Alessandra Renzi is Assistant Professor in Emergent Media for the Program in Media and Screen Studies andfor the Department of Art + Design. Her work explores the linkages between media, art and activism through ethnographic studies and media art projects. Alessandra’s research interests have led her to study pirate television networks in Italy and the surveillance of social movements in Canada. Her book Infrastructure Critical: Sacrifice at Toronto’s G8/G20 Summit, co-authored with Greg Elmer, was published in 2012. As part of her past research on surveillance, she co-produced the documentary Preempting Dissent: Policing the Crisis. Her current research focuses on the impact of participatory networks and social media platforms on activist collaboration practices.
Nonhuman Solidarities: The Impact of Crowdsourcing on Media Activism and Hacktivism
In this collaborative presentation, Renzi and Deseriis examine the impact of crowdsourcing on contemporary forms of media activism and hacktivism, using Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of “machinic enslavement” and “social subjection.” While the notion of social subjection is useful to think of the generalization of exploitation that goes under the name of crowdsourcing, the notion of machinic enslavement points to a-subjective and a-significant transformations and information exchanges that occur within a machinic assemblage. Social subjection and machinic enslavement reinforce each other. Yet they also allow us to grasp how different aspects of crowdsourcing play out in the information economy. Using the lens of social subjection, exploitation and expropriation can be analyzed through neo-Marxist approaches such as those of Vincent Mosco, Christian Fuchs and Mark Andrejevic. Through the lens of machinic enslavement, however, repetitive human tasks such as the filling of CAPTCHAs and the production and circulation of information objects are read as part of a wider machinic assemblage whose components are partly human and partly nonhuman. By following this second trace Deseriis and Renzi take in consideration two distinct sets of case studies: 1) The use by media activists of crowdsourcing platforms for the production of documentaries; and 2) the use of botnets for the organization of DDoS attacks for political ends. In both circumstances, the software and the infrastructure are not seen as mere tools but, following Gilbert Simondon, as machines whose ability to reproduce themselves depends on their ability to be open and in-formed by the surrounding environment. This drive towards indetermination, which has both a subjective side and a techno-logical side, allows us to interrogate forms of “digital solidarity” whose ethos cannot be defined in strictly human terms and which trouble anthropocentric notions of resistance and activism.