Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Weapons of the Geek: Hackers and Political Autonomy (Gabriella Coleman)

Thursday, April 14, 2016 - 4:30pm

Silverstein Forum, Stiteler Hall First Floor (Accessibility)

Discussant: Jessa Lingel (Annenberg School for Communication)

All attendees are encouraged to read Prof. Coleman's paper, available here.

HACKERS CAN NO LONGER BE VIEWED AS EXOTIC EXPERTS: hackers and their projects have become routine, authoritative, and public participants in our daily geopolitical goings-on. Working technologists are economically rewarded in step with doctors, lawyers, and academics—and yet these professions seem to produce far fewer politically-active practitioners. In her paper, Professor Coleman considers why and how hackers, who enjoy a significant degree of social and economic privilege, have managed to preserve pockets of autonomy. What historical, cultural, and sociological conditions have facilitated their passage into the political arena, especially in such large numbers? Why do a smaller but still notable fraction risk their privilege with acts of civil disobedience? These are questions that beg for nuanced answers—beyond the blind celebration or denigration offered by popular characterizations of hacker politics.

Excerpt: “Just as there are many ways to hack, so too are there many ways for hackers to enter the political arena. Geeks and hackers are not bound to a singular political sentiment or even format, and they certainly don’t agree on how social change should proceed. But what they all have in common is that their political tools, and to a lesser degree their tactical sensibilities—their willingness to work across political lines and for a smaller number, their willingness to engage in risky illegal acts of direct action—emerge from the concrete experiences of their craft: from collaborating together in autonomous spaces, and from their shared experiences pushing back against authoritarian crackdowns against specific instances of hacking, software, and now hacker-led interventions directed at broader social issues.”

GABRIELLA (BIELLA) COLEMAN holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she researches, writes, and teaches on computer hackers and digital activism. Her first book on Free Software, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking has been published with Princeton University Press. Her new book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, published by Verso, has been named to Kirkus Reviews’Best Books of 2014