Artifice and Agency

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tinkering With the Syllabus

Howdy, all. I'm still tinkering, but I have definitely decided already what I want us to read next week.

On Tuesday, I've decided we should read two pieces by Phil Agre, Peer-to-Peer and the Promise of Internet Equality and Cyberspace as American Culture.

On Thursday, I think we'll skip go ahead and read two pieces that connect p2p with the politics of privacy and surveillance, David Brin's Three Cheers for the Surveillance Society and Jamais Cascio's Participatory Panopticon.

Co-facilitating Discussions and Writing a Precis

One of the key assignments for our course will be your
co-facilitation of class discussion of an assigned text.
This assignment also requires that you generate a precis
of the text you are taking responsibility for. This
precis should provide a point of departure for your
contribution to the discussion in class, and you will
also hand it in to me at the end of the session.

Think of this precis as a basic paraphrase of the
argumentative content of a text. Here is a broad and
informal guide for a precis, consisting of question you
should ask of a text as you are reading it, and again
after you have finished reading it. Don't treat this as
an ironclad template, but as a rough approach to producing
a precis -- knowing that a truly fine and useful precis
need not necessarily satisfy all of these interventions.

A precis should try to answer fairly basic questions
such as:

1. What is the basic gist of the argument?

2. To what audience is it pitched primarily? Does
it anticipate and respond to possible objections?

3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general?
To what end is the argument made?

a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending

4. Does it have an explicit thesis? If not, could you
provide one in your own words for it?

5. What are the reasons and evidence offered up in the
argument to support what you take to be its primary end?
What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions
the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often
general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural
nature) does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of
these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your
view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions
under closer scrutiny?

6. What, if any, kind of argumentative work is being done
by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece?

7. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have
idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change
over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these
angles of view will yield something between a general book
report and a close reading, but one that focuses on the
argumentative force of a text. For the purposes of our
class, such a precis succeeds if it manages

(1) to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
(2) provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From Daou's Triangle to Herman and Chomsky's Propaganda Model

Readings for Thursday:

Manufacturing Consent: A Propaganda Model excerpted from the book Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Conclusions excerpted from the book Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

The Propaganda Model: An Overview by David Cromwell

The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective by Edward S. Herman


Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Triangle

Peter Daou: The Triangle

Part One:
Limits of Blog Power (September 19, 2005)

Part Two:
Obama’s Diary & Netroots Disenchantment (October 2, 2005)

Part Three: THE (Broken) TRIANGLE:
Progressive Bloggers in the Wilderness

Part Four:
Matthews, Moore, Murtha and the Media (January 25, 2006)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dear "Legal" Commons

I mentioned this piece in class Tuesday -- don't forget that we'll be discussing Benkler tomorrow, but we may turn to texts from the Re/Public link I posted last time (esp. the contributions from Lawrence Lessig and Michel Bauwens). Check some of it out if you have the time.

[This letter is based on discussions at a workshop that took place at Waag Society in Amsterdam last may and has been published in the (Shade of the Commons reader --> For a list of the participants of the Workshop see below. The letter was drafted by Shuddhabrata Sengupta (Sarai)].

Dear Inhabitants of the 'legal' Commons,

Greetings! This missive arrives at your threshold from the proverbial Asiatic street, located in the shadow of an improvised bazaar, where all manner of oriental pirates and other dodgy characters gather to trade in what many amongst you consider to be stolen goods. We call them 'borrowed' goods. But a difference in the language in which one talks about things ('stolen' vs, 'borrowed') is a also a measure of
the distance between two different worlds.

You can only steal something if it is owned by someone in the first place. If things are not 'owned' but only held in custody, then they can only be 'borrowed' as opposed to being stolen. So what you call a 'pirated' DVD is what we would call a DVD 'borrowed' from the street, and the price we pay for it is equivalent, or at least analogous to an incremental subscription to the great circulating public library of
the Asiatic street.

We address this, written in the precincts of that library, to all you who enjoy the salubrious comfort of the legal commons, especially the one that calls itself 'creative'. We have occasionally stepped into your enclosures, and have fond memories of our forays. However, our sojourns in your world have of necessity had to be brief. Before long, we have been asked about our provenance, our intent, our documents. There has rarely been enough paper for us to prove that we had the right of way.

