Hacktivism & postprotest

In Abstract Hacktivism von Busch and Palmås use the difference between hacking and cracking to illustrate a break between the protest era of 68 and the constructive hacking era of 99.

In line with Eric Raymonds distinction between hackers (who build things) and crackers (who destroy things) , the hacktivism discussed in this publication is concerned with construction rather than destruction. The traditional, cracker-inspired meaning of hacktivism is, after all, largely an extrapolation of the 1968 ideas (culture jamming, detournement). As already hinted, contemporary theorists are increasingly moving towards a break with this era. (p 17)

Protest stuck in the metaphor of a motor with steering wheel

Busch and Palmås also show how the metaphor of a motor which someone is steering is explaining how the protest gets caught in reactive, counter-activism:

68 was actually not a radical departure from the worldview that they revolted against. The countercultural revolution maintained the view of society as a motor based upon reservoirs of fuel, differentials in pressure, circulation. (p 76)

As new types of machines enter the social world, they may end up changing our ways of seeing the world. The logic of the motor did not only appear in the contraptions studied by engineers and natural scientists: it also shaped the theories of modern social scientists, philosophers and artists. (p 21)

As late as in the 1960s, the field of management was still preoccupied with how to steer the giant corporate hierarchies that had emerged during the first half of the century. Thus, management theorists were elaborating upon how the new breed of salaried professional CEOs was to plan and thus control these huge structures. This preoccupation with bureaucracy, planning and control was clearly reflected in the vocabulary they used in their key texts. (p 67)

For the countercultural youth, the only way out of this total system (which operates as a motor) was to throw gravel into the machinery, jamming its modes of operation, thus baring the monstrosity of the machine for all of the world to see. Public demonstrations, and various ways of dropping out mainstream culture were all different approaches to achieve this effect. (p 75)

Blockading is the paradigm for the motor era

With the motor worldview blockades (jamming) and demonstrations (ask the leader steering to turn the wheel) would be the paradigmatic methods for change.

Counterculture activists do not strive for piecemeal introductions of ways to make the motor circulate in new, and hopefully better, ways. Instead, they aim to jam mainstream culture, blocking its circulation. (p 76)

Innovations are collective processes rather than entrepreneurs and chief engineers

Hacktivism is, for Busch and Palmås, not about computers. They use the concept to show a shift from reactive methods for change to more innovative ways of rearranging products and societies. Capitalism no longer a closed, motor-like machine that circulates capital and desire is seen as an open structure, subject to rearrangement. (p 79) The aim is to modify in a very tangible manner.

Hacktivism, as productive innovation and rearrangement, doesnt come out of the creativity of a few leaders, chief engineers or entrepreneurs, it is rather a collective process. Busch and Palmås bring out the fact that users or consumers are engaging in the process of innovation. This body of work has shown that user innovation has been around for a long time: There are many of examples of not-so-recent innovations in automobiles, sports equipment etc. that have emerged from users tinkering with readymade products. It is just that before the widely publicized success of the Linux project, researchers simply could not conceive of such processes of innovation. Thus, interestingly, Linux has alerted researchers of a previously unseen mode of innovation. (p 71)

Per Herngren
2007-11-03, version 0.1


Otto von Busch and Karl Palmås, Abstract hacktivism: the making of a hacker culture, London and Istanbul, 2006, copyleft by the authors, ISBN: 9780955479625.
Stephen Hancock and Per Herngren, Beyond protest-resistance, 2005.
Per Herngren, Postprotest resistance, 2005.


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