members of empyre:
For April 24/ 25 Geert Lovink and I organize a two-day conference:
"networks, art, & collaboration" to be held at the Department of Media
Study, SUNY at Buffalo. The city of Buffalo as context for this event has
a rich history of collaborations in emerging media. The expressed focus of
the event is on (online) collaboration and we will experiment with
conference formats (ie. no lectures).
On -empyre- each week, until the end of February I will post thoughts
taken from a longer text that I wrote outlining issues in cooperation that
made this a worthy focus for us. After each introduction is posted, Geert
Lovink and I will both respond to your comments and questions.
I start here with some questions. They are not answered in the fragment of
the text that follows but they can serve as an entry point to a discussion.
We hope these topics will find the interest of empyre members.
Is fear in the face of terrorism in all its variations the reason for the
renewed attention to collaborative efforts of the 1960s, which were often
seen as models for social change (Cotter)? Looking back to Fluxus, play
theory of the 1960s, networked art, and micro radio -- what can we learn for
our cooperations in new social network architectures such as collaborative
weblogs or wikis? How real or imagined is the potential of these open
content formats for social change?
Participatory online cultures allow for shared information systems,
development and knowledge representation. Is this the end of the university
as we know it? Will open source software become the new weapon of mass
instruction (Lovink)? How do these new contexts change the way we learn, or
distribute knowledge? Which of these open source tools are in our reach
right now and where can we download them? How does the miniaturization of
databases impact cooperative efforts? How do we best balance working
together chest to chest with collaborating online?
Can the term Free Cooperation become useful as it points to a particular
setting of collaboration? Do we need collective leadership (what about the
German saying "too many cooks don't make for a good pie")? How can we be
"free" in a cooperation? Who gets the credit? What are the rules of a given
cooperation and how can we re-negotiate them? Whose labor remains invisible?
What about competition, self-sacrifice and individual gain? What should be
part of an ABC of free cooperation? What did we learn about gender dynamics
in cooperations (man/ man, woman/ woman, woman/ man)?
-- The Collaborator
Collaboration is a hot buzzword today. The use of terms like collaboration,
solidarity, friendship, we-ness, network, interaction, community, alliance,
collectivity, and more recently, free cooperation varies widely depending on
the agenda of the person using it. "Collaborator" in many languages stands
for a sympathizer with Fascists in Germany.
In post-WWII times, for instance, Slovenians and Croatians were shown on
Serbian Television broadcasts as Nazi sympathizers. Today, the Slovenian
group "Laibach" provokes the audience with references to these historical
traumas with post-industrial music. I grew up under socialism in East
Germany and there a substantial part of the population consisted of what we
called "Stasi collaborators." To this day "collaborator" is a word with
By definition collaboration implies "to work together, especially in an
intellectual pursuit." The term "collaboration" suggests that we cannot
achieve the same goal on our own. It assumed that there is a common goal and
that people in the group share responsibility in achieving this goal.
-- Free Cooperation
Collaboration and cooperation must be free, very much in opposite to the
forced collaborations in the creative industries. Freedom always means the
freedom of those who think differently from us (Luxemburg).
Cooperation commonly means that people assist each other to reach the same
end. In cooperation people walk in parallels. Each participant is in it for
herself, motivated by egoistic "micro-motivation"? (Tuomela) or altruistic
collective reasons. Free Cooperation, with the German critic Christoph Spehr
in "Gleicher als der Andere," emphasizes that everybody can freely leave the
cooperation at any time taking with them what they put in. Free cooperation
needs to pay off. If there are disagreements the cooperation needs to remain
workable. There is no cooperation in which nobody is taken advantage off, in
which everything is ideal. There is no such thing as a pure and perfect
-- Cooperation and Open Content Models
Cooperative group models in the urban United States, include models such as
Reclaim the Streets, and Critical Mass. During the anti-war protests of 1993
bicyclers in San Francisco blocked major urban intersections and highways
with hundreds of bikes as part of "Critical Mass." This was initiated by
leafleting in neighborhoods with times and dates of such actions without any
central leadership. "Reclaim the Streets" is a similarly decentralized model
of taking back the public sphere. Other ways of organizing community include
broadcasting free radio, graffiti, and street parties. Jeff Ferrell points
especially to Radio Free ACTUP, The Micro-Radio Empowerment Coalition, and
Slave Revolt Radio.
In German "Kinderläden" parents rotate their child care in a rented store
or flat. In San Francisco, a similar, less formalized small-scale model
exists in which parents in a given neighborhood trade their time watching
over the children. Each time you put in time you receive a token giving you
the right to claim that same amount of hours from the cooperative network.
Once you run out of tokens you have no right to benefit from this
cooperation anymore. Only up to ten such tokens are given out at a time.
In the Internet, The University of Openness' "Distributed Library Project"
(http://dlpdev.theps.net/) is "a shared library catalogue and borrowing
system for people's books and videos. There is no reason the dlp shouldn't
be used to share other resources too, which is one of the development aims
of this project." Users of the open source software locate fellow
"librarians" in their vicinity and share with them whatever their local
library would not have. This is only one example of cooperative networks. I
will come back to more examples of open, shared and free networks later.
-- Temporary Alliances
Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau use the term "radical and pluralist
democratic" discourse to describe a project that creates links among
multiple struggles against subordination and domination. No one subject
position, be it defined by class, race, or gender functions as central
identifier for a given temporary alliance. People of different backgrounds
come together focusing on one single issue. One example is the green
movement. To solve global ecological problems Buckminster Fuller envisioned
an international cooperative effort that would create "some artifact, some
tool or invention."
As the creation of technology-based artworks requires increasingly deeper
levels of specialization and collaboration between the technological and
conceptual components. Collaborations between artists and programmers are
the subject of many conferences such as "The Beauty of Collaboration," in
March 2003 at The Banff Centre in Canada. Also the last issue of Mute
features articles about the radical political potential of open content
formats, and the changes of learning as we know it.
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