We appreciate and admire the determination with which you nurture your garden of licences. The proliferation and variety of flowering contracts and clauses in your hothouses is astounding. But we find the paradox of a space that is called a commons and yet so fenced in, and in so many ways, somewhat intriguing. The number of times we had to ask for permission, and the number of security check posts we had
to negotiate to enter even a corner of your commons was impressive. And each time we were at an exit we were thoroughly searched, just in case we had not pilfered something, or left some trace of a noxious weed by mistake into your fragile ecosystem. Sometimes, we found that when people spoke of 'Common Property' it was hard to know where the commons ended and where property began.

Most of all, we were amazed by the ingenuity (and diligence) you display in upholding the norm that mandates that unless something had been named explicitly as part of the 'commons' by it's rightful owner, it is somehow out of bounds to everyone else. Hitherto, our understanding of the word you use, 'the commons', had suggested to us
that it indicated a space where people could take according to their desires and contribute according to their capacities. This implied a relationship essentially between people, founded on a more or less taken for granted ethic of reciprocity, in the sense that what goes around, eventually comes around. However, in the space you designate as 'commons', we found that the rule is - take in accordance to the label on the thing that you encounter, and give according to the measure of the licence you prefer.

This indicated that a relationship between people, was somehow replaced by a relationship between people and the things that these people owned, inherited, or had created. It meant being told that we could access something only if the owner said we could. This meant that the song or the story or the idea that had no label on it was not for the taking. We have to admit that this did feel a bit suffocating, because it was a bit like rationing the air you breathe according to whether or not you had the right to breathe freely.

Strangely, the capacity to name something as 'mine', even if in order to 'share' it, requires a degree of attainments that is not in itself evenly distributed. Not everyone comes into the world with the confidence that anything is 'theirs' to share. This means, that the 'commons' in your parlance, consists of an arrangement wherein only those who are in the magic circle of confident owners effectively get a share in that which is essentially, still a configuration of different bits of fenced in property. What they do is basically effect a series of swaps, based on a mutual understanding of their exclusive propreitary rights. So I give you something of what I own, in exchange for which, I get something of what you own. The good or item in
question never exits the circuit of property, even, paradoxically when it is shared. Goods that are not owned, or those that have been taken outside the circuit of ownership, effectively cannot be shared, or even circulated.

Where does this leave those who have no property to begin with? Perhaps, with even less than what they might have in a scenario where there was some comfort in being able to make do with bits and pieces broken off, copied and patched together and then circulated, essentially by people who had no prior claim to cultural property or
patrimony. You see, we undertook our education in the public library of the street, in the archive of the sidewalk. Here, our culture, came to us in the form of faded and distressed copies, not all wrapped and ribboned with licenses. We took what we could, when we could, where we could. Had we waited to take what we were permitted to 'share' in, we would never have gotten very far, because no one would have recognized
our worth as 'shareholders'. Our attainments were not built with the confidence that comes from knowing that you have a right to own what you know, and a duty to know what you own.

Your 'commons' is not a place that we can share in easily. Because, often, when you ask us for what we 'own', we have to turn away from your enquiring gaze. We own very little, and the little that we own is itself often under dispute, because no one has bothered to keep a detailed enough record of provenances. In these circumstances, if we had listen to your stipulation to share only that which we own, hardly anything would have been passed around. And for life to continue, things have to pass around. So we share a lot of things that we have never owned. They are 'borrowed'.

You call this piracy. Perhaps it is piracy. But we have to think of consequences. The consequences of absences of the infrastructures that make a culture of sharing that is also a culture of legality possible. In the absence of those infrastructures, we have to rely on other mechanisms. When you do not have a public library, you have to invent one on the street, with all the books that you can muster, with everything you can beg, or borrow. Or steal.

All we ask, dear inhabitants of the 'legal' commons, is for you to let us be. To be a little cautious before you condemn us. A world without our secret public libraries would be a poorer world. It would be a world in which very few people read very few books, and only those who could own things were the ones who could share them. It would also mean a world in which, eventually, very few people write books. So
instead of more, there would in the end be less culture to go around. The more you own, the less you can share.

