[Reader-list] incommunicado: a new research list on civil society, ICT and post-development

geert lovink geert at desk.nl
Wed Jan 21 13:39:11 IST 2004

a research list on civil society, ICT and post-development


Dear All,

We would like to invite you to join 'incommunicado', a new electronic
mailinglist that focuses on the spread and reappropriation of ICT across the
'Global South'.

In the politics of communication and information, many have come to call for
'rights' rather than 'freedoms'. Questions regarding access and
accountability might indeed require the use of the idiom of (human) rights,
but we also wonder what it means when a politics of rights comes to serve as
the ultimate horizon of any politics whatsoever. Which is why the idea of
being (held) incommunicado - to be in a liminal state vis-a-vis multiple
regimes of information as well as (human) rights - serves as our point of

To explore multiple vectors of what is often referred to as "ICT and
Development" or the "Digital Divide", it will not suffice to rehearse the
customary (conceptual and organizational) idioms of 'knowledge-based
development,' 'stakeholder dialogue', or 'civil society organization' that,
for better or worse, have become central to both academic and (grassroots)
political analyses, itself a consequence of the involvement of inter- and
non-governmental organizations that generate and reproduce their own
conceptual vocabularies.

To do so requires more than the creation of a few media-theoretical
neologisms. While we came up with this project in the context of the 2003
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and hope to provide a forum
for post-WSIS analysis, we would like to broaden our focus to include a
number of topics that strike us as indispensable to any seriously
'postcolonial' approach to the ICT nexus:

NON-STATES: Statist modes of (conflict) analysis to the contrary, non-state
actors are key players in any arena of transnational politics, and questions
of ICT, too, are linked to the multiplication and conflictual interaction of
nonstates. Aware of the 'official' geopolitics of information pursued by
states and inter-state organizations, we also want to observe the agendas
and (structural) transformation of relevant 'nonstates', including
corporations, foundations, think tanks, NGOs, and other 'grassroots' or
'movement' actors.

EMPIRE: What is striking about some of the most influential work in
contemporary political philosophy is its odd disconnect with the culture,
intruments, and practice of media activism. Appropriating whatever seems
useful to us in such conceptual work, we want to re-connect and create
across multiple (disciplinary) divides.

INFRASTRUCTURES: From Open Source Software (OSS) to the ecopolitical impact
of ICT, we want the rich materiality of ICT to come into view, both to
disturb cyberlibertarian techno-spiritualisms and to connect to multiple
issues of conflict, labor, and migration that rarely show up in standard
discussions of ICT.

Neither a news list nor an exclusive forum for esoteric reflection, we
encourage the presentism of post-a-lots, attentiveness to the historical
dimensions of contemporary controversies, and occasional conceptual
interventions. We envision neither a free-for-all without any sense of
direction, nor a 'virtual public sphere' with rigid rules of engagement, but
are hoping to make (and leave) room for encounters within a (somewhat)
focused multiplicity. Current projects in the areas that interest us have
some weak spots that need critical attention, and this is one of the
places/spaces where this could be done - in common.

RESEARCH: a note on the idea of a research list. What we do not mean is that
some list members are 'researchers' and get to post whatever they deem to be
of general interest, and some are not. That would be a sure way to create
list orthodoxies right from the start and discourage anyone not used to a
high-traffic list. Instead, we think of every list member as a researcher -
just as ict-and-development raises many more issues than those ususally
taken up by a technocratic expertism, research is by no means the
prerogative of some media-theoretical elite - and hope that some of whatever
crosses his or her desk/inbox/mind will find its way onto the list - and
thus into the list archive. We also want to bring the list archive back from
its generally passive role as mere record of past exchanges, and incorporate
it much more actively. Short intro comments on how any one contribution
relates to the general list agenda are welcome but not necessary if that is
more or less obvious: we do not discourage the fwding of current articles
published elsewhere, quite the contrary - a lot of relevant material is
available on the web only temporarily, and we would like to archive some of
it for future reference. Which means that we will have to develop a better
search engine for the list archive than the one provided by the standard
mailman software, as well as a few open-edit research tools on the site
itself, which will go live in a few months. Needless to say, this is a
work-in-progress, but we are curious about the possibility of expanding the
functionality of this list beyond the usual and hope that the criteria for
its usefulness will be articulated - and changed - by list members to end up
with the kind of research tool they, too, have been looking for but that
does not yet exist.

'incommunicado' does not start from scratch. It is first of all the
follow-up to the Solaris list, founded late 2001 by Geert Lovink and Michael
Gurstein. At some stage Solaris ran into server trouble and from the
beginning has been plagued by spam problems. Also the quest for a critique
of 'ICT & Development' seemed to be too narrow, too premature. With
'incommunicado' we hope to continue and extend the Solaris debates. The same
can be said of the now defunct generation_online list that discussed Michael
Hardt and Toni Negri's _Empire_ .

'incommunicado' is co-founded by Geert Lovink (geert at xs4all.nl), media
theorist and internet critic, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Soenke
Zehle (s.zehle at kein.org), a media researcher based in Saarbruecken, Germany.

'incommunicado' is a polylingual space: submissions in english, french,
german, and spanish are welcome.

Please forward this invitation to whoever you think might, would, or should
be interested in joining 'incommunicado'.

More information about the reader-list mailing list