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Toward a Politics of Anonymity: Algorithmic Actors in the Constitution of Collective Agency

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

The widespread adoption by users of social network media has increasingly rendered the border between life and labor indistinct. The human soul has been put to work, formatting its informatic expression in clouds without freedom.1 Some of the most radical political events witnessed over the past few years – the Arab Spring, the European Austerity Protests and the Occupy movements – have been notable in their choice of commercial social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to facilitate techniques of organization. How these political mobilizations sustain themselves over time remains an open question, but one that nevertheless requires concepts and models of organization to take into account the politics of code. Beyond a political economy of user-as-product approaches, we contend that it is the figure of anonymity that most effectively identifies the stakes of a new protocol politics. The question of anonymity is at the heart of an emergent politics of information governance, addressing the role of protocols, policies and practices in systems of networking.

To facilitate such a shift in perspective, this chapter offers a brief overview of the decline of the destination web following the migration of users to closed commercial media platforms. We go on to examine the emergence of communication networks based on open hardware protocols and the repoliticization of the design of infrastructures of expression beyond a politics of information rights. This brings us to our core interest in the way anonymity shapes political organization at both technological and social levels. Across finance capitalism, hacker cultures and political movements, algorithmic anonymity has become the architecture of organization coincident with networked forms of communication. As such, it warrants critical inspection and analysis hitherto overlooked by organization studies. In short, organization studies must take seriously how algorithmic actors shape the ways in which individual and collective agency is constituted and mobilized.2

After the Destination Web

Social media is transforming itself into operating systems designed not simply to facilitate established forms of social exchange and political organization, but which serve as platforms based on the enmeshment of communicative and economic practice analyzed as biolinguistic capitalism, or the social production of value.3 Algorithmic tracking of how you communicate generates profiles so comprehensive that they have become a major commercial asset, and it does not come as a surprise that an entire industry of data dealers has emerged. The analysis of online social networks has focused much of its attention on the ‘user-as-product’ approach adopted by commercial social media platforms: software encourages users to generate their own social data, which in turn allows for the construction of dynamic user profiles whose commercial value lies in their unprecedented scope and scale as ‘big data’ to be endlessly modeled and recombined.

An entire cottage industry has developed based on the monetization of these data flows, from mortgage lending to debt service monitoring. And as the shift from contextual and behavioral advertising to deep packet inspection illustrates, such analyses are no longer simply content-based: as advertisers partner with ISPs to better reach their target audiences, they effectively become part of the networked infrastructure.4 Analyses are based on a logic of aggregation: as the automated adjustment of prices or credit lines depends on what people in your networks do, ‘weblining’ follows the ‘redlining’ of an earlier era, when people were denied mortgages based on where they live. Some of these actors are brand names well-known on college campuses yet rarely the focus of analytical attention – take LexisNexis, the same company that offers online access to research literature also provides the tools to monitor whether you have paid your student loan (Accurint for Collections) or come in conflict with the law (Accurint for Law Enforcement).5

Following her analysis of this data industry, Lori Andrews has proposed a ‘Social Network Constitution’ to protect constitutional rights to privacy in the ‘Facebook Nation’.6 Yet Evgeny Morozov has sharply criticized Andrews’ transfer of social contract theory to describe the relationship between social media corporations and their customers; he also wonders why she does not at all engage the new social movements that have emerged in response to these threats to privacy. He doesn’t miss a social constitution as much as the political capacity to resist the violation of such rights: ‘the mere right to privacy — even if enshrined in a constitution — is not going to be enough. Someone also needs to make a powerful argument about the dangers of sacrificing that right’.7 And as long as consumers don’t weigh the cost of being denied a loan against the benefit of a discount after showing their coupon-apps to the teenager at the cashier, this won’t change.

