Monday, December 01, 2008


Many of you will be presenting original work connected to the themes of our course on the last day as your final project. Please remember that together with this presentation you should hand in a short description of the project and its connection to a text or texts from our class that I can use as a reference in assessing your work.

Those of you who would rather not do such a presentation are welcome to produce a short (5pp.) final essay responding to the following prompt:
What is the shape and what might be the significance of a transformation from a mass mediated public sphere into more p2p networked public sphere? Choose any two texts from the course to describe how, in your own view, the emerging peer-to-peer networked public sphere differs most significantly from the mass mediated public sphere that preceded it.

I have no expectation at all about how sweeping, how deep, how hopeful, how fragile, how illusory you have come to believe this transformation truly is, nor do I have any expectation about what each of you will finally decide the significance of this transformation truly amounts to.


Well, I've looked all over the place, but to no avail. When Berube migrated his site some of the essays available on the old site vanished down the memory hole and the beautiful essay I assigned for Thursday is among them. I cannot find it anywhere else. Unless somebody has had luck finding it through some other route I suppose we'll have to confine our discussion to the remaining three pieces Thurs. The essay became the basis for a wonderful book by the same title that I recommend to your attention. Hope your holiday went well and that everybody is working on their keywords assignment. Word about the final forthcoming in my next post.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


1. accountability
2. basic income guarantee
3. body
4. California Ideology
5. canon
6. code
7. commons
8. control
9. credential
10. crypto-anarchy
11. culture
12. cybernetic totalism
13. cyberspace
14. democracy
15. digital
16. elite
17. end-to-end principle (e2e)
18. enframing
19. enhancement
20. filtering
21. finitude
22. free software
23. industrial model
24. linking
25. mass culture
26. media
27. neoliberalism
28. Netroots
29. objectivity
30. open source
31. panopticon
32. peer to peer (p2p)
33. popular
34. post-humanist
35. privacy
36. private property
37. professional
38. propaganda
39. public
40. publication
41. public good
42. reductionism
43. representative
44. retro-futurism
45. secrecy
46. sousveillance
47. spontaneous order
48. techno-utopianism
49. transparency
50. -- WILD CARD: Good for one term I've failed to include in the list.

Choose thirty Keywords from this list. Organize your chosen Keywords into three separate, conceptually connected, sets. You can use any criteria that seems useful to you to organize these sets. The only rule is that no resulting set can contain fewer than six Keywords.

Each set should have a title or heading that indicates the criteria governing inclusion into that set. Once you have organized your three sets in this way, briefly define each one of the Keywords you have included in each set in your own words. Ideally, your definitions should be as clear and as concise as possible. These definitions should be a matter of a sentence or two, NOT a paragraph or two. They are definitions, not essays or explanations. It should be clear from your definitions why each of the Keywords in each of the three sets are conceptually connected to each other, but it is also crucial that no terms within a set are to be treated as synonymous, and that your definitions distinguish Keywords from one another (even if the resulting distinctions are sometimes matters of nuance).

Once you have defined all these Keywords, provide a short quotation (feel free to edit and prune to keep your chosen citations properly pithy) from one of the texts we have read this term to accompany your definition. The quotation you choose can be a definition you found helpful in crafting your own definition, it can be an example or illustration you found especially clarifying, it can a matter of contextualization, framing, or history that you found illuminating, it can even be something you disagreed with so strongly it helped you understand better what you really think yourself.

Obviously, there are endless ways of organizing these sets, defining their Keywords, distinguishing them from one another, and connecting them up to the texts we have read. What matters here is that you follow the rules of the exercise, not that you arrive at some single "right answer" you may think I have in mind.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hello, everybody...

I'm posting this message to the blog and also sending it out as a mass mailing to many of your e-mail addresses. I suspect I'm going to miss some of you this way, so please forward or mention this message to folks you know who are in class but aren't listed among the recipients to this e-pistle.

I have noticed that no précis has been posted to the blog and that there are no new links posted to organizations or artists or events on the blog either, even though I do believe that there are co-facilitators and people giving reports for tomorrow's class.

