[hackerspaces] Hacking the Spaces: A critical acclaim of what was, is and could be a hackerspace (or hacklab, for that matter)

Paul Böhm paul at boehm.org
Sun May 10 00:57:21 CEST 2009

Hey Matt,

I had similiar thoughts. Some of the spaces are highly politicized,
while especially some of the younger ones focus more on infrastructure
and people. Personally i prefer these kind of spaces, since i believe
they allow for more diversity. Decoupling infrastructure from program
doesn't mean there's no room for program, quite on the contrary, this
kind of separation allows for multiple opposing viewpoints within the
same space, without guilting people subscribing into any particular


On Sat, May 9, 2009 at 3:34 PM, Matt Joyce <mdjoyce at gmail.com> wrote:
> Not to be contrary.  Though I do so enjoy a contrary position in all
> things.
> While it is true that historically many "hacker spaces" and the CCC itself
> had its foundations laid out in a counter culture environment, that doesn't
> mean that all hackerspaces or the existence of many hackerspaces is in any
> important way related or relevant.  One could cite a correlative causation
> argument for counter culture ceding to community efforts that are most
> similar to hacker spaces.  But I would guess that that argument would
> quickly devolve into a shouting match and some rather obscure math with
> irrepairably high percent errors.  That aside, while I do acknowledge the
> value of historical accuracy I would also stand to suggest that caution
> should be used in drawing strong links between the hacker space movement
> itself and any specific ethical/social/political viewpoint.
> Each space in the US at least is growing in its own and unique way.
> Becoming a sum of the parts so to speak.  Adopting the best of its members
> and moving in a direction driven by them.  That being said, each member in
> these spaces represents a divergent ethical / political / and social
> vector.  The integration of each of these vectors and future vectors will
> require a dynamic social construct by which integration can be achieved.
> Diversity breeds strength in nature as well as in science.  It is my belief
> that many spaces will in fact fail as this subtlty is overlooked.
> Overspecialization and a general lack of diversity serves to reinforce
> stasis.  That in turn serves to strengthen the divide between people with
> opposing or simply different beliefs.
> The primary concern I hold with the text as presented lies in the support of
> specific social , political, or ethical view points that are in fact merely
> one facet of a diverse range of positions held by hackers, crafters, makers
> and otherwise.  It is my concern that drawing this link publicly will serve
> to hinder the integration of other groups and people whose input and unique
> viewpoints are necessary for the strength and growth of hackerspaces the
> world over.
> That being said, that doesn't mean I am opposed to any political / social /
> ethical stances being taken by hackerspaces.  The simple fact is there are
> situations in which any hackerspace is at odds or in support of movements.
> One great example would be in combating the growing difficulty in the United
> States in accessing chemistry supplies.  In this case the concern is purely
> in the realm of industry / research.  It doesn't have an attachment to any
> political viewpoint or school of ethics.  It's not tied to any single
> culture.  And in being so it is very simply an honest and simple viewpoint
> uncolored in perception by any jaded eyes.
> There will be greyer areas to be sure.  And I certainly assume that my hopes
> and suggestions in this email are somewhat naive.  But, I do feel this
> should be stated.
> That's my only concern.  Otherwise it's a very good bit of text.  And I
> enjoyed reading it.
> Regards,
>    Matt Joyce
> On Sat, May 9, 2009 at 5:10 PM, das ende der nahrungskette <jg at monochrom.at>
> wrote:
>> Johannes Grenzfurthner/Frank Apunkt Schneider (monochrom)
>> A critical acclaim of what was, is and could be a hackerspace (or
>> hacklab, for that matter)
>> // Hackerspaces 1 // History
>> The history of the so-called hackerspaces expands back to when the
>> counter culture movement was about to make a serious statement. In the
>> decade after the hippies attempted to establish new ways of social,
>> political, economical and ecological relationships, a lot of experiments
>> were carried out concerning the construction of new spaces to live and
>> to work in. These were considered as niches to relieve and rescue people
>> from the monotonous way bourgeois society directed civic spaces from
>> kindergartens to cemeteries to be exactly the same and to reproduce its
>> patriarchal and economical order. The politics of establishing open
>> spaces were meant as explicit statements confronting a capitalist (and
>> in the East: an authoritarian communist) society whose very structure,
>> purpose and operating mode were broadly considered to "alienate humans",
>> to take control of and to modify their basic human needs and
>> relationships. Thus, the failed revolt of the sixties survived and
>> flourished in the shadows of a ubiquitous bourgeois lifestyle. And the
>> idea of change was conjured up from nebulous lysergic dreams and
>> pathetic speeches to get one's dreams and/or feet back on solid ground -
>> to be dis-obamaized, if you like. This conversion gained its popularity
>> because macro-political hippie dreaming ("I had too much to dream last
>> night" as the title of a classical psych pop tune by 'The Electric
>> Prunes' put it) had completely deteriorated. The hippies learnt that
>> social and political change demanded more than just joining the mantra
>> of posters, pop songs and drug fantasies that were promoting it. The
>> real world was way too tough to be impressed by a bunch of filthy
>> bourgeois drop-outs mantra-ing about change. The capitalist imperative
>> of the real world was way too effective to really be changed. And yet,
>> when it all was over in 1972, some of the people involved were not ready
>> to give in and give themselves over to the system and to fade into
>> integration - hence the launching of micro-political tactics. Instead of
>> trying to transfer the old world into a new one people started to build
>> up tiny new worlds within the old world. They made up open spaces were
>> people could come together and try out different forms of living,
>> working, maybe loving and whatever people do when they want to do
>> something. It is necessary to have a look at the historical development
>> of political movements and their relationship to spaces and geography:
>> the students' revolt of 1969 was driven by the idea of taking back
>> places and establishing a different psychogeography within the maze of
>> the city through détournement. Likewise, the autonomia movement of the
>> late 1970s that came to life in Italy and later influenced people in
>> German-speaking countries and the Netherlands was about appropriation of
>> spaces, be it for autonomous youth centres or appropriation of the
>> airwaves for pirate radio. Thus, the first hackerspaces fit best into a
>> countercultural topography consisting of squat houses, alternative
>> cafes, farming cooperatives, collectively run businesses, communes,
>> non-authoritarian childcare centres, and so on. All of these established
>> a tight network for an alternative lifestyle within the heart of
>> bourgeois darkness.