Rather than assuming that users will eventually recognize the cost of sharing within commercial ‘user-as-product’ infrastructures, we believe that organizing starts by exploring the affect of sharing beyond a critique of corporate ownership of networking platforms.8 Because users love to share.9 Any reflection on organization, be it in terms of a traditional dynamic of institutionalization or the ‘instituent practices’ of social movements, needs to take this into account.10 And if life and labor mesh in our communicative practice, the lack of popularity of independent social media services would suggest the need for new figures of organizational thought – of what it means to build and sustain collective agency in the world of real-time networks.11

Meshworks of Freedom

Information technology plays an increasingly important role in the way we create, communicate and collaborate. As this happens, our autonomy is increasingly affected by the degree and scope of our control over these technologies. Over the past thirty years, the free software movement has worked to protect this autonomy. However, the last decade has witnessed a rise in the role of computing as a service, a massive increase in the use of web applications, the migration of personal computing tasks to data-centers and the creation of new classes of service-based applications. Through this process, some of the thinking, licenses, tools and strategies of the free and open source software movements are being adapted to address the challenges posed by these network services.

As Yochai Benkler has noted, ‘[t]he critical policy questions of the networked environment revolve around the battles between the decentralization of technology and the push of policy to moderate that decentralization by limiting the distribution of authority to act’.12 A few years ago, Alexander Galloway predicted that ‘[i]t is very likely if not inevitable that the core Internet protocols, today largely safe from commercial and state power, will be replaced by some type of proprietary system’.13 The rise of cloud-based computing has raised the question of non-proprietary standards anew. Grasping the scope of this technological transformation, Nicholas Carr has compared it to the development of electricity as a utility and prompted the suggestion that if the cloud is best understood as a utility it should be regulated like one.14

As computing comes to be seen and experienced increasingly in terms of a networked service, new concerns arise regarding the autonomy of users now positioned on new grids largely controlled by a few corporations. Lawyer and free software activist Eben Moglen likens such grids of control as an ‘architecture of the catastrophe’:

So “cloud” means servers have gained freedom, freedom to move, freedom to dance, freedom to combine and separate and re-aggregate and do all kinds of tricks. Servers have gained freedom. Clients have gained nothing.15

Because ‘we lost the ability to use either legal regulation or anything about the physical architecture of the network’, contends Moglen, ‘what we need to do is to make free software matter to the problem that we have which is unfree services delivered in unfree ways really beginning to deteriorate the structure of human freedom’. Free software-advocate Richard Stallman understands the cloud primarily in terms of ‘Software-as-a-Service’ (SaaS) business model.16 Yet an exodus from the cloud is a complex matter, cautions Benjamin Malo Hill: all network services tend to ‘involve some SaaS features and some non-SaaS features’.17 To leverage the ‘dematerialization of the network’ and return it to ‘peerage’, Moglen has already encouraged software developers to create ‘Freedom Boxes’ – small servers (encrypted web proxies) that will ‘turn the net into an infrastructure for federated services’, extending software freedom beyond the local installation of free operating systems and applications.18 Such a practice takes organization into the realm of distributed networks of open hardware.

From the collaborative process of decentralized software development in peer-to-peer networks to the role of free licenses as radical manifestoes on the information form, the social and technological protocols that govern the dynamic of free software have often been considered a key net.cultural dynamic. To understand the web is to understand, first of all, free software. But the ‘Freedom Box’ advocated by Moglen and others connects software to another trend, free hardware, and more broadly the question of how we relate to the material infrastructures that enable and sustain our communicative practices. In one attempt to ‘take back the network’, Commotion Wireless proposes a different infrastructure: the automated connection of communication devices owned by users in a ‘device-as-infrastructure’ distributed communications platform.19 Inspired in part by the experience of the Arab Spring, where governments used their control of ISPs to disrupt network communications, such decentralized ‘meshworks’ grow more stable as new users are added to the network.20

