The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
Reviews (Making or making do) image

Review A

Reviewer: Athina Karatzogianni

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

The subject matter is absolutely relevant for the Journal of Peer Production, because it examines hacking and making discourses and practices in international contexts drawing from fieldwork from Bangladesh, Taiwan, Vietnam, Paraguay and China.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

I think this is excellent work and a great achievement. Referencing choices are very good.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

No there are no problems here: this is actually very well balanced and justified.

4. Is the article well written?

Yes, it is – mostly – well written.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

This is wonderfully fine as it is.

Suggestions for improvement:

There is a special issue of Cultural Anthropology edited by Chris Kelty which may interest the authors and includes cases from different parts of the world and debates and can be found here.  Kelty, Christopher. “Evil Infrastructures.” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, April 28, 2017.

I recommend this article for publication provided that the authors address the following:

1. Change all ‘I’ to ‘we’ or at least decide on some consistency in that regard. The Shenzhen ideology for instance is written in the first person. This is inconsistent with what is going on in the rest of the article. Can someone look at this issue and amend?    This is really not a valid way out in relation to the readability of this “As such, we embrace our own reflexive position as ethnographer-participants in our fieldsites, and speak in the first person as an acknowledgment of that – thus, in each section “I”/“we” represents the author(s) who conducted the fieldwork described there”.

If that is what you wanted to do, then maybe publish them individually save us all the inconsistent reading and confusion?

2. Add a section on the methodology that the researchers followed in each case. ‘Fieldwork’ as described briefly in background is not acceptable. We need details of how many people were interviewed what type of observation criteria were sues, research ethics and so on and so forth. This is not explained to the expected academic standard.

Review B

Reviewer: Maxigas

I read the article as a scholar of hacker culture / hacking history mainly focusing on Europe, with a multidisciplinary background I bring together in contributions to Science and Technology Studies. The article presents five case studies that showcase the diversity of hacking practices, which are put in contrast with the monolithic imaginary of the dominant Californian ideology. Noting how these practices both challenge and re-enact US-centric notions of hacking and making, the authors propose the concept of “making do” as a term potentially more universal in the sense that it better captures the essence (or at least a significant aspect) of these diverse practices.

In terms of ethnographic work, the article obviously musters an impressive amount of original empirical material, which makes it valuable in its own right. As to the quality of such ethnographic work, I raise some concerns about a journalistic approach later on. I note in passing that perhaps my concern has to do with long standing differences between Continental and Ango-Saxon traditions of ethnography about what constitutes proper ethnographic work.

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes. The article ties into an upcoming research programme that can be called Global Hacker Studies, Decolonial Hacking (Sophie Toupin), or Comparative Hacker Studies, etc. The axioms of this research programme are that hacker culture is an internally diverse, politically ambiguous, externally recuperated unit of analysis; and as such it should be carefully situated historically, geographically and ideologically. The rhetorical topos driving the research programme is to show how making and hacking can take on diametrically opposed, or at least variously displaced and hyridised meanings depending on its context. I personally subscribe to the development of such an research direction and find it important that the Journal provides a venue for this scholarly trend, because it brings forth diverse perspectives, experiences and realities within the peer 1 production phenomena, which altogether contribute to a more rounded view of the subject.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

I find the idea of reconfiguring the social scientific understanding of hacking/making into making-do through the strategic inclusion and exclusion of cases compelling. While the article makes a good case for such a move, I think it would benefit from incorporating an ambition for explanation, or at least interpretation, of the reasons behind the differences it finds. Indeed, five field sites allow for showcasing the diversity of hacking and making – but are differences produced locally in an ad-hoc manner or are there structural patterns to observe?

The authors sketch the political economical background of the case studies through disparate references to the logic of global capital flows and the changing division of labour. This seems to be important in order to put the case studies in relation to each other, so that they can be seen as different aspects of hacking/making(-do), or at least human civilisation. What is already in the article is a promising start for an engagement with political economy.

