Saturday, January 31, 2009

The recession and Hayek (it's not what you think)

It's been awhile since I've written something "academic" here on D&R. I'm not altogether sure why this is the case, given the title and origins of this blog. In any event, I thought it might be nice to close out the month with a more thoughtful post, or really to audition an idea.

Some time ago I read Mark Andrejevic's wonderful book iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era (University Press of Kansas, 2007). Ever since I've been preoccupied with an idea he introduces there: "the recession of causality." Mark borrows the phrase from Thomas L. Haskell, who uses it to describe the experiential change in scale that accompanies the rise of indistrial socieities. In a nutshell, as populations grow and spread out, and as socieities become increasingly complex, it becomes ever more difficult to determine why something happens. In other words, the causes of something happening here always seem to come from some generalized--perhaps unascertainable--elsewhere. Causality recedes, as if with the outgoing tide.

I've also been doing some reading on the topic of "self-organizing systems." From my sniffing around I gather a major proponent of the idea was the economist Friedrich Hayek, who coined the term "catallaxy" decades ago to characterize the self-organizing properties of markets. More recent books, ranging from James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds to Pierre Lévy's Collective Intelligence and beyond, build upon and extend the idea, whether paying homage to Hayek or not. (Of course there are other lines one might follow here as well, from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Gabriel Tarde's The Laws of Imitation, or Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.)

My question is this: do "systems"--be they markets, traffic patterns, the internet, or what have you--truly self-organize, or come togther orginically, emergently? Or do claims such as these actually evidence the accuracy of Haskell's insight, namely, that today causes seem so remote that many researchers have simply given up looking for them?

I'm intrigued by, but increasingly doubt, the idea of self-organizing systems, for reasons implicit in the latter question. I should add that this is only speculative doubt at this point, as I haven't undertaken the sort of research that would disprove the supposedly self-organizing properties of social, economic, or communicative systems. But that does raise a further, methodological question: how would one go about undertaking that type of research? How, in other words, would one chronicle causes in an age of diffuse, recessive causality?

My initial response is to begin thinking along the lines of symbolic interactionism, but that will have to be a post for another time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Just wanted to alert D&R readers to a great new blog called Money/Speech. Its author is my good friend Ron Greene, a leading researcher in the areas of rhetoric and cultural studies who teaches at the University of Minnesota. Ron's been at it for less than a week, and already he's posted more than I have in 2009. Looks like M/S (as I'm calling it) will be one of the more active additions to my blog roll.

Ron hasn't yet composed a "manifesto" (or whatever you may call it) for his blog. But given the title and the first few entries, it's pretty clear that M/S will develop ideas and themes Ron's been advancing over the last several years in his (paper) published research. Much of it revolves around the notion of communicative capitalism, so I suspect D&R readers will find the site to be of great interest. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New issue of Culture Machine and...

Before getting down to business with the TOC for the latest issue of Culture Machine, I thought I'd put in a plug for Gary Hall's latest effort. It's called Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (U of MN Press, 2008). The text is something of a manifesto for why Gary does what he does as editor of Culture Machine. It's also so much more. I'd recommend the book highly to anyone navigating their way through the academy and its atavistic publishing apparatus.

We are pleased to announce a new edition of the open-access journal
Culture Machine:


Tenth Anniversary Issue, edited by Gary Hall

This tenth anniversary issue of Culture Machine explores how the development of various forms of digital culture and ‘internet piracy’ is affecting notions of authorship, intellectual property, copyright law, publication, attribution, citation, accreditation, fair use, content creation and cultural production that were established pre-internet. Contributors address the theme of piracy in the content and/or by playing provocatively with the form of their texts.

The ‘Pirate Philosophy’ issue features:
  • Gary Hall, ‘Pirate Philosophy (Version 1.0): Open Access, Free Content, Free/Libre/Open Media’
  • Adrian Johns, ‘Piracy as a Business Force’
  • Jonas Andersson, ‘For the Good of the Net: The Pirate Bay as a Strategic Sovereign’
  • Don Joyce, Negativland, ‘Vapor Music’
  • Kembrew McLeod, ‘Crashing the Spectacle: A Forgotten History of Digital Sampling, Infringement, Copyright Liberation and the End of Recorded Music’
  • Alexander R. Galloway, ‘Debord’s Nostalgic Algorithm’
  • Mark Amerika, ‘Source Material Everywhere: The Alfred North Whitehead Remix’
  • Gary Hall, Clare Birchall and Pete Woodbridge, ‘Liquid Theory TV’
  • Gary Hall and Clare Birchall, ‘New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader’


The Culture Machine journal publishes new work from both established figures and up-and-coming writers. It is fully refereed, and has an International Advisory Board which includes Geoffrey Bennington, Robert Bernasconi, Sue Golding, Lawrence Grossberg, Peggy Kamuf, Alphonso Lingis, Meaghan Morris, Paul Patton, Mark Poster, Avital Ronell, Nicholas Royle and Kenneth Surin.

Culture Machine welcomes original, unpublished submissions on any aspect of culture and theory. All contributions to Culture Machine are refereed anonymously. Anyone with material they wish to submit for publication is invited to contact:

Culture Machine c/o Dave Boothroyd and Gary Hall
e-mail: and

Culture Machine is part of Open Humanities Press:

For more information, visit the Culture Machine site at:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ode to the outgoing POTUS


good luck,

good riddance.

You've left our Constitution a pittance.

We the people, GWB?

More like an imperial Presidency

suborned by your muscle, Dick Cheney.

May yours not be an enduring legacy.

So goodbye,

good luck, and

good riddance

as you exit the stage,

having roused us at last from our complacence.

(Okay, so I'm not much of a poet, but you get the drift.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lessig on Colbert

Perhaps the only thing more daunting than squaring off in front of the United States Supreme Court is having to go head-to-head with Stephen Colbert on his television talk show. Lawrence Lessig handles things beautifully in discussing his latest book, Remix: Making Art & Culture Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008). Bravo, Professor Lessig.

Be sure to check out Lessig's Blog for some creative remixes of the segment.

P.S. Happy 2009, y'all!