Yet the development toward technological decentralization Moglen foresees is unlikely to occur. For ‘venture communist’ Dmytri Kleiner, ‘the question we need to address is not so much how we can invent a distributed social platform, but how and why we started from a fully distributed social platform and replaced it with centralized social media monopolies’.21 As long as communication platforms exist to return a profit, they will be designed as apparatuses of capture and control. For Kleiner, ‘[c]ommercialization has made online rights irrelevant’.22 We are more circumspect about such claims when considered in a longer trajectory of communication media within social situations. Privately-owned presses, newspapers, radio and television stations have not, for example, made information or privacy-related rights irrelevant. That said, the transfer of a politics of rights to the world of online networks is more complex than perhaps frequently assumed. Nuanced and far-reaching examples of information rights can be seen in debates on data sharing agreements, POPA/SIPA, ACTA, network neutrality and internet governance.23 To paraphrase Jacques Rancière: who is the subject of online rights, how is this subject constituted as a rights-bearing subject and what is the role of organization in constituting collective actors capable of claiming such rights?24

Algorithmic Actors

In their analysis of key contemporary political events – the Arab Spring, European Austerity Protests, Occupy-Encampments – observers have rarely failed to assert the centrality, if not indispensability, of social media to the organizational dynamic in question. Such assertions range from techno-utopian enthusiasm to affirmations of a desire for offline life. Either way, the power of code makes it tempting to see technology as a determining force. Despite frequently voiced concerns about issues of privacy for users of social media, there is little inclination by participants involved in political movements to adopt platforms based on free or open source software to facilitate the work of organization. Facebook, it seems, reigns supreme even among radicals. Even within projects explicitly geared toward a critique of commercial social media platforms, there is only modest enthusiasm for Facebook alternatives.25 Organizing takes place within and not outside of corporate spheres of communication. The question of software alternatives within social media networks involved in political organization arises not simply in response to the rise of social media monopolies. In a world that sees labor and life inseparable from informational technologies and their modes of organization and economy, it is the very constitution of political subjectivity that is at stake, not only the political economy of online networking.26

On a macro scale, the algorithmic operations of finance capitalism – as registered in the trade of financial instruments such as derivatives, for example – are one of many instances of the invisible status of algorithmic anonymity that precipitated what is broadly referred to as the global financial crisis.27 The relative autonomy and invisibility of algorithmic actors has accorded them a central role in the analysis of contemporary crises and the social dynamics of mobilization that have emerged in response – from governmental attempts to regulate high-frequency trading to the politicization of financial secrecy pursued by Occupy and Tax Justice movements. On a micro scale, such responses to algorithmic anonymity manifest as resistance to the enmeshment of mobile communications in broader architectures of surveillance.28 Despite the impact of these socio-technological developments, reflective of broader developments toward the incorporation of algorithmic assemblages across the terrain of culture, economy, and politics and therefore much discussed across the fields of communication and media studies, organization studies have (aside from the occasional use of free and open source software to support radical portals) not prioritized investigations of the relation between computational systems of organization and the production of political agency or subjectivity.29 This is surprising, as the question of technology and agency is of direct relevance to the development of alternative forms of organization. Technology does not, of course, serve as a neutral backdrop to the content of politics and the work of organization, but structures modes of relation as well as possible outcomes. The sophistication of contemporary architectures of code suggests that it will not suffice to maintain a general awareness of technological trends. As nascent analytical frameworks such as software studies assert, code is content and must find its way into theories of organization.

A Politics of Anonymity

These emergent algorithmic assemblages from finance capital to political insurrection are not without social articulations, but our theories of individual and collective agency may not be capable of comprehending them. Adopting a framework of (online) rights, for example, appears to facilitate the self-empowerment of users, but it also fails to foreground the extent to which algorithmic actors upset analytical assumptions. Rather than framing analytical approaches in terms of openness, participation and transparency, we therefore suggest that a term that is itself only reluctantly acknowledged by democracy-theoretical perspectives become the point of departure: anonymity.30 Political thought, as far as we understand, necessarily structures more broadly reflections on organization as institution and process. Yet instead of assuming that political thought revolves around the question of identity and representation, we contend that it is the desire for anonymity itself – shared by actors across micro and macro scales – that has become once again a terrain of contestation.