This makes me very nervous.

It makes me especially nervous because last week's class was really terrible and I don't want a repeat of that tomorrow.

Let me make something very clear that I shouldn't have to make clear at all.

Attending this class is not optional if you are enrolled in it. Arriving to class on time is not optional if you are enrolled in it. Reading the texts assigned for our class meetings and being prepared to discuss them is not optional if you are enrolled in it.

An unbelievable number of you asked special permission to enroll in this class. I had assumed that this meant you had an enthusiasm for the topic or for the style of teaching or for the community of the classroom you were expecting. I let everybody into the class who wanted to be here. Now I fully expect you to repay that generosity by contributing to the class you have joined.

You all know that I am pretty anarchic when it comes to class structure. I tend to think your engagement with this difficult material is more productive for everybody when we grapple with it as peers.

But you all need to meet me halfway. And that is not yet happening in our class together this term in too many cases.

If you need to miss a class, let me know before hand or immediately afterward. I tend to be very affable about such things. If you miss the class more than three times, however, there may be a real question whether you are really even participating in the class in any meaningful sense, and if you miss without ever doing me the service of explaining why I have little reason or inclination to be generous with you.

I'm taking attendance from here on out and if you arrive too late I'm treating you as absent. It is a ridiculous and infantilizing sort of thing to do, in my opinion, and I truly hate that sort of thing, but that's how it's going to be until you demonstrate to me that I can dispense with this sort of idiocy by coming to class on time and ready to talk.

Again, I get it that many of these texts are alienating and dense. Critical theory is already unfamiliar and complex and many of these texts add the complexity of obscure technological details to the already weirdly complex attentions of a theoretical vantage.

But nobody expects you to spin crystal clear lectures on these topics after a couple of readings! If you don't understand a text, try to figure out what is making it especially difficult for you. Come up with actual questions to ask your peers and me about the text, rather than just giving up. or dismissing it, or whatever it is that you want to do instead of reading the text carefully.

We are reaching a place in the syllabus in which the texts deal with more general issues that apply to all sorts of issues, not just to the specific historical moment of the 90s digirati we've been focusing on up to this point. This is a perfect moment to reconnect with the course and try to dig in a bit.

There are a few of you who are excused tomorrow but there are so many more of you that I still expect a full house tomorrow. I'm not interested in excuses or explanations, just come tomorrow, find something you are prepared to talk about in these texts, and let's all move on.

That is all. Dale

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I am going to give a presentation on Geert Lovink: bio
Blogging, the nihilist impulse: link

Brittany McCall

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Don't Usually Do This Sort of Thing, But, Since People Are Asking for Basics: This Is From My DIssertation --

A whispered voice, a closed door, a sealed envelope –- these are all familiar, everyday techniques and technologies by means of which people routinely seek to maintain their secrets and preserve a measure of personal privacy.

Cryptography, the art of making ciphers and codes, provides an additional array of powerful techniques to accomplish the same purposes under different circumstances. Cryptographic techniques attempt to protect information from unwanted scrutiny by transforming or encrypting it into an otherwise unintelligible form called a cipher-text. This cipher-text ideally cannot be deciphered back into an intelligible plain-text without the use of a key to which only those who are the intended recipients of the information have access. The use of ever more powerful computers to facilitate the construction and application of encryption algorithms and keys has made the effort to discern the original plain-text from an encrypted cipher-text without recourse to its proper key incomparably more difficult than has been the case historically. This kind of code-breaking is called cryptanalysis. Cryptology is a more general term encompassing both cryptography and cryptanalysis.

There are two basic kinds of encryption scheme in contemporary cryptography, symmetric and asymmetric systems. In classic symmetric encryption or secret key cryptology, messages are enciphered and deciphered by recourse to a secret key available to all (but only) the relevant parties to a transaction. Such systems are called symmetrical simply because both the processes of scrambling text into cipher-text and descrambling cipher-text back to plain-text require access to exactly the same information. The obvious difficulty with such symmetric systems is their reliance on a secret key that cannot always itself be distributed with ease or comparable security. This dilemma constituted in fact one of the definitive quandaries of cryptography for centuries, but it was overcome in a series of breakthroughs in relatively recent history. The result is called asymmetric or public key cryptology.

