From Internet Farming to Weapons of the Geek

Coleman, Gabriella
Current Anthropology

Hackers and their projects have become routine, authoritative, and public participants in our daily geopolitical goings-on. There are no obvious, much less given, explanations as to why a socially and economically privileged group of actors, once primarily defined by obscure tinkering and technical exploration, is now so willing to engage in popular media advocacy, traditional policy- and law-making, political tool building, and especially forms of direct action and civil disobedience so risky that scores of hackers are currently in jail or exile for their willingness to expose wrongdoing. Why and how have hackers managed to preserve pockets of autonomy? What historical, cultural, and sociological conditions have facilitated their passage into the political arena, especially in such large numbers? Why do a smaller but still notable fraction risk their privilege with acts of civil disobedience? These are questions that beg for nuanced answers—beyond the blind celebration or denigration offered by popular characterizations of hacker politics. In this article I will provide an introductory inventory—a basic outline of the sociocultural attributes and corollary historical conditions—responsible for the intensification of hacker politics during the last 5 years.