Aiming to contribute to the field of organization studies as well as the analysis of dynamics of self-organization, we argue that anonymity is an exemplary figure that corresponds with alternative modes of organization and political projects. To explore data-mining, electronic surveillance, derivatives software, supply-chain management programs, risk management calculators, GIS mapping applications, military modeling or simulation software is to above all challenge the anonymization of the algorithmic actors engaged in these dynamics of machinic self-organization.31 With the proliferation of architectures of code that create constellations of algorithmic actors (‘ubiquitous computing’), anonymity shapes political organization at both technological and social levels. Broadly speaking, we understand anonymity as an affect capable of sustaining new modes of relation and collaborative constitution as well as an operating principle at the infrastructural core of algorithmic cultures and its institutions.32 Anonymity allows us to bring together seemingly disparate, disconnected actors into a singular plane of analysis in order to discuss questions of information governance and modalities of organization.

The emphasis on the conceptual figure of anonymity not only brings into view a wide array of algorithmic apparatuses. It also acknowledges the power anonymity continues to hold over the political imagination: ‘Hacker Ethos’, ‘WikiLeaks’ and above all ‘Anonymous/4Chan’. Not coherent as a social movement but nonetheless clearly identifiable as a social-political desire and technical hack expressed in the form of playful acts of ‘civil disobedience’, Anonymous came to prominence in 2008 with a series of viral media pranks against the Church of Scientology. But it wasn’t until late 2010, early 2011 with the formation of AnonOps that Anonymous shifted focus from mischief-making to political campaigns. As media anthropologist Gabriella Coleman notes of Anonymous operations during the Arab Spring, ‘Anonymous attacked government websites but soon began acting more like a human rights advocacy group, enabling citizens to circumvent censors and evade electronic surveillance and sending care packages with advice and security tools’.33 The preferred mode of organization for AnonOps includes the use of IRCs (internet relay chats), imageboards and online forums with social networking media such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook serving to connect planned actions with broader publics.

Anonymous offers a collective critique of political economy, a critique mediated by a combination of online communication platforms and tactical stagings of public action. The grammar of attack takes the form of botnets that take down government and corporate websites instigating a DDoS (distributed-denial-of-service), hacking email and mobile phone accounts. Such techniques of computational sabotage attracted widespread media reporting during the campaign in 2010 against financial institutions preventing the transfer of funds by donors to WikiLeaks. In a sense, Anonymous refuses the mantra of openness common across much of the open source software and cultures movement. But a more apt target of attack here would be social media, in which openness is synonymous with the expropriation of privacy as users become the commercial product of social connectivity machines.34 Facebook and other networks have little patience with users who desire forms of social connection but would rather not have private details of their life data-mined and sold to third parties.35 While the lack of transparency does not prevent Anonymous from standing up for actions and entities that champion openness and transparency – the WikiLeaks campaign being most obvious here – the constitution of Anonymous as a political actor remains a puzzle to analyses predicated on idioms of identity and representation favored by democracy theory. Yet what interests us here more than the question of whether or not Anonymous exemplifies the ‘multitude’ of post-representational political theory is the practical possibility that such a ‘movement that needs no name’ offers to a perspective that seeks to assess the role of anonymity as central principle of communicative practice.36

New Rules of Algorithmic Engagement

The (re)emergence of anonymity – as political desire, as principle of socio-technological organization – signals a major transformation in the relationship between public and private. To focus exclusively on the political economy of an expropriation (or subsumption) of leisure time that makes ‘user as product’ approaches to social media possible obscures the extent to which the ‘decline of the destination web’ has given rise to stream-based paradigms of information sharing that radically transform user agency.37 Organizing must, for example, enter the terrain of ‘big data’, without being side-tracked by the ‘false confidence’ that data analysis and a new generation of real-time media metrics tools inspire.38

So-called big data is ‘data that exceeds the processing capacity of conventional database systems’.39 As Edd Dumbill notes, ‘[t]oday’s commodity hardware, cloud architectures and open source software bring big data processing into the reach of the less well-resourced’. Such low thresholds of entry allow new investigative approaches and, we would suggest, alternative modes of organization, as political campaigns, advertizing or cultural production (including journalism) increasingly rely on the vast amounts of data generated by real-time communicative practices. Data analysis of communicative practices complements existing methodologies of organization and cultural analysis based on ‘surface data’ (quantitative methods) and ‘deep data’ (humanities methodologies such as ‘hermeneutics, participant observation, thick description, semiotics, and close reading’).40 Making the case for new alliances with new data science disciplines like social computing, ‘[w]e want humanists to be able to use data analysis and visualization software in their daily work, so they can combine quantitative and qualitative approaches in all their work’.41 What is perhaps needed even more than data analysis (and hence the capacity to engage new actors in data-driven information governance regimes) is a machinic theory of social value predicated on the role of data as the new ground or source of valorization.