Public key encryption, as we know it, was devised by 1976 by Whitfield Diffie (of whom Simon Singh writes: “In hindsight, he was the first cypherpunk” ), Martin Hellman, and Ralph Merkle. Asymmetric encryption schemes require not one but two keys, a public or published key available to everyone as well as a secret key known, as usual, only by deliberately chosen individuals, and often known only by a single person and never revealed to anyone else at all. These two coded keys stand in the unique mathematical relation to one another that once a text has been scrambled into cipher-text by means of the public key, it can be subsequently descrambled from cipher-text back into intelligible plan-text only by means of the private or secret key associated with it. With this breakthrough the dilemma of insecure key distribution was solved, and it became possible even for parties whose identities are secrets kept from one another to communicate and conduct transactions with one another in a way that was likewise perfectly secret to anyone but themselves.

Public-key encryption systems soon also demonstrated useful and unexpected applications that had not hitherto been associated with traditional cryptography at all. New forms of authentication for otherwise anonymous transactions were suddenly possible and soon implemented. Digital time-stamping of documents and the creation of reliable “digital signatures” for otherwise anonymous or pseudonymous participants in various kinds of transactions were among the authenticating applications that especially excited the interest of the Cypherpunks.

These applications can facilitate the ongoing protection of anonymous sources of information and whistleblowers, for example, or the otherwise difficult authentication of censored texts or politically dangerous reportage, or provide for the secure, ongoing pseudonymous disputation of experts on controversial subjects over online networks. They also make it possible to re-create the kind of anonymity that roughly prevails when one makes a purchase with cash -– a kind of anonymity that more or less evaporates once one makes the transition to purchasing by means primarily of conventional credit or debit cards or when shopping online or over the phone. Needless to say, regaining this kind of purchasing privacy isn’t only appealing for those who want to engage in illegal economic activity. It is easy enough to understand the desire for anonymity in making a mildly or even only potentially embarrassing purchase, for example, or to elude a torrent of unsolicited targeted advertising.

It remains mysterious just why the arrival of even these powerful new cryptographic applications would inspire in anybody the sense of an upcoming or impending transformation of society in the image of crypto anarchy, however. And it is interesting to note that according to Simon Singh, there is an alternative version available to the conventional history of the development of public-key cryptography itself which suggests lessons that may cut somewhat against the grain of the contours of the Cypherpunk imaginary. “Over the past twenty years,” writes Singh in The Code Book, “Diffie, Hellman, and Merkle have become world famous as the cryptogaphers who invented public-key cryptography, while [Ronald] Rivest, [Adi] Shamir, and [Leonard] Adleman have been credited with developing RSA [–- the acronym derives from their initials –-], the most beautiful [and, as it happens, influential] implementation of public-key cryptography.” Contrary to this canonical history, however, Singh points out that “[b]y 1975, James Ellis, Clifford Cocks, and Malcom Williamson had discovered all the fundamental aspects of public-key cryptography, yet they had to remain silent [since their work was undertaken under the auspices of the British Government and was classified top-secret].”

Singh insists, exactly rightly, that “[a]lthough G[overnment] C[ommunications] H[ead]Q[uarters] were the first to discover public-key cryptography, this should not diminish the achievements of the academics who rediscovered it.” But his next point is the more provocative one, to my mind. “It was the academics who were the first to realize the potential of public-key encryption, and it was they who drove its implementation. Furthermore, it is quite possible that GCHQ would never have revealed their work” at all. For me, then, this appendix to the story of the invention of public-key encryption provides an example of how an open research culture grasped the significance of a discovery and implemented it incomparably more effectively than a closed and controlled, secretive culture managed to do -– even when the subject of that research and of its practical implementation was a matter of the technical facilitation of secrecy itself.