>> // Hackerspaces 2 // Present
>> Hackerspaces provided room where people could go and work in laid-back,
>> cool and non-repressive environments (well, as far as any kind of space
>> or environment embedded into a capitalist society can be called
>> laid-back, cool and non-repressive). Sociological termed "third spaces"
>> are spaces that break through the dualistic scheme of bourgeois spatial
>> structure with places to live and places to work (plus places for spare
>> time activities). They represent an integrative way that refuses to
>> accept a lifestyle which is formed through such a structure. This means
>> they can come to cooperative and non-repressive ways of working on e.g.
>> technical problems that may result in new and innovative solutions. And
>> that's exactly where Adorno's "Wrong Life" could slip in too. The
>> Capitalist system is a highly adaptable entity. And so it isn't
>> surprising that alternative spaces and forms of living provided
>> interesting ideas that could be milked and marketed. So certain
>> structural features of these "indie" movement outputs were suddenly
>> highly acclaimed, applied and copy-pasted into capitalist developing
>> laboratories. These qualities fit best into the tendency in which -- by
>> the end of the seventies -- bourgeois society started to update and
>> re-launch using the experiences gained through countercultural projects.
>> Mainstream harvested the knowledge that was won in these projects and
>> used it. Normalizing dissent. Uh yeah. Thus, the sixties revolt and all
>> the micro-revolutions that followed turned out to be a kind of
>> periodical refreshment. As a system, capitalism is always interested in
>> getting rid of some of its old-fashioned oppressive traits that might
>> block its overall evolution and perfection. As an example:
>> eco-capitalism became trendy, and it was quite effective generating
>> capitalist "good wealth" and capitalist "good feelings". Hackerspaces
>> today function differently than they initially did. When the first
>> hackerspaces were formed there were always clear distinctions (an
>> "antagonism") between "us" (the people resisting) and "them" (the people
>> controlling). Certain people did not want to live and toil within the
>> classical bourgeois working scheme and refused to be part of its
>> ideological and political project for some pretty good reasons. The
>> otherness of the spaces back then was determined by the consistency of a
>> bourgeois mainstream culture on the basis of a dualistic cold war world
>> order. Here again they proved to be third spaces of a different kind:
>> neither state nor free trade capitalism. And being structural and
>> ideological different from that had been an important political
>> statement and stance. In a society easily distinguished into mainstream
>> and underground categories, each activity carried out within the open
>> space of such an underground was a step from the wrong direction. The
>> very practice of making personal use of alternative structures came with
>> assurance of being on the good side. But post-cold war society
>> established a different order that deeply affected the position of the
>> hackerspaces. While on the one hand it got harder and more repressive,
>> the system (a clever one!) learned to tolerate things that are different
>> (in the pipeline of integrating or assimilating them) and to understand
>> that it always has been the edges of normality where the new substance
>> grows. Milking covert culture. Before that, the open intolerance and
>> often brutal oppression carried out against countercultural spaces only
>> made them stronger and their necessity more evident (at least where
>> society didn't succeed in crushing them). Thus, alternative life forms
>> were applied ideally as a rejuvenation of what was old, boring,
>> conservative and impotent to progress and adapt in an ever changing
>> bourgeois present. New ways to solve technical (and aesthetical)
>> problems were cooked up in the underground and bourgeois talent scouts
>> watched closely to occasionally pick this or that, just as it happened
>> in the field of pop music with the so-called alternative rock of the
>> nineties. Alternative mainstream, ahoi! On the other hand, the nineties
>> marked the triumph of liberal democracy, as Slavoj Žižek writes: "The
>> fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the beginning of the
>> 'happy 1990s'. According to Francis Fukuyama, liberal democracy had, in
>> principle, won. The era is generally seen as having come to an end on
>> 9/11. However, it seems that the utopia had to die twice: the collapse
>> of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11 did not affect the
>> economic utopia of global market capitalism, which has now come to an
>> end." It's thus highly ironic that geeks and nerds, while watching the
>> death of liberal democracy in its political form (civil liberties
>> granted to keep the social peace) as well as its economic form (crisis)
>> turn to become liberal-democratic defenders of an ideology that has
>> already failed. Without the political demarcation lines of a cold war
>> society, hackerspaces changed sometimes without even noticing it. The
>> political agenda was mushroomed by individual problems that techno nerds
>> tried to solve in nice fearless atmospheres, non-aggressive states where
>> the aggressiveness of the market was suspended; where one could discuss
