Diverging Attitudes to Technology and Innovation in Anti-War Movement Organisations

Chapter to be published in the forthcoming book, Net Working/Networking: Politics on the Internet, edited by Tapio Ha¨yhtio¨ & Jarmo Rinne (2008, Tampere University Press).

This chapter works with the categories of ‘hackers’ and ‘users’ that have developed out of sociological analyses of the adoption of new technologies. These terms have sometimes been used to describe particular technological subcultures such as Sherry Turkle’s work on the mainframe hackers around MIT in the seventies. More generally useful, however, is the indications of particular attitude – what Graham Kirkpatrick describes ‘computational temperaments’ – that structure the ways in which people engage with technologies. In this sense, the notion of the ‘hacker’ may be of much wider relevance than those who carry out highly esoteric modifications in computers’ hardware or software.

This chapter explores these notions in relation to data gathered for a book on Anti-War Activism, asking to what extent user and hacker attitudes to technology were witnessed among activists opposing the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. As the book argues, many movement groups were steeped in a highly mediated information environment, making use various technologies to gather information, organise activity and represent their views. Mostly, as this chapter shows, activists engaged with the technology with a user attitude. That is to say, technologies were adopted in order to make use of their most obvious, advertised benefits. The chapter also details a number of cases in which activists have applied a recognisable ‘hacker’ attitude to the technologies they work with. In activist circles we see this attitude applied at the level of the communication system, rather than a particular device, and often with an explicit aim of creating a horizontal communication structure that transcends the intended uses of the system. It is those areas where activist groups differ most significantly from the intended market of technologies (usually businesses or public sector bureaucracies) where the hacker attitude seems to hold most promise.

You can download a preprint of the chapter here: Attitudes to Technology and Innovation, preprint.

You can find out more about the book from the E-democracy webpage: Net Working / Networking.