Category Archives: division of labor


summer 2014: “thinking together” in times of mediated politics and politicized technologies


How can we live together? This is the very simple and fun (if not challenging) question that the participants of the Osthang Architecture Summer School will be asking this Summer in Darmstadt, Germany. The program will come to a closure with a nine day(!) public forum titled “thinking together” curated by Berno Odo Polzer. As Berno writes:

“«Thinking Together» is focused on rethinking future modes of living together in a pluricentric world, so it is a transdisciplinary platform for political imagination: ‘political’ because it is concerned with the way in which we organize the spaces, practices and lives that we share, locally as well as globally – ‘imagination’ because it is aimed at forming new ideas and imaginaries about how to do so.”

As part of “thinking together”, Femke Snelting, Miriyam Aouragh and myself will be organizing an afternoon with the title “Let’s First Get Things Done!”. In other words, how we can resist the divisions of labor between “activists” and “techies” that occur in those sneaky moments of moving forward?

Our experience is that the politics, values and practices of those activists heavily using networked technology for their struggles, and of techno-activists who struggle for progressive and alternative technologies do not always concur. Loyal to the utopia of a globally functioning interwebs, techno-activists usually organize around universal values: information must be “free”, secure, “privacy-preserving”, accessible, etc. In comparison, those who bring their political struggles to the interwebs may express political differences across a broader spectrum, situated in local and/or global contexts. Furthermore, “pragmatic decisions” due to time pressure and lack of resources often mean that these struggles integrate themselves into proprietary and conservative technical infrastructures. In the process, many organizational matters are delegated to techies or to technological platforms. Imagining our futures together, we may want to radically reconfigure these divisions of labor. But how? Where do we start? Well, it seems we will start in Darmstadt.

But, we are not the only ones asking these questions. This June members of some of the most successful alternative projects met at Backbone 409 in Calafou with the objective “to build infrastructures for a free Internet from an anti-capitalist point of view: autonomous servers, open networks, online services, platforms, open hardware, free software, etc.” . I am looking forward to hearing back from that meeting.

In August, Interference will take place in Amsterdam and also raise similar questions with respect to the politics of technology and infrastructures of politics. The organizers write:

“Interference is not a hacker conference. From a threat to the so-called national security, hacking has become an instrument for reinforcing the status quo. Fed up with yet another recuperation, the aim is to re/contextualize hacking as a conflictual praxis and release it from its technofetishist boundaries. Bypassing the cultural filters, Interference wants to take the technical expertise of the hacking scene out of its isolation to place it within the broader perspective of the societal structures it shapes and is part of.”

And surely, these discussions will show up at the TransHackFeminist Camp organized in collaboration with Calafou and the eclectic tech carnival people, and also at HOPE. It also seems that the topic has found interest among academics. See the call for papers for the next issue of the FibreCulture Journal titled: “Entanglements: activism and technology”.

Thanks to all these events, this will be a summer of collaboration and labor. I cannot wait to see what thoughts and actions we return with for the Autumn.

Let’s first get things done: on division of labor and practices of delegation in times of mediated politics and politicized technologies

4th of August, 2014
Osthang, Darmstadt, Germany

Be it in getting out the call for the next demonstration on some “cloud service”, or developing a progressive tech project in the name of an imagined user community, scarcity of resources and distribution of expertise makes short cuts inevitable. But do they really?

The current distance between those who organise their activism to develop “technical infrastructures” and those who bring their struggles to these infrastructures is remarkable. The paradoxical consequences can be baffling: (radical) activists organize and sustain themselves using “free” technical services provided by Fortune 500 companies. At the same time, “alternative tech practices”, like the Free Software Community, are sustained by a select (visionary and male) few, proposing crypto with 9-lives as the minimum infrastructure for any political undertaking.

The naturalization of this division of labor may be recognized in statements about activists having better things to do than to tinker with code or hardware, or in technological projects that locate their politics solely in the technology and infrastructures as if they are outside of the social and political domain. What may seem like a pragmatic solution actually re-iterates faultlines of race, gender, age and class. Through the convenient delegation of “tech matters” to the techies or to commercial services, collectives may experience a shift in the collective’s priorities and a reframing of their activist culture through technological decisions. The latter, however, are typically not open to a broader political discussion and contestation. Such separation also gets in the way of actively considering the way in which changes in our political realities are entangled with shifts in technological infrastructures.

We want to use this day to resist the reflex of “first getting things done” in order to start a long term collaboration that intersects those of us with a background in politics of society and politics of technology.