Computing and the Crisis: The Significant Role of New Information Technologies in the Current Socio-economic Meltdown

  • David Hakken School of Informatics, Indiana University Bloomington
Keywords: Crisis, Computing, Intellectual Property, Commodification


There is good reason to be concerned about the long-term implications of the current crisis for the reproduction of contemporary social formations. Thus there is an urgent need to understand it character, especially its distinctive features. This article identifies profound ambiguities in valuing assets as new and key economic features of this crisis, ambiguities traceable to the dominant, “computationalist” computing used to develop new financial instruments. After some preliminaries, the article identifies four specific ways in which computerization of finance is generative of crisis. It then demonstrates how computationalist computing is linked to other efforts to extend commodification based on the ideology of so-called “intellectual property” (IP). Several other accounts for the crisis are considered and then demonstrated to have less explanatory value. After considering how some commons-oriented (e.g., Free/Libre and/or Opening Source Software development projects) forms of computing also undermine the IP project, the article concludes with a brief discussion of what research on Socially Robust and Enduring Computing might contribute to fostering alternative, non-crisis generative ways to compute.


Author Biography

David Hakken, School of Informatics, Indiana University Bloomington
David Hakken studied cultural anthropology at Stanford, Chicago, and the American University in Washington, D.C in the 1960s and ‘70s. The abiding concerns of his research career have been the complex ways in which social change, culture, and technology, especially automated information and communication technology, co-construct each other. This has led him to study worker education, public policy, and workplace use of new information technology in Britain and the United States; software development in Britain, the Nordic countries, the US, and Malaysia; social service and technology (e.g., assistive technology) in the US; and techno-science in Chinese and Malaysian scholarship and higher education. He is currently involved in several research projects. These focus on: 1. Effective incorporation of robust social and cross-cultural perspectives into the design and implementation of computing systems, as well as education in computing (“The Strong Program in Social Computing”); 2. The implications of Free/Libre and Open Source Projects for the future dynamics of organization (“FLOSS and ‘Virtual’ Organizing: The Case of (the open sourced massive, multiplayer online game) BZ Flag”); 3. The role of and implications for computing in the recent massive but partial up-scaling of social formation reproduction (“The Cultural Construction of Demi-globalism”); and 4. What computing contributed to the current crisis and how a different approach to computing could help us get out if it (“Computing and Crisis”). Selected Publications: 2007 “A Critique of Popular Political Economies of Knowledge in Cyberspace, An Alternative Political Economy of Cyberspace Knowledge, and A Demonstration of the Applicability of the Alternative to Study of Free/Libre and Open Source Software in the Malay World.” In New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry 1(1):40-80; 2003 The Knowledge Landscapes of Cyberspace. New York: Routledge. 2001 (With Carl Martin Allwood) “Deconstructing Use’: Diverse Discourses on ‘Users’ and ‘Usability’ in Information System Development and Reconstructing a Viable Use Discourse” AI & Society 15:169-199. 1999 Cyborgs@Cyberspace? An Ethnographer Looks to the Future. New York: Routledge. 1997 (with Knut Haukelid, eds.) Technology and Democracy: User involvement in information technology. TMV Skriftserie Nr. 26. Oslo: Center for Technology and Culture. 1993 (with Barbara Andrews) Computing Myths, Class Realities: An Ethnography of Technology and Working People in Sheffield, England. Boulder: Westview. 1993 “Computing and Social Change: New Technology and Workplace Transformation, 1980-90.” Annual Review of Anthropology 22:107-32. 1987 (with Johanna Lessinger, eds.) Perspectives on U.S. Marxist Anthropology. Boulder: Westview.
Special Issue: Capitalist Crisis, Communication, & Culture