“For a long time,” writes James Boyle in his essay “Foucault in Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hard-Wired Censors,” “the internet’s enthusiasts… believed that it would be largely immune from state regulation.... forestalled by the technology of the medium, the geographical distribution of its users and the nature of its content.” Boyle characterizes “[t]his tripartite immunity” as “a kind of Internet Holy Trinity, faith in [which] was a condition of acceptance into the community [of enthusiasts].” Boyle proposes that these “beliefs about the state’s supposed inability to regulate the Internet” stand in an indicative relationship to “a set of political and legal assumptions that [he calls] the jurisprudence of digital libertarianism.” Certainly all three premises of this Internet Trinity exert their force over the imagination of Tim May and the version of digital libertarianism embodied in his crypto anarchy.

But when Boyle alludes to the “technology of the medium” here, he is not referring to the computer-facilitated cryptographic transformation of network communications, but to the more general and ubiquitous protocols and technologies that constitute the internet as such. It is useful to dwell on these more general assumptions about the internet, because they constitute the wider technical and cultural context from which May’s crypto-anarchic case emerges and hence their examination puts us in a better position to understand how some of the Cypherpunks’ otherwise rather improbably apocalyptic conclusions might acquire a compelling veneer of plausibility, especially for many of the Internet’s early partisans and participants.

“The Internet was originally designed to survive a nuclear war,” notes Boyle in “Foucault in Cyberspace.” “[I]ts distributed architecture and its technique of packet switching were built around the problem of getting messages delivered despite blockages, holes and malfunctions.”

“Imagine the poor censor faced with such a system,” he continues. “There is no central exchange to seize and hold; messages actively ‘seek out’ alternative routes so that even if one path is blocked another may open up.” All this amounts to a “civil libertarian's dream.” This is especially so because “[t]he Net offers obvious advantages to the countries, research communities, cultures and companies that use it, but it is extremely hard to control the amount and type of information available; access is like a tap that only has two settings –- ‘off’ and ‘full.’” He concludes the point: “For the Net's devotees, most of whom embrace some variety of libertarianism, the Net's structural resistance to censorship –- or any externally imposed selectivity –- is ‘not a bug but a feature.’”

Although it is true that digital networks have managed to an important and appealing extent to flummox and resist efforts to regulate their content, it is also true, as Boyle is the first to insist himself, that this capacity for resistance is the consequence of particular decisions by coders, engineers, policy-makers, and many others any number of which could have been decided otherwise with considerably different consequences, and which remain to this day more susceptible to alteration than the “civil libertarian’s dream” recited above would seem to credit. The specificity and ongoing contingency of these decisions belies any technological determinism that would destine or commend as an “ought” the architecture of a given social order from the “is” of just which tools happen to prevail for a time here or there.

The “Internet” is, in its somewhat enigmatic classical definition, a network of networks. And so, for example, writes Lawrence Lessig, “[t]he Internet is not the telephone network,” though certainly sometimes “it,” or at any rate some of it, “sometimes [runs] on the telephone lines.” Similarly, the internet is not a cable network, nor a wireless network, while it just as surely partakes of these. Different regulations and architectural protocols govern these many networks the Network networks. The ongoing implementation of the internet is private, public, corporate, governmental, academic.

What people talk about when they talk about the “Internet” tends to consist of expectations they have formed for familiar machines, or of experiences such machines have facilitated for them.

And so, the internet is very likely not the “thing” you think it is. For one thing, whatever you think of it, to be sure the internet is already transforming into something else. Consider, for example, how breathtakingly different would be the experiences of surfing the web from a desktop in 1993, to moblogging via cell in 2003, to immersion in ubicomp environments in 2013 (I am assuming that the omnipresence of these jazz-riffs of kooky jargon will continue to provide one of the few constants among the successive generations of network access and interactivity). What difference does it make that in one generation of its life the internet stood in a literally definitive relation to the Department of Defense, and in another generation more to What difference does it make that in one generation of its life, a majority of those who access the internet are primary speakers of English, but that in another generation only a minority are? What difference will it make when more non-sentient appliances than human beings routinely access the internet (cars constantly reporting the state of their maintenance to their manufacturer, refrigerators reporting the state of their contents to the grocery store, factories reporting emissions to state regulators, etc.)?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Writing A Precis, Co-Facilitating Discussion: A Guide

