Networked Disruption (PhD Abstract)

On August 31, 2011, I handed-in my PhD dissertation (Department of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University), which will be discussed at the beginning of December (date to be announced). The following is a short abstract of the contents.

PhD Dissertation Abstract:

Networked Disruption
Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking
by Tatiana Bazzichelli

The objective of this research is to rethink the meaning of critical and oppositional practices in art, hacktivism and the business of social networking. The aim is to analyse hacker and artistic practices through business instead of in opposition to it. By identifying the emerging contradictions within the current economical and political framework of Web 2.0, my aim is to reflect on the status of activist and hacker practices as well as those of artists in the new generation of social media (or so called Web 2.0 technologies), analysing the interferences between networking participation and disruptive business innovation.

My hypothesis is that mutual interferences between art, hacktivism and the business of social networking have changed the meaning and contexts of political and technological criticism. Hackers and artists have been active agents in business innovation, while at the same time also undermining business. After the emergence of Web 2.0, the critical framework of art and hacktivism has shifted from developing strategies of opposition to embarking on the art of disruption. Artists and hackers use disruptive techniques of networking within the framework of social media, opening up a critical perspective towards business to generate unpredictable feedback and unexpected reactions; business enterprises apply disruption as a form of innovation to create new markets and network values, which are often just as unpredictable. Disruption becomes a two-way strategy in networking contexts, a practice to generate criticism, and a methodology to create business innovation.

Theoretical Background:
Adopting Fred Turner’s perspective of investigating the interferences between business and radical culture through coexisting layers instead of progressive cooptation, I developed the concept of the Art of Disruptive Business as a possible model for deconstructing business logic through the act of experiencing it from within. The concept of disrupting business in social media sheds light on the practices of artists, activists and hackers who are rethinking critical interventions in the field of art and technology by deciding to act inside the market scenario. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s notion of the dialectical image, I propose to adopt a dialectic approach in which the oppositions coexist. Bypassing the classic power/contra-power dichotomy, the dialectical opposition between business and its undermining therefore shifts into a synergetic tension where one is part of the other, and they mutually contribute to each other’s formation. Conscious that nowadays contradictions and dichotomies are an inherent part of business logic, the challenge lies in the exploration of symbolic dissolutions of powers, where hackers and artists directly engage in such contradictions and provoke unexpected consequences, which can be seen as an art form. Building on the analysis of non-hegemonic practices and the logic of affinity by Richard J. F. Day, I propose an analysis of practices that challenge the notion of power and hegemony, and the battle for dominance, generating distributed, decentralised and fluid networking practices which act through the bugs inherent in economical systems.

The method is based on the reformulation of a research approach which functions within the subject of research, rather than on the subject of research. Adopting the montage method derived from Benjamin’s writing style of Denkbilder (thought-images), decentralised and plural viewpoints become part of theory and practice. The result is a methodological constellation of networking practices, which I define as ethnography of networks, which aims to actualise – and to question – the notion of “fieldwork” itself. The theoretical viewpoint of this research is closely connected with the act of being a direct part of the research subject, creating a mutual exchange with the actors of the analysis through conversations and interviews as well as participating in some of the projects described here. To investigate the progressive commercialisation of sharing and networking platforms, it is necessary to understand business culture from within. My research develops through the analysis of different conceptual nodes of a network, connecting together disruptive practices of networked art and hacking in the framework of a network economy. To sort through the various effects of networking art and hacking in the business of social media, I examine their development and influence on a cross-national scale. Case studies cross space and time: hackers, activists and artists in California (especially those in the Bay Area) are closely connected to those in Europe.

Case Studies:
The case studies analysed in this research are those based on the concept of disruption rather than opposition. Artists and hackers adopt viral and flexible strategies, as does contemporary networking business by provoking contradictions, paradoxes and incongruities. I investigate two different but related critical scenes: the art and technological context in California and the European contexts of net culture, which generate a constellation of projects created by hackers, artists, networkers and entrepreneurs acting at the boundary between art, business and social networking. This perspective binds together different models of disruption in business contexts of social media and artistic practices focused on networking, thereby adopting a disruptive critical dimension. In particular, I analyse: the genesis and the creation of several grassroots networks applying methodologies of disruption (e.g. mail art, Neoism, The Church of the SubGenius, Luther Blissett, Anonymous); the development of underground artistic and hacker practices in California and its synergies with the business of social networking (e.g. The Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, Burning Man Festival, NoiseBridge,; projects highlighting the paradoxes and limits of social media (e.g. Anna Adamolo, Seppukoo by Les Liens Invisibles and Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico) and decentralised techniques of networking based on peer production and the distribution of productive assets (Venture communism by Dmytri Kleiner and the Telekommunisten collective).

What were once marginal practices of networking in underground hacker and artistic contexts have in recent years become a core business for many Web 2.0 companies. The increasing commercialisation of sharing and networking contexts is transforming the meaning of art as well as that of business. Artistic practices develop beyond the realms of artistic institutions and some of them are transforming the meaning of business. If business is adopting hacker and artistic strategies of disruption, what is the answer of artists and hackers working within a critical networking dimension?
Distributed, autonomous and decentralised networking practices of disruption. become a means for rethinking oppositional hacktivist and artistic strategies within the framework of art and business.

Department of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University, 2011
Søren Pold, Associate Professor
Department of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University.
Co-supervisor: Fred Turner, Associate Professor
Communication Department, Stanford University, California.

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