As new algorithmic assemblages generate data based on our real-time communicative practice, organizing is confronted with a new resource that is both social and technological. Such a focus quickly returns us from software studies to the terrain of organizing as we know it. As the Occupy movements have demonstrated, the politics of data are developed from within a horizon of financialization, and it should not be forgotten that the campaigns around student debt occur on the terrain of ‘big data’ as well.42 The same holds for international campaigns around tax justice that have shifted the focus from ‘capital outflows’ (and the implication that neoliberal tax policies might stem such outflows) to the ‘secretive jurisdictions’ that organize the ‘illicit inflow’ of international capital to Europe and the US, weakening the capacity to tax (and hence self-determine local affairs) elsewhere.43 To effectively address such concerns, the need to develop a conceptual idiom capable of comprehending the scope of a ‘politics of anonymity’ becomes all the more apparent: from anonymous grassroots activists in support of independent media to hackers able to control industrial infrastructures, from the anonymity of high-frequency trading that complicates the analyses of financial crises to the anonymity of users who prefer to cooperate in their exodus from the world of corporate communications infrastructures.

But above all, we must develop our conceptual devices on the algorithmic terrain that both structures and sustains our communicative practices. In its search for new forms of alliance, grassroots creativity must match and mobilize the artificial intelligence that drives cultural data analytics.44 Given the sobering analyses of the financial crisis of 2008, we are not fully convinced that ‘the requirements of mobile financial services development coincide with prerequisites for a thriving data common’.45 But we agree that data is a new asset class, and that perhaps we must open up the horizon of our media ecologies to include the ‘data exhaust’ generated by our daily practices.46 And if it is true that ‘We need to have a much more material, much more mundane, much more immanent, much more realistic, much more embodied definition of the material world if we wish to compose a common world’, then algorithms must be included as we continue to create visions of such a common world, of such a commons.47

* Forthcoming in Martin Parker, George Cheney, Valerie Fournier and Chris Land (eds), Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization, New York: Routledge.


