Radical critiques of cyberspace?
October 18, 2009 7:02 AM   Subscribe

If Karl Marx & Emma Goldman were arguing about the internet on Metafilter, what might they be saying?

What kind of radical left analysis &/or commentary exists concerning the internet, new media, & computer technology? Looking for books, articles, essays, websites, etc...

I am most interested in work that takes relatively recent social & technological developments into account (e.g., the rise of social networking sites, mobile devices, etc., or advances in robotics & prosthetics).

posted by jammy to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I googled "Marxist review of the internet" and came up with information about the Marxist Internet Archive.

No idea if this fits what you're looking for.
posted by dfriedman at 8:41 AM on October 18, 2009

I'm pretty sure Karl Marx and Emma Goldman would think MetaFilter was too bougie to bother with.

Seriously, though, I wish I could point you to specific critiques, but honestly, the only radical school of thought that I know of that specifically addresses the role of technology is anarcho-primitivism, which is kind of regarded as a joke in most anarchist/radical circles, anyway.

I know of more than a few sites and collectives that exist with the mission of appropriating technology for radical purposes, but mostly they don't really bother with theorizing or critiquing said technology. resist.ca and riseup.net provide secure e-mail addresses and sometimes site hosting services to anti-capitalist organizations and individual activists, znet.org and indymedia.org (among others) provide news and articles focusing on radical perspectives, and so on.
posted by ellehumour at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2009

Marx would find the $5 account charge a sign of the capitalist nature of society.
Goldman would not agree with comment moderation.
posted by seandq at 11:21 AM on October 18, 2009

Start with Neil Postman, who ain't no Marxist, but has the right sort of sensibility. Also the adbusters crowd. Then graduate to the Frankfurt school, Adorno, Marcuse, etc. who sort of led off the left critique of the culture/consumption nexus.

All of this stuff is before the net really hit, but it probably transfers over nicely. Bonus points for Habermas.
posted by paultopia at 11:34 AM on October 18, 2009

yeah, academia has been really late in elaborating materialist (which is what you're asking for) critiques of the internet. why? because, i suspect, many of them are at the moment too old (all due respect) to understand how far reaching and life-changing it is, in terms of both structural things like banking and daily practices like communication, and b) because materialist thinkers tend to view nonmaterial things like the internet and media as mere *representations* of society, isolated/bounded units that don't offer insight into underlying structural conditions that account for class and wealth difference (see althusser for an introduction).

so, what would they say? first, marx wouldn't disagree with $5 at all. marxists don't dislike the market or spending money, contrary to popular belief, the whole idea is that the money should go directly to labor -- that is, people producing the "value" of an item/idea/etc - rather than the people who control this. thus, marx would love shelling out $5 for a mefi account rather than giving it to yahoo for an extended account.

so, how would you go about writing a materialist analysis of the internet? i think emma g/marx would start by looking at who owns the means of production (think net nuetrality arguments), who controls access to labor (so see arguments about outsourcing), who controls the structures of production (so, see everything from MS controlling CSS standards to arguments about The PirateBay) and what kind of people have internet literacy (so, ideas of digital divide, etc).

one final thing, i think that a materialist critique of the internet may foreground certain things you may find distasteful: nigerian 409 scams, filesharing, and right wing blogs are in the materialist view expressions of class "agency" and negotiation of larger structures in "free" ways that may or may not align with your ethical conceptions...

(yeah, i'm an anthropologist, sorry for logorrhea - PM me if u need more info).
posted by yonation at 12:09 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

i should elaborate that by "internet literacy" i intended to make an argument for the traditional marxist ideas of "class consciousness" (VERY vital to the [sigh] "upcoming revolution"). but instead of class consciousness, which is too materialist (it doesn't take into account that consciousness is in constant change, subject to many interferences and shifts as people change lives, meet people, fall in love, etc) maybe internet literacy is a better way of asking who has the ability to see themselves as "networked" and able to produce value, and who does not. thus the digital divide thing could be your way to think about that....

oh yeah, i also think neil postman, adorno, habermas and all those farty (and i should add, white european male) cultural critics have a really romantic view of a pretechnological time that aligns quite well with an ambition for colonialism (this is a MUCH longer post). i don't think you can tell my 180 students, most of whom are immigrants and multiethnic, all of whom are facebooking, twittering and sidekicking, even as they hold jobs, have children (this is public university in nyc), and build their lives that technology is killing them. i would argue -- here we go back to materialism -- that what's killing lives is gentrification, wall street, the army as a lucrative career path in the absence of other paths, and so on.
posted by yonation at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2009

You might want to look at work done by Arthur Kroker, who runs the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture at the University of Victoria. He's perhaps more influenced by Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Debord and the like than by Marx directly. Ctheory.net might be a place to start, particularly Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx.

Ian Buchanan might be another person to check out; he's more of a Deleuzean than a classical Marxist, but he's done some materialist(ish) work on internet tech/culture, IIRC.

I'm not sure that either of them would qualify as "radical left" critics...yonation's on the money in pointing out that left academic has been pretty slow on the uptake with internet tech. I suppose that some of the post-Marxist stuff on affective labour and symbolic/semiotic capital, especially the Italian strand found in people like Antonio Negri, Marizo Lazzarato, Christian Marrazzi, Bifo, etc, might be another place to look.

You could also poke around at a.aaaarg.org, which links to a bunch of different academic articles/books; if you go to their "Issues" link I think there's a "Media and Culture" section that might have some useful stuff.

(Most of my books are in boxes right now, but if you pm me I could rummage about and try to find some specific titles.)
posted by experiencing a significant gravitas shortfall at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2009

I stumble across the book, The Digital Dialectic, while doing some research for a paper on philosophy and the internet. I wasn't really up to slogging through it, but then I'm not really up for slogging through Marx. Might be some good things in there seeing as all the essays take some sort of dialectic as a jumping off point.
posted by nangua at 7:43 PM on October 18, 2009

If I understand the basics of Marxism correctly, Marx would say what he's always been saying: that suprastructure follows infrastructure, and that he who controls the means of production controls the suprastructure.

In internet terms, this would mean that fiber optic companies and the military-industrial complex "control" the internet (remember Arpanet).

You can add Google to the list since they've been putting up server farms around the globe and are putting out app after app to make sure that we all move our production online. When Google crashes, we'll all be alienated from our work (and our family pictures) in a big way.

Marx would argue that the internet (and Google) should be nationalised (or internationalised rather) and control turned over to the proletariat.

I have no idea who Emma Goldman is, or why she would be wedged inside this flatbed scanner...
posted by NekulturnY at 8:57 AM on October 19, 2009

If I can't image tag, I don't want to be part of your revolution!
Also, what Yonation said.
posted by Mngo at 10:29 AM on October 20, 2009

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