Circle Project Plan ‘Appropriating Science and Technology for Societal Change’

The circle aims to explore political subjects that arise from conflicts over new technology and emergent scientific fields. Emphasis is placed on technologies and scientific practices that have been or could be appropriated by grassroots movements and user/maker communities and turned to other ends than those that were originally intended.

An older tradition of ‘appropriate technology’ and ‘citizen science’ rooted in 1960s protest cultures has been given a new impetus with the surge of hacking as a form of political engagement. A major source of inspiration comes from free software development, out of which the most well-known example is the operating system Linux. In contrast to earlier waves of appropriate technology initiatives, free software has demonstrated that this model for developing technology, based on non-profit motives and volunteer contributions, can rival commercial product development, both in terms of functionality and in terms of market adoption. In the last years, this model has spread far afield inspiring among other things a movement around ”open source hardware” and ”garage biology”. The initial, and rather limited, outlook of the first generation of hackers, typically centred on contesting intellectual property rights and defending freedoms related to Internet use, has since grown in scope and ambition. This corresponds with the evermore central role of software and computers for the economy, labour relations, law enforcement, national security and geopolitics. Among other things, this implies an expansion of the demography of hackers, involving people in the global South, women, etc., as well as attracting people with a social movement background. Although rarely thematised by the hackers themselves, as their focus tends to be on hands-on problem solving, it is now possible to make out the contours of a coherent political worldview and a collective project for bringing about social change, rooted in hacker practices. In the process, state sovereignty, industrial relations, ways of knowing and learning, and market transactions are all being called into question.

The circle discusses the broad application of open-source philosophy to all areas of modern society, touching on subjects such as open-source hardware development, biohacking, makerspaces and the maker culture, novel applications of cryptography like anonymizing darknets, cryptocurrencies and crypto-markets, and, reservedly, the consequences of ubiquitous surveillance. We, the coordinators, Gustav Eek, industry physicist, and Johan Söderberg, Ph.D. sociologist, Göteborg University, intend to attract social scientists as well as natural scientists and practitioners to the circle. Although there are hacker conferences, Internet forums and physical meeting places as hackerspaces where the above mentioned topics are currently being discussed, this discussion has little foothold inside an academic setting, and it tends to be self-contained within an engineering subculture. To have such a forum inside NSU would allow for an interface with the social sciences, artistic practice and humanities, from which new ideas and cross-fertilisations can be expected to happen. The themes of the circle resonates with those of an international, peer-reviewed and open access journal called Journal of Peer Production, and, besides aiming for an anthology to be published with NSU Press in three years time, proceedings from the circle might be reworked into articles and published in that journal.