Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Digital dystopias and the end of Utopias

Yesterday we had our last class. This year it was a kind of postscript in which we considered cyberutopias, which seem to become more dystopian with every passing year that this module runs (familiar, that?).

Many, many thanks to Tom and Brian for such a fantastic, almost-entirely-glitch-free, skype performance from Washington DC. It was very stimulating. Too much to take in and digest in one sitting. The whole discussion of cyberutopias and their dystopian potential is clearly becoming more complex with each passing year.

I, personally, was interested in how different their approach was from mine. They were much more focussed on politics (on the whole) than I have been - but then Brian summed it all up with his comments about Utopia as a 'process rather than a place'. That is indeed a very familiar theme throughout the module - and I think that although many of the utopias we have studied may have failed in some ways or seemed impossible in others (whether ethically, logically or in material practice) - as a process they were critical in sustaining creative new ideas for new futures. Perhaps to see the political potential of Utopia you have to live in it, it has to be in your own present and future and not in the past. Read more!

Anti-utopianism and comparative history.

A really good discussion (and excellent presentations) in class last week.

We considered:

1. the ideas of the three critics of utopia, their relationship to each other and the context of their thought.

2. The extent to which other modern (late nineteenth century) utopian texts were engaging in similar ideas. The use of force, the limits of logic and reason (More, Swift, Butler ...), varieties of socialism, problems with historicism (Morris after all goes 'backwards' into the future, so does Butler) and so on.

3. Whether utopias were guilty as charged ...around the three topics of historicism, negative liberty (or pluralism) and totalitarian ideology.

4. Finally we used Popper especially, but also Arendt, to think critically about comparative history. The rejection of diachronic history (and preference for synchronic history) is central to Popper's liberal pluralism - it has swept all before it? One thing to follow up is the idea that Popper was drawing on new scientific methods (Einstein's overturning of Newtonian physics) and transferring this relativism into the social sciences and humanities (cf role of new science in More, Bacon or Butler's utopian methods).

5. All of this produced quite a lot of discussion about whether either More or Morris fitted into the anti-utopian conception of Utopia, or not.

Image from Don Sull's blog: Karl Popper's experimental theory Read more!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Architecture and the Internet

I was struck by slide 27 of Tom's digital utopias presentation by the similarity between the organic, non-hierarchical, architecture of the web and the organic plan of New Earswick.

The link is directly through humanist inspired architecture and especially the work of Christopher Alexander - an architect and writer whose works were influential in the development of computer architectures and programming languages in the 1960s and 1970s. Without him perhaps there would be no wikis - so wikipedia seems like the most appropriate source here:


Read more!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Digital Utopias, 2011. Generously provided by Tom Glaisyer

Image from Smartblog
BEFORE class please consider the following:

What features of the internet and our use of it might be said to have been created as a result of utopian values?

  • In relation to education and science?

  • In relation to property?

  • In relation to the family and government?

DURING class please be prepared to discuss:
  1. Does a digital environment support the creation of new utopian communities?
  2. How does the virtual revolution inform our understanding of the relationship between utopia and dystopia?

If you click on the label 'digital utopias' in the right hand column of this blog you will find many fascinating resources. 

Once again Tom Glaisyer has worked his magic with more links and an updated list, many of contemporary relevance:


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:  https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

The Dot-Communist Manifesto: http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/my_pubs/dcm.html

The Right to Read, Richard Stallman: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html


Malcolm Gladwell, Why the revolution will not be tweeted: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell

Patrick Meier responding to Gladwell

part one: http://irevolution.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/gladwell-newyorker/

part two: http://irevolution.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/gladwell-part2/

Rasmus Nielsen responding to Gladwell, http://bit.ly/hWwVkP

Tom Glaisyer and Shawn Powers, For Middle East democracy, send in the geeks


The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov: http://www.amazon.com/Net-Delusion-Dark-Internet-Freedom/dp/1586488740

Jaron Lanier, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307269647


Michael Wesch, The Machine is using us,


& an Anthropological Introduction to Youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU

Eben Moglen's, Freedom in the Cloud talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOEMv0S8AcA
and transcript http://bit.ly/dU3Mkp
(This talk inspired the Freedom box, http://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox
 and Diaspora https://joindiaspora.com/)

Tools (websites of)

Open WRT, http://openwrt.org/

Open BTS, http://openbts.sourceforge.net/

TOR Server, http://www.torproject.org/

Mesh Potato, http://www.villagetelco.org/about/mesh-potato/

DIY GSM, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/18/gsm_hacking/

Ushahidi, http://www.ushahidi.com/
Read more!

Medieval Dreaming

Jessica Barr, Willing to Know God. Dreamers and Visionaries in the Later Middle Ages (2010) Read more!