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Enclosure & Enthusiasm

Or Looking for Autonomy in the ”Social Factory”

In December 2005 the first issue of the magazine Flack Attack was produced on the theme of ”Autonomy”. The production of Flack Attack was located in a network public sphere including a wiki, where articles and other material was contributed, as well as open editorial meetings on the virtual island The Port, inside the online world Second Life. This position, of acting within somebody else’s programmed code, was used as a starting point for raising wider questons about autonomy in relation to different social codes and norm systems.

Basic to our work with Flack Attack was an interest in how enthusiasm and the desire for individual expression is incorporated within a productive system. Here follows an attempt to contextualize our work by briefly looking back at the emergence of digital networks; drawing on the tension between the fundamental idea of sharing as a mode of coordination and the entrepreneurial strategies of enclosing sharing in social software.

We propose that both entrepreneurial enclosures and free sharing can be read as attempts in search of autonomy.

From Free to Open Source

In 1998 Netscape decided to publish the source code of their web browser Navigator as part of a strategy for competing with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. They saw the potential in exploiting the mode of production developed within the free source movement – in which a larger voluntary community of programmers are engaged in software development – but decided to term it “open source” in order to avoid the ideological and confrontational connotations of “free source”.

The free software movement has its roots in the 1970’s and was driven by computing hobbyists, who shared code between each other. In the early 1980’s hacker and activist Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation and the GNU public license. In parallell with this commons-based movement, entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates wanted to find ways of enclosing software into commodifiable products, as expressed already in an open letter of 1976 defending immaterial ownership.

Based on the specific history of free and open source software development law professor Yochai Benkler has developed a more general theory about “sharing” as a distinct mode of economic coordination; as opposed to hierarchical decision-making and market choice. Benkler calls this “commons-based peer-production”.

Community as commodity?

The logic of commodification, however, seems to go beyond claiming immaterial ownership on every level. In the case of Netscape the construct of their brand defined their product at the same time as the open source code allowed for voluntary work. Similarly, in the case of Apple they have engaged an open source community in developing their unix-based operating system while themselves focusing on interaction design and branding. IBM’s exstensive use of the legendary free source operating system Linux helps them to be independent of Microsoft Windows and to focus their business strategy on systems development and service.

Beyond the question of copyright and patents there is also a fundamental question of who the peer is in peer-production? Or, rephrased, what happens to the role of the user when voluntary activity becomes enclosed within the framework of commodification? Platforms enabeling user-generated content – such as YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Second Life and Wikipedia – are all based on the idea that the user group voluntarily produce their own consumption. This in turn relates to the neo-marxist notion of the “social factory” in which all of life is enclosed within a logic of labor.

Flack Attack on Autonomy

Since May 2005 we have managed the virtual island The Port, inside the online world Second Life; a social software which is continually produced by its 1,5 million inhabitants/users (November 2006). We view the purchase of this territory as an artistic gesture in itself, but also as a place which has proved useful to us in our practice. From the perspective of an art context, working with The Port has been a way of establishing our own institutionality; or rather a way of acting within several different institutional logics. At the same time a crucial question has been how we handle our specific position in relation to Second Life. What are the possibilities for The Port to act critically or subversively within the framework of somebody else’s code and business strategy?

This was the starting point for the magazine Flack Attack. The first issue was on Autonomy, and used the position inside somebody else’s (programmed) code as a symbol for discussing wider questions about the possibility of the autonomous within all social code systems we find ourselves in – be it a family, a school, an economy, etc.

Flack Attack establishes a production enclosed within the format of the magazine. Anyone can contribute with articles, images and other material on the wiki www.flackattack.org. For the first issue twelve open editorial meetings were held at The Port, where thoughts on autonomy, the contributions on the wiki, the overall narrative of the magazine and other related questions were discussed.

An important paradox was established in relation to the producton process itself: How can one establish any kind of common language or shared references and at the same time allow for the individual contributer to act autonomously?

In Flack Attack on Autonomy you will find contributions on the bio-politics of computer games, on “prosumers” (self-producing consumers) in Second Life and their need for unionizing, on the autonomous position of sex-communities in virtual worlds, on the desire for voluntary submission and slavery, on the balkanization of Wikipedia, on establishing commons in the grey-zones of intellectual property law, and much much more.

Maybe Flack Attack is just another example of the social factory as mechanism of enclosure – artists who outsource their production to a community of voluntary participants. But Flack Attack also carries the hope that individual expression or action can never be conclusively enclosed.

Simon Goldin & Jakob Senneby

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