Monday, June 08, 2009

recursive publics and free software

From an interesting review of an interesting-sounding book by Christopher Kelty:

Kelty’s main argument is that Free Software communities are a recursive public. He defines a recursive public as a public “whose existence (which consists solely in address through discourse) is possible only through discursive and technical reference to the means of creating this public.”


Free Software is a continuing praxis of “figuring out” - giving up an understanding of finality in order to continually adapt and redesign the system.

I recently wrote a piece for a multiply-authored book due out next year (more on this later) that sought to look at the "development" of the Internet very much along these lines. I hadn't seen these lines when I wrote it, but yes this, and the notion of “adaptability over planning” seem to me germane to the open system of the Net.

I do suspect "open system" is often oxymoronal. Maybe not always?

And, slantwise, this:
The Pirate Party has won a huge victory in the Swedish elections and is marching on to Brussels.

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Anonymous Raven Tintype said...

The word "labor" does not appear anywhere in Kelty's book. That's an odd omission for a book that postulates that new polities are being formed as the result of the way people work. The related word "collaboration" appears many times. Suggests to me that collaboration is used as a euphemism for labor because it free of the antagonistic associations of that word. It's a feel good substitute for labor.

Haven't read the book yet, but I wonder if there's a discussion of that newfangled "precarity" that free software developers experience along with the wonderful new openness and collaboration. Let's face it, free software developers often work for free, or if employed, are often illegally misclassified as contract employees so their employers avoid long term commitments, unemployment insurance, workers comp, social security taxes, and other benefits. Precarity is one of the defining features of this new polity.

Kelty says: "Recursive publics, and publics generally, differ from interest groups, corporations,
unions, professions, churches, and other forms of organization because of their focus on the radical technological modifiability of their own terms of existence"

I suppose he could have added "everything solid melts into air" too, but then he couldn't have claimed to have discovered this brand new "recursive public" thingamajig.

This looks more promising:

Have it on order...

6/08/2009 9:53 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks - that does look interesting - whether moreso than TwoBits dunno, as I've read neither, yet. Glad to see someone interrogating some of the popular, unreflected terms of the cyberborean lexicon. I also find a bit of Mr. P. here:

6/09/2009 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Randall Stross said...

Raven, I like your definition of 'precarity'. It sometimes indeed feels that way.

6/11/2009 8:32 PM  
Blogger jonhusband said...

I third Raven's flagging of the "precarity" in this configuration of labour.

I wonder if more people might cotton on to the issue if collaboration were to be spelled collabouration ?


6/15/2009 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Raven Tintype said...

It's interesting to see Jodi Dean in conversation with Kelty say she doesn't find "recursive publics" a useful concept on the iDC list (thanks for the link Tom, I think this is an important subject, digital labor)...

7/11/2009 5:36 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Yes, I'm still struggling to get at what's bothering her about it.

I also very much liked her question about whether the Internet is one or many.

I'm trying out the idea that for all its multeity, it's One, for the purposes of our coming to grips with matters of surviving the death of content.

Right now we happily pay for the container - the pipes, which large corporations lay in order to recoup their reinvestments a thousandfold - but we refuse to shell out for the contained.

What if container and contained were viewed as One? Would there not then be a point in transferring some of the revenue coming to the pipe owners (who do little besides maintenance once they put their stuff in the ground) to the content makers? But not do it stupidly, as in subscription plans, but more as in giant content pool of shared revenue from the ISPs, and micropayments per use.

Individual users have already paid for both container and contained - that's how we feel, I'm convinced. It's time for the pipeowners to see that without content, their pipes really are, pace Magritte, pipes.

Wrote something about it here. I really don't see another way. All manner of objections welcome.

7/12/2009 5:12 PM  

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