[Air-L] CFP: Expanding the frontiers of hacking

Gabriella Coleman biella at nyu.edu
Fri Jun 17 15:21:57 PDT 2011


A lot of folks have answered, I think well, to some of your queries so I
don't have much to add but here are a few additional thoughts:

Free software does belong to a lineage of people who thought/think of
themselves as hackers and Richard Stallman was motivated to write free
software to save the ethics of hacking, using that very language. I know
you know this, so I am still puzzled by the resistance, if nothing else,
to acknowledge that hacker/hacking are terms used by thousands upon
thousands of free software developers to conceptualize their craft and
their ethics.

Whether Free software had brought a radical political transformation in
the world is easy to answer: "no." It has shifted and I would say in
some important ways, the politics of IP law (among some other arenas).
That has been one of its most important contributions and many
developers--outside of the radical techie free software developer
community--would not claim to be doing anything but writing free
software. Many others have tagged a more Utopian language/understanding
onto them (perhaps because they give a powerful glimpse into the
importance of  unalienated labor and more problematically because of the
problematic idea that computers will save the world). But many of these
hackers are just into their craft, have built some extremely interesting
social institutions to produce software, and I am not sure why we need
to be primarily or only judging them for being (or not) radical
political activists out to save the world.

I understand that one might want to and should pop the Utopian hype
enveloping dominant understanding of computers, but not at the expense
of misrepresenting some of these worlds and criticizing every last
shred/byte of computer-related activity.

As someone who has spent way too much time on/with Anonymous: there are
clearly hackers and sys admins involved but there
are a great many who are geeky types with enough digital literacies to
get involved in these worlds and yet who neither self-identify as such
nor have the requisite skills. Again I don't see why you are so keen in
sticking them Anonymous in such limited box.

As per a special issue on Stuxtnet, I think the problem is not a lack of
desire but those worlds are incredibly, almost impossibly hard to study
for anyone and even harder for academics. Imagine trying to get IRB
approval for studying the Russian Business Network or the Stuxtnet writers?

We will have to rely on journalists and there is some good work being
done (King Pin by Poulsen, a hacker or at least ex-hacker himself).
There has also been very good work done on cyberconflict by Athina
Karatzogianni (http://works.bepress.com/athina_karatzogianni/4/) and
finally some empirical work being done on nationalistic hacking, such as
this book on Chinese hackers


Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor
NYU, Department of Media, Culture, & Communication
On Leave 2010-2011, The Institute for Advanced Study

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