While it was still conceivable in the 1990s that non-commercial cooperation, collective self-organization and knowledge production along with the emergence of global social relations could have become the key elements in shaping the Internet in its entirety, similar visions face a radically different situation today. After twenty years of continually intensifying commercialization, network capitalism has fully developed and established itself in a form that is increasingly shaped by monopoly-like positions, thus frequently invoking the term 'feudalism'. Both the art and knowledge production of users and their social relations are subject to intensifying valorization. Within this context, modes of subjectivation on individual and collective levels are shaped by the business models of the major platforms that create a mixture of hyper-individualism, competitive narcissism, network-shaped pseudo-collectives and the segmentation of advertising target groups that is generated through data mining. Thereby several components of the web have been shaped to a degree which render the actualization of alternatives nearly impossible, all the while setting dominant business models as a norm which an increasing number of new generations of users are less and less able to challenge.
But practices of resistance have also changed and developed in reaction to this increasingly difficult situation: Such positions have become more realistic and the strategies more subtle. They can rely on traditions that have existed since long before the dotcom boom, web 2.0 and social media. Ultimately, network capitalism has also increased the production of new contradictions – e.g. between the hyperindividualism that is generated on ideological and interface levels while simultaneously dismantling the individual on a deeper technical level – which opens up new fields of opportunity for alternative actions.
The project explores these fields of opportunity by focusing on three topics, which are elaborated through interviews – a format that should primarily facilitate associative alliances. Against the backdrop of a broad range of possible forms of implementation – from setting up alternative social networking sites to developing strategies for acting in the field of social media as it is currently given (Facebook activism, buying Twitter, subversive strategies…) to inventing new formats altogether – social network alternatives will be explored. After a period of intense work on developing open standards and setting up alternative social networking platforms, which started before 2010 and lasted for a few years but did not succeed in reaching critical mass or creating sustainable structures, the field seems to have been largely abandoned. The focuses of the leftist and emancipatory imagination have shifted to scanning more recent developments, and have found potentially interesting new fields – from cryptocurrencies to automation. But the unresolved context of alternative social networking platforms has not lost its political importance, and it seems both necessary and promising to reopen it. The interviews will thus analyze alternative social networking platforms from the mentioned time period, such as n-1, and will discuss currently emerging projects as well as structural topics like the facilitation of collective individuation. This will be connected to a discussion on new modes of collective self-organization as they emerge within the context of recent developments – from communities arising around alternative cryptocurrencies to blockchain logics and makerspaces. Hybrid publishing sheds light on projects that develop new models in opposition to the predominant copyright regime. And by focusing on the creation of social contexts for art and knowledge production, these projects develop publishing as a form of collective self-organization.
The interviews will primarily be conducted in autumn/winter 2017. They will be published continuously (in the original language, which is mainly English, but in some cases German) at http://midstream.eipcp.net (to a certain extent also at http://transversal.at) and will form the basis of a book that will be published in German with transversal texts in May 2018.