  1. See Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.
  2. We take our cue on ‘algorithmic actors’ from various sources that investigate the capacity of algorithms – the grammar, rules or paramaters of code – to shape the organization of people and things. See, for example, Alexander R. Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. See also Mathew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, Evil Media, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012.
  3. In our usage of ‘biolinguistic capitalism’, we refer to the work of Christian Marazzi as well as Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, who have focused on the becoming-linguistic of labor and the centrality of linguistic conventions in their analysis of contemporary capitalism. See Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-Alpha Generation, London: Minor Compositions, 2009; Christian Marazzi, Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy, trans. Gregory Conti, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008.
  4. See ‘Deep Packet Inspection (“DPI”) is a computer network packet filtering technique that involves the inspection of the contents of packets as they are transmitted across the network. DPI is sometimes referred to as “complete packet inspection”. Owing to the volume of traffic on most networks, DPI is usually automated and performed by software based on criteria set by the network operator. Deep Packet Inspection can be used to determine the contents of all unencrypted data transferred over a network. Since most Internet traffic is unencrypted, DPI enables Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) to intercept virtually all of their customers’ Internet activity, including web surfing data, email, and peer-to-peer downloads’.
  5. Others, however, you have never heard of: major actors in ‘predictive analytics’ include Acxiom, FICO or Splunk.
  6. See also Lori Andrews, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, New York: Free Press, 2012.
  7. Evgeny Morozov, ‘The Dangers of Sharing’, New York Times, 27 January 2012.
  8. We mean ‘affect of sharing’ very deliberately here. As many working in affect theory have shown, the term affect is not reducible to terms such as sentiment or emotion, but rather encompasses a range of sensations and senses coincident, in our argument, with distributed modes of communication. See Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. See also Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
  9. Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell, ‘Disclosing Information about the Self is Intrinsically Rewarding’, PNAS Early Edition (07/05/2012), 1-6,
  10. On ‘instituent practices’, see Gerald Raunig, ‘Instituent Practices: Fleeing, Instituting, Transforming’, in Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray (eds) Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, London: MayFly Books, 2009, 3-11.
  11. Key alternatives include, and
  12. Yochai Benkler, ‘The University in the Networked Economy and Society: Challenges and Opportunities’, in Richard N. Katz (ed.) The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing, Louisville, Col.: Educause, 2008, 52.
  13. Alexander Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004, 244. See also Laura DeNardis (ed.) Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011.
  14. Of course such a suggestion puts aside the fact that in many countries, utilities have been privatized as part of the neoliberal agenda. See Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google: Our New Digital Destiny, New York: Norton, 2008.
  15. Eben Moglen, ‘Freedom In the Cloud: Software Freedom, Privacy, and Security for Web 2.0’, 2010.
  16. Richard S. Stallman, ‘What Does That Server Really Serve?’, 2010.
  17. Benjamin Mako Hill, ‘Richard Stallman on SaaS’, 2010.
  18. Eben Moglen, ‘How We Can Be the Silver Lining of the Cloud’, DebConf10, 2010; see also
  19. See also
  20. Julian Dibbel, ‘The Shadow Web: Future of Media Control and Information Activism’, Scientific American 3 (2012): 61-65.
  21. Dmytri Kleiner, ‘Privacy, Moglen, @ioerror, #rp12’, 8 June 2012.
  22. Dmytri Kleiner, ‘Commercialization makes your online rights irrelevant, more thoughts from my talk with @ioerror at #rp12’, posting to liberationtech mailing list, 15 May 2012,
  23. Stop Only Piracy Act (SOPA), Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act, PIPA), Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
  24. Jacques Rancière, ‘Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man’, South Atlantic Quarterly 103.2/3 (2004): 297-310: ‘The strength of those rights lies in the back-and-forth movement between the first inscription of the right and the dissensual stage on which it is put to test’ (ibid. 305).
  25. See Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives, a critical internet studies project organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam.
  26. See also Danielle LaFrance and Lisa Nathan, ‘Revolutionaries Will Not Be Friended: “Owning” Activism through Social Networking’, iConference 2012, February 7-10, 2012, Toronto, Canada.
  27. See, for example, Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. See also Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee, Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk, Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
  28. See, for example, U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, ‘Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device’, granted to Apple Inc. in 2012. The patent allows Apple the remote disabling of mobile phone cameras in Apple devices.
  29. One of our favorite online journals for critical organization studies – ephemera: theory & politics in organization – is frequently addressing the topic of alternative organization. Though even here the preoccupation is not with alternative figures of organization, such as the rise of anonymity as a disruptive critical persona. Instead, contributing writers to ephemera are more often engaged with how Foucault’s writings on power and subjectivity alongside the Italian autonomist theories of biopolitics and immaterial labor can be incorporated within the field of organization studies. We don’t see this as a shortcoming or oversight within organization studies so much as an indication of where the field is at in terms of its disciplinary horizon of thought.