The authors use a wide range of phrases and vocabulary to refer to structural social relations, reminiscent of news articles. It would be possible to explain the differences between the case studies using a social theory offering a coherent conceptual framework. A prime candidate may be World-Systems Theory, since the authors already acknowledge the disadvantageous division of labour in centrum-periphery relations as something that at least partially accounts for some of the differences between the case studies. It is not difficult to replace such journalistic gestures with concrete references to social theory, for instance Immanuel Wallerstein’s World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction.

More generally, the authors take a principled stance and only engage with the literature on hacker studies in terms of negotiating their contributions and formulating their claims. As a result, the article remains focused, which is a Good Thing. However, those very contributions and claims are made in reference to well known phenomena such as urban gentrification, the social formation of elites, forced modernisation, etc.

The descriptions of these phenomena are evocative and lively, but they remain journalistic without grounding the discussion in the basic references to relevant works in social geography, sociology, history, etc. To make it clear, grounding 2 discussion in existing literature is very different from engaging with a body of works. I suggest the authors may do the former regarding the case studies in order to make the article more scientific, and stick to the latter regarding the framing of the entire article, which works well as it is.

Another reference point that is not considered in the article but appears to be fundamental to this reviewer is Alberts and Oldenziel 2014, the edited volume Hacking Europe. The theoretical framework therein implies that US imperalism exerted its force through the export of hacker culture as much as through the export of material artefacts – mostly packaged as computing products – on different European countries. The corollary is that both have been received, transformed, and interpreted locally according to the socio-cultural conditions on the ground. Embracing such a framework could help to draw up the connections between disparate case materials as it has been done in that volume, granting US hacker culture its hegemonic yet contested place that the empirical materials in this article show in clear view. However, even if the authors choose to stick to the idea that US hacking/making is simply one formulation amongst many, this would be a methodological perspective that could be contested by the authors, thereby gaining in dialogue with the existing literature.

I share the apparent concern of the authors that simply acknowledging US hegemony would amount to reproducing the same power relations. Conversely, however, playing down the same power relations could amount to supporting US hegemony by glossing over its influence – which once again is obvious from the field material presented in the article, yet disemphasised in the analysis. My opinion is that the article – as it currently stands – falls into the latter trap. I think that the “appropriation” framework of Hacking Europe is effective in acknowledging power relations in a critical way, while at the same time highlighting potentials for and realities of contestation.

Finally, a last doubt I have about the concept of “making do” is whether it is capturing a multiplicity by translating disparate practices into an English term, or is it re-articulating a distinctively US American cultural sensibility that is rooted in exactly the frontier mentality of the colonisers on a vast continent, as seen in Western movies produced in Hollywood? In the second case, the evocative power of “making do” would be drawn from exactly the same mythological source that the pioneers of Californian hacker culture resorted to, for instance in the foundational document of Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Whether such a multiplicity can even be legible for the still largely Anglo-Saxon scholars without resorting to such analogies is beyond the scope of this review. However, it would be highly reflective of the authors if they could consider such possibilities.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

The case studies vary in respect of how empirical data is presented. I suggest that in the final version the authors add references that help readers to verify the empirical claims and read up on the motivations behind their analytical conclusions. Some of the evaluations seem to be moralising without spelling out practical negative consequences to the subjects about the concerns raised by the ethnographer, or taking a clear normative position. Of course as an “activist outlet”, I think that the Journal should encourage authors to take clearly defined normative positions. I also realise that in my own work I find it challenging to present “data” or “evidence” obtained through field work.

4. Is the article well written?

The article is written in impeccable English. The style is fairly coherent considering that sections have been contributed by different authors. The first person singular/plural voice adopted by the author(s) works well in practice.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

In particular, the first case study is the one that reads most journalistic. It could be further improved by incorporating social scientific literature along the lines I tried to explain above. In general, I think that a shorter conclusion would be more effective, and the rest of the analysis – including perhaps some further reflections raised about the relationship of the case studies in terms of reception and their relationship to each other within global capitalism – could be relegated to a new Discussion section. I have not checked word limits but this could mean that the empirical material would have to be compressed.

Suggestions for improvement: