppe Bitnik (Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo) and Felix Stalder, Silvio Lorusso, Luciana Parisi, and Domenico Quaranta and works by !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Danilo Correale, Elisa Giardina Papa, Sanela Jahić, Silvio Lorusso, Jonas Lund, Michael Mandiberg, Eva and Franco Mattes, Anna Ridler, Sebastian Schmieg, Sašo Sedlaček, and Guido Segni, Hyperemployment – Post-work, Online Labour and Automation is an attempt to scrutinise and explore some of these issues. A catchphrase borrowed from media theorist Ian Bogost, describing “the Exhausting Work of the Technology User,” hyperemployment allows us to grasp a situation which the current pandemic has turned endemic, to analyse the present and discuss possible futures.

The book is co-published by NERO and Aksioma

Format: 11 x 17 cm
Pages: 160
Language: EN
Year: 2020
ISBN: 978-88-8056-112-5

BUY IT HERE, 18,00€

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’

The Pandemic as Smart City Laboratory

I really think anyone who makes predictions now is a fool.
It's a little bit like trying to predict the future of foreign policy in October 2001.
Evgeny Morozov, interviewed by Holly Herndon & Matt Dryhurst, May 11, 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic is both an urban and technological phenomenon. 95% of all diseases have so far been registered in cities. From the starting point in Wuhan, via the metropolitan region of Lombardy, Paris, Madrid, New York, Rio de Janeiro to Moscow, the virus spreads mainly within large cities. This is hardly surprising, since not only does the higher density favor the local spread of the virus from person to person, but the virus also arrives first in the large cities. They are the central nodes of the hypermobility of people and goods that characterizes the neoliberal phase of globalization. From this perspective, tourist hotspots like Ischgl are temporary cities in the mountains. Whether the hypermobility, which has been largely brought to a standstill at the moment, will be fully revived is not yet clear. That the global trend towards urbanization will be broken is very unlikely. So much can be confidently predicted.


Map of all the 5384 people whose Covid-19 infection could be traced back to the ski resort of Ischgl, Austria. (Source)

Tracking People and Modelling Society. COVID-19 and the politics of big data

At the moment, many people are sensing how the tectonic plates under their feet are moving. It is hard to get one’s bearing on such shifting grounds. Beginning with the virus itself, which is assumed to have jumped from animals to humans (“zoonotic spillover”) sometime last fall, there are simply too many actors in the complex dynamic system of a planetary civilization whose paths have been altered in hard-to-understand ways. This makes it impossible to plot the cumulative effects of their interaction.

While a lot of things are fairly chaotic and improvised reactions to fast-changing events, there is a certain structure to it, simply because people and institutions draw on that material, political and cultural resources which they have available. But which resources to draw on, how to mobilize them, and how to create new ones in the process is the key question. While there is path-dependency and continuity, even in the way actors can change paths, there is also a moment of extraordinary openness. It is therefore important not only to be vigilant against the authoritarian forces that are exploiting this crisis, i.e. to defend democracy as it exists, but also to think about ways of strengthening and expanding it right now.

Überwachen und Anstecken (LMD)

Die Welt verändert sich vor unseren Augen in rasendem Tempo. Keine drei Monate nachdem die Behörden von Wuhan erstmals die Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) über ein neuartiges Coronavirus informiert haben, sind mehr als 3 Milliarden Menschen mit schweren Einschränkungen ihrer Bewegungsfreiheit konfrontiert, die mindestens mehrere Wochen dauern sollen.Dieses Regime der erzwungenen Immobilität ist nur der sichtbarste Teil einer tektonischen Verschiebung der politischen Landschaft, in der Maßnahmen durchgesetzt werden, die bis vor Kurzem noch undenkbar waren. Gleichzeitig radikalisieren sich bestehende Entwicklungen.

Bei der Nutzung digitaler Daten im Kampf gegen die Ausbreitung des Virus kommt beides in problematischer Weise zusammen. Es ist naheliegend, auf „die Daten“ der großen Firmen der Mobilfunk- und Social-Media-Branche zurückzugreifen, um die Ausbreitung des Virus zu bekämpfen. Seit Jahren betonen diese Firmen gern, wie genau sie uns kennen, wie detailliert sie über unsere Handlungen, Sorgen und Wünsche Bescheid wüssten und dass sie unser künftiges Verhalten aus unserem bisherigen ableiten könnten.Mehr noch, die digitale Netzwerktheorie, etwa Facebooks „social graph“, der die Beziehungen zwischen allen Nutzern der Plattform darstellt, und die Netzwerktheorie der Epidemiologie sind in ihren Grundlagen sehr ähnlich.

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

The Deepest of Black. AI as Social Power

This is my contribution to the catalogue for the exhibition "Entangled Realities – Living with Artificial Intelligence" showing at HEK, Basel 09.05.2019 - 11.08.2019.

In day-to-day life, most technologies are black boxes to me.1 I don’t really know how they work, yet I have a reliable sense of the relationship between the input, say pressing a button, and the output, the elevator arriving. What happens in between, whether simple local circuitry or a far-away data centre is involved, I don’t know and I don’t care. Treating complex systems as black boxes is a way of reducing complexity and this is often a very sensible thing to do. However, not all black boxes are equally black, and the depth of the blackness matters quite significantly, not the least in terms of the power relations produced through the technology. The application of artificial intelligence has a tendency to produce particularly dark shades of black. In order to find ways to deal with these applications so that they do not undermine democracy, it is important to differentiate between technical and social shades to avoid that these applications contribute further to an already high concentration of power in the hands of a few technology firms. Art, with unique ability to create new aesthetics, languages and imaginations, can play an important role in this battle.

Jenna Sutela, nimiia cétiï, 2018Jenna Sutela, nimiia cétiï, 2018

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