  30. For a brilliant PhD dissertation that undertakes a much needed critique of the politics of openness and the depoliticization of collaboration, see Nathaniel Tkacz, Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, PhD dissertation, University of Melbourne, 2012.
  31. We use the term ‘machine’ to refer to socio-technological assemblages of human and non-human actors. See Gerald Raunig, A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement, trans. Aileen Derieg, New York: Semiotext(e), 2010. On assemblage as an analytical term that acknowledges the way such machines cut across macro/micro distinctions, see Manuel DeLanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, New York: Continuum, 2006. Assemblage can (but does not always) convey a critical awareness of conflict and power relations; see also n30.
  32. Here, we invoke the term institution in a twofold way: 1) as a machinic arrangement of instituent practices and 2) as a dispositif of power. We deploy the term dispositif on various occasions as a way of signaling the more nuanced, comprehensive and political inflection of what in English is rendered as ‘apparatus’. Associated with the work of Foucault, dispositif has been summarized by Giorgio Agamben as follows: ‘a) It is a heterogeneous set that includes virtually anything linguistic and nonlinguistic, under the same heading: discourses, institutions, buildings, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, and so on. The apparatus itself is the network that is established between these elements. b) The apparatus always has a concrete strategic function and is always located in a power relation. c) As such, it appears at the intersection of power relations and relations of knowledge’. Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus?, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, 3. Proponents of Bruno Latour, actor-network theory and a politically eviscerated invocation of Deleuze and Guattari prefer to adopt the term and concept of ‘assemblage’ in order to speak of material complexities. Our preference is to retain the sense of power, strategy, knowledge and technical arrangements assumed of dispositifs.
  33. Gabriella Coleman, ‘Our Weirdness is Free’, Triple Canopy, 13 January 2012. See also Gabriella E. Coleman, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
  34. Beyond sidestepping the issue of the free labor powering user generated content (note that such references to ‘generation’ conveniently obscure the question of labor and the role of social media in its ongoing transformation), the emphasis on ‘participation’ in analyses of ‘liberation technology’ fails to draw attention to its own paradoxes – that participation has ceased to be a practice exclusively associated with the political (as in Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy) and is now a practice that produces economic value. See Soenke Zehle and Ned Rossiter, ‘Organizing Networks: Notes on Collaborative Constitution, Translation and the Work of Organization’, Cultural Politics 5.2 (2009): 237-264; see also Ulises A. Mejias, ‘Liberation Technology and the Arab Spring: From Utopia to Atopia and Beyond’, Fibreculture Journal 20 (2012).
  35. See for a game-based analysis of the political economy of social networks.
  36. ‘The search for a name for the movement is just the start. By finding it, we open up a space in which profound questions about social transformation can be asked’. Keith Kahn-Harris, ‘Naming the Movement’, openDemocracy (22/06/2011). This is true only if we include the full range of actors involved – including algorithmic actors; so we understand ‘finding the name’ as a practice of cultural translation rather than an attempt to integrate these movements in a politics of representation. On the relationship between cultural translation and political practice, see Boris Buden, ‘Cultural Translation: Why it is Important and Where to Start with It’, Transversal 06 (2006).
  37. For an analysis of the ‘decline of the destination web’ see David M. Berry, The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  38. Peter Fader, ‘Is there Money in Big Data?’, MIT Technology Review, 3 May 2012.
  39. Edd Dumbill, ‘What is Big Data? An Introduction to the Big Data Landscape’, O’Reilly Radar, 19 January 2012.
  40. Lev Manovich, ‘Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data’, in Matthew K. Gold (ed.) Debates in the Digital Humanities, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012, 3.
  41. Ibid. 13.
  42.; On financialization, see Colin Crouch, The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, London: Polity Press, 2011; on debt as a cultural and economic practice, see David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, London: Melville House Publishing, 2011 and Andrew Ross, ‘Democracy and Debt’, in Cristina Beltrán, A.J. Bauer, Rana Jaleel, and Andrew Ross (eds), Is this What Democracy Looks Like?, 2012,
  43. See,, Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.
  44. Data analysis involves ‘techniques of artificial intelligence like natural-language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning’. See Steve Lohr, ‘The Age of Big Data’, New York Times (02/11/2012); see also Mike Loukides, ‘What is data science?’ O’Reilly Radar (02/06/2010).
  45. WEF, ‘Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development’, Davos: World Economic Forum. 2012, 3. For analyses of the financial crisis related to the politics of data, see FCIC, ‘Conclusions of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’, in The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report: Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States, January 2011.
  46. Data created as a by-product of other transactions, see WEF 2012: 11ff.
  47. Bruno Latour, ‘An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”’, New Literary History 41 (2010): 471-490, 484; Marco Deseriis and Jodi Dean, ‘A Movement Without Demands?’, Possible Futures, 1 March 2012.
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