All we ask is for a little time. It has not yet been conclusively proven that the culture of 'borrowing' which you happen to call 'piracy' has only negative consequences for the production of culture. It has also not yet been proven that one must necessarily read negative consequences for culture from negative consequences for the balance sheets of the culture industry. Until such time that this is
done, please let us be.

Learn about us by all means if you must, argue with us by all means, but do not rush to destroy the wilderness we inhabit. We admire your carefully cultivated garden. We know it is not easy for you to let us enter that space. We understand and respect that. We do not ask to be appreciated in return for the fact that we prefer hiding in the undergrowth of culture. All we ask for is the benevolence of your indifference. That will do for now.

We remain, yours

Denizens of Non Legal Commons, and those who travel to and from them

[Based on discussions among: Shaina Anand, Namita Malhotra, Paul Keller, Lawrence Liang, Bjorn Wijers, Patrice Riemens, Monica Narula, Rasmus Fleischer, Palle Torsson, Jan Gerber, Sebastian L**ttgert, Toni Prug, vera Franz, Konrad Becker & Tabatabai]

waag society | nieuwmarkt 4 | NL - 1012 CR amsterdam
e: | t: +31 20 557 9898 | f: +31 20 557 9880

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Next Week

The syllabus is now online, and all the relevant links will go live on that syllabus in the next few days. Links to texts assigned for next week are already live, and here they are as well.

T23 Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter One
R25 Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Conclusion

These texts are both available as .pdf as well -- just click around the wiki and you'll find them, or google Wealth of Networks for more options.

Optional supplemental reading can be found in the recent edition of the online magazine Re Public. Check out, for example, Lessig, Rushkoff, Stallman, Bauwens. Lots of really interesting stuff there to talk about.

Syllabus for Rhetoric 189: Mediated Republic: From Broadcast to p2p

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30-7, 20 Wheeler
Instructor: Dale Carrico (
Course Blog:

What is the shape and what might be the significance of a transformation from a mass mediated public sphere into networked public sphere? We will spend some time studying the broader institutional and practical history of modern media formations and transformations before fixing our attention on the claims being made by political economists, critical theorists, policymakers, and media activists about our own media moment. We will also cast a retrospective eye on the role of media critique from the perspective of several different social struggles in the last era of broadcast media, the better to contemplate changes we may discern in the problems, tactics, and hopes available to these struggles in the first era an emerging peer-to-peer public sphere.

Grade Breakdown:

Report: 15%
Reading and Co-facilitation: 20%
Attendance/Participation: 30%
Take-Home Final Examination: 35%

Provisional Schedule of Meetings:


T16 Intro/Syll
R18 Intro/Speeches

T23 Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter One


R25 Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Conclusion


T30 Peter Daou, The Triangle (online)



R1 Chomsky and Herman, Propaganda Model


T6 Two pieces by Phil Agre


R8 Brin on the Surveillance Society; Cascio on the Participatory Panopticon


T13 Paul Hughes, A Cypherpunk's Manifesto
Clay Shirky, The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed


R15 Short Story, Maneki Neko by Sterling


T20 James Boyle, Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain


R22 James Boyle, Enclosing the Genome: What Squabble Over Genetic Patents Could Teach Us
Annalee Newitz, Genome Liberation


T27 The Making of a Movement, Robert W. McChesney & John Nichols

Our Media, Not Theirs: Building the U.S. media reform movement by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols

The Problem of the Media: David Barsamian interviews Robert McChesney, Z magazine, February, 2006



R1 Dan Gillmore, We the Media, Chapters 1 and 9.


T6 Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere


R8 Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere


T13 Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media


R15 Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media


T20 Cintra Wilson, A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Considered as a Crippling Disease


R22 Cintra Wilson, A Massive Swelling


27-29 Spring Break


T3 Edward Said, Covering Islam [ISBN: 0679758909]


R5 Edward Said, Covering Islam


T10 Edward Said, Covering Islam


R12 Susan Faludi, Backlash [ISBN: 0385425074]


T17 Susan Faludi, Backlash


R19 Susan Faludi, Backlash


T24 Michelangelo Signorile, Out in America


R26 Michelangelo Signorile, Out in America



T1 An Inconvenient Truth (in-class screening and discussion)


R3 An Inconvenient Truth (in-class screening and discussion)


T8 Final Comments, Turn in Take-Home Final Examinations