>> technical and creative problems and challenges politely with likeminded
>> people. As such, the political approach faded away on en route into tiny
>> geeky workshop paradises. The micro-politics failed on the same scale
>> and to the same extent as older macro-political projects got pulverized
>> through the irreversibility of capitalism. The idea of having a
>> revolution (of whatever kind) was domesticated into good clean
>> reformism, and the only revolutions that lay ahead were the
>> technological semi-revolutions of the internet and its social web
>> sprouts. Without former political agendas hackerspaces turned into small
>> places that did not really make fundamental differences. Comparable to
>> the fall of squat houses becoming legal in status and turning into new
>> bourgeois housing projects where the cool urban bohemians live their
>> lives commuting steadily between art world, underground, IT-business and
>> advertisement agencies. This may not be the case for all the
>> hackerspaces out there today, but it should be noted that most have
>> travelled along the same paths. And while for a long time the
>> macro-political scheme had worked quite well to provide the inherent
>> difference that had been attached to all of the activities carried out
>> in hackerspaces (even to things as trivial as soldering, pottery lessons
>> or juggling trainings), it is missing now. And due to this deficiency
>> hackerspaces can no longer be shaped and politicized on a broader scale.
>> And that clearly means that whatever we might do: our hackerspace
>> communities remain constricted; nothing more than nutrient fluid for
>> breeding human resources. (Soylent Google is made of people!)
>> // Hackerspaces 3 // Future
>> So what can be done about this? Actually, it is not very hard to find
>> something to protest against. Surveillance, whatever. It's no problem to
>> use the prefix "anti". Use rule 76 - as long as you can think about it,
>> you can be against it. But that's just too simple. Never before in the
>> history of bourgeois society has everything been as fucked up as it is
>> right now. But what is lacking amongst all the practising going on in
>> hackerspaces is a concise theory of what bourgeois society is like and
>> what should be attacked by us building and running open spaces within
>> that society. The lovely alternative approach we share should be
>> grounded in such a theory, which is to be read: a political agenda that
>> lends some revolutionary glam to what we are doing on a daily basis
>> making technical gadgets, networking through the world, or utilizing our
>> technological and programming skills. To get there we really need a more
>> explicit sense and understanding of the history of what we are doing, of
>> the political approaches and demands that went into it long ago and that
>> still are there, hidden in what we do right now. So to start off we
>> would like to organize some workshops in the hackerspaces where we can
>> learn about the philosophical, historical and other items that we need
>> to get back in our lives. Theory is a toolkit to analyze and deconstruct
>> the world. Plus, we need to reflect and understand that the hackerspaces
>> of today are under the "benevolent" control of a certain group of mostly
>> white and male techno handicraft working nerds. And that they shape a
>> practise of their own which destines most of the hackerspaces of today.
>> (It is hard to understand that there are hackerspaces in certain parts
>> of the US that don't have a single Afro-American or Latino member. But
>> we'd like to keep our European smugness to ourselves. We have to look at
>> our oh-so-multicultural hacker scene in Europe and ask ourselves if
>> hackers with a migrant background from Turkey or North-African states
>> are represented in numbers one would expect from their percentage of the
>> population. Or simply count your women representation and see if they
>> make 50% of your members.) As such, we find today's hackerspaces
>> excluding a lot of ethnical and social groups that don't seem to fit in
>> or maybe feel so and are scared by the white male nerd dominance, their
>> (maybe) sexist or exclusionist jokes or whatever might be contributed to
>> them. Or perhaps they don't have the proper skills to communicate and/or
>> cooperate with the packs of geeky guys (or at least they might think
>> so). What is needed is the non-repressive inclusion of all the groups
>> marginalized by a bourgeois society just as it had been the intention of
>> the first hackerspaces in countercultural history. If we accept the
>> Marxian idea that the very nature of politics is always in the interest
>> of those acting, hackerspace politics are for now in the interest of
>> white middle-class males. This needs to change. Well, that's all for the
>> moment. Let's start to work on this and see what would happen if we
>> change the somehow boring hackerspaces of the present into some
>> glamorous factories of an unpredictable freedom for all of us even those
>> who do not fit in the classical nerd scheme. Change the nerds. Make them
>> a better space. For you and for me and the entire human race.
>> //
>> (Thanks to Jens Ohlig for comments and advice. Thanks to Melinda Richka
>> for grammar-slashing.)
>> //
>> http://www.monochrom.at/english/
>> http://www.monochrom.at/hacking-the-spaces/
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