Critical Theory B: Fall 2008

One of the key assignments for our course will be your co-facilitation of class discussion of an assigned text. This assignment also requires that you generate a précis of the text you are taking responsibility for. This precis should provide a point of departure for your contribution to the discussion in class, and you will also hand it in to me at the end of the session. I expect you to post your precis to our course blog the Friday prior to the Tuesday class meeting you are co-facilitating.

Think of this precis as a basic paraphrase of the argumentative content of a text.

Here is a broad and informal guide for a precis, consisting of question you should ask of a text as you are reading it, and again after you have finished reading it. Don't treat this as an ironclad template, but as a rough approach to producing a precis -- knowing that a truly fine and useful précis need not necessarily satisfy all of these interventions.

A precis should try to answer fairly basic questions such as:
1. What is the basic gist of the argument?
2. To what audience is it pitched primarily? Does it anticipate and respond to possible objections?
3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general? To what end is the argument made?
a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending positions?

4. Does it have an explicit thesis? If not, could you provide one in your own words for it?
5. What are the reasons and evidence offered up in the argument to support what you take to be its primary end? What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural nature) does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions under closer scrutiny?
6. What, if any, kind of argumentative work is being done by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece?
7. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these angles of view will yield something between a general book report and a close reading, but one that focuses on the argumentative force of a text. For the purposes of our class, such a precis succeeds if it manages
1. to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
2. provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.

For Thursday

Links for Thurs. are hot. I'm expecting some precis/co-facilitation questions, quotes to appear on the blog very soon?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Syllabus for Critical Theory B, Fall 2008

Theory and Technoscience, Peer to Peer

Instructor: Dale Carrico,
Course Blog:

Att/Part: 20%; Report: 20%; Precis and Co-Facilitation: 20% Keywords: 20% Final Project: 20% (Approximately and Provisionally)

Provisional Schedule of Meetings

Week One | September 4

Week Two | September 11
Lessig, Code
Benkler, Wealth of Networks

Week Three | September 18
May, The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto [ian]
Hughes, A Cypherpunk's Manifesto [jessie]
Shirky, RIAA Succeeds Where Cypherpunks Failed

Week Four | September 25
Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace [charlie]
Barbrook, The California Ideology [katy]
Purdy, God of the Digirati [peter]

Week Five | October 2
Hayles, Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Weiner and Cybernetic Anxiety [brittany]
Lanier, One Half of a Manifesto [jeremy]

Week Six | October 9
Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology
Noble, Religion of Technology [kimmy]

Week Seven | October 16
Arendt, Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man
Lewis, The Abolition of Man [rachel]
Steigler, The Gentle Seduction [kati]

Week Eight | October 23
Film: Desk Set

Week Nine | October 30
Litman, Sharing and Stealing [lisa]
Boyle, Second Enclosure
Boyle, Enclosing the Genome

Week Ten | November 6
Chomsky and Herman, Propaganda Model [jennifer]
Digby, Netroots As A Revolutionary Force
Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Bollier, Commoners As An Emerging Political Force [ling]

Week Eleven | November 13
Bauwens, The Political Economy of Peer Production
Lessig, Insanely Destructive Devices [jeramee]
Sterling, Maneki Neko

Week Twelve | November 20
Chun, Control and Freedom
Brin, Three Cheers for the Surveillance Society! [manae]
Cascio, Participatory Panopticon [nicki]
Mann, Sousveillance

Week Thirteen | November 27 -- Academic and Administrative Holiday

Week Fourteen | December 4
Berube, Life As We Know It [daniel]
Mundy, Bionic Parents and Techno-Children
Newitz, Breeding the Future [lauren]
Zizek, Bring Me My Philips Mental Jacket

Week Fifteen | December 11
Haraway, The Promises of Monsters [janett]
Latour, A Plea for Earthly Sciences