Re: The Politics of the Bootleg

From: Geoffrey Alan Rhodes (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2008 - 17:18:45 PDT

It is true that new technologies do not lend themselves to our
copyright system. For example, I have pasted below the introduction
from the Sage publication, New Media & Society-- something innocuous
and easily done, but I think illegal because it is not so closely
related to the criticism of this email and the selection long,
therefore not 'fair use'. Though we may like and find secure the
existing establishment for intellectual property, this may just be a
conservative desire. The future of arts and the artist, and ideas in
general, may be different economically from the past. Certainly it is
an uncomfortable situation for the artist, because in an age when the
action of copying is treated as stealing, it is clear that this can
only be achieved through alliances with power-- with the legal and
police system that designates and enforces what and who gets to have
things and at what price. I think, as has been pointed out, we are all
uncomfortable with supporting a system that has often stood in the way
of art practice (in the case of found footage and copyright, or the
much worse cases of procecuted trademark infringement, such as with the
Barbie trademark, and what was that film?), but afraid of the unknown
of a new economic system for art. But copyright in the information age
has become a bad law-- one of those laws where everyone is guilty of
breaking it, but enforcement is selective, meaning lobbied by those
with power.

Although it has not been used widely for more than a decade, the 
internet has shown an extraordinary capacity to spur the imagination of 
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academics, businesspeople and journalists alike. From the saviour of 
crumbling western economies to the vanguard of anarchist politic, the 
medium has been ascribed almost every conceivable role. Leaning towards 
hyperbole rather than sober analysis, these accounts often defy any 
conception of how media are used and what a medium can accomplish 
(Manovich, 2001). 
But obviously, the advent of the internet has not gone by without the 
introduction of any changes. Inexpensive written communication and easy 
information retrieval are just some of the most apparent examples. 
even more importantly, the production of qualitative content and its 
global distribution have become affordable to a considerably greater 
of people. 
While this suggests that the internet has greater participatory 
than many other media, recurrent attempts to control its content and 
its data flows also have been made. The dynamics arising from this 
and the question of what effect it might have on society have been the 
subject of intensive debate in recent years. While it is too early to 
any specific outcome of these debates, studies in the emerging academic 
field of new media studies1 have succeeded in covering a wide range of 
phenomena emerging around the internet (Lievrouw and Livingstone, 
Reflecting on the theoretical trends of new media studies, Kim and 
Weaver (2002: 521) demand that ‘traditional mass communication 
should be redefined to effectively explain new communication technology 
and social system interactions’. Therefore, empirical research has to 
accompanied by a development of theoretical tools, evolving both from 
theory’s relation to empirical material and a comparison of theories 
and Weaver, 2002). 
Calls for new theories and methods have been answered by a number of 
readers and anthologies, which examine the new technological situation 
from a wide range of epistemological and theoretical angles. As a 
new media studies are characterized by an exceptional openness towards 
theory and method and up until now it seemed impossible to discern any 
obvious canon guiding research decisions in the field. This ‘
approach towards theory and epistemology’ (Sterne, 1999: 264) allows 
valuable interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations that hold the promise 
of a better 
understanding of evolving technological and social situations. However, 
does not seem that the prevalence of this experimental approach in new 
media studies can be ascribed to any larger meta-theoretical decision 
discussion. While there certainly is some overlap with the 
discussions of cultural studies and other academic traditions, much of 
field’s experimental character seems to be attributable to enthusiasm 
in the 
face of the experimental possibilities of the new technologies 
New Media & Society 7(3) 
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or unauthorized distribution. at YORK UNIVERSITY on June 10, 2008 
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Considering the quick progress of technological and financial 
consolidation in the new media sphere, these technologies’ 
possibilities may not persist very much longer. In a climate that is 
more hostile towards such characteristics, the need for an ‘
approach’ in academia also would appear less self-evident. The risk 
that new 
media studies’ valuable openness and social relevance will be 
in such a scenario, therefore, has to be countered by the development 
of a 
more explicit meta-theoretical corpus. Unfortunately, empirical studies 
the field of new media rarely discuss the theoretical underpinnings of 
research more explicitly (Kim and Weaver, 2002), allowing their choice 
theory to appear like a matter of personal disposition rather than 
assessment. However, along with the maturing of the field, histories of 
field (Silver, 2000) as well as topical, theoretical and methodological 
analyses have been developed (Kim and Weaver, 2002; Silver, 2004; 
and Stewart, 2000), pointing towards a need for more conceptual 
comparisons and evaluative analyses of the underlying theoretical 
employed in the field. 
This study seeks to develop the move towards deepened meta-theoretical 
analysis. It is argued that, in order not to lose our grip amid the 
wealth of 
theoretical positions at play in the field, it is necessary to lift the 
to a more abstract level and look at the underpinnings of theory rather 
its applications. It is argued that, while wariness towards canon 
creation is 
justified, the renunciation of normative meta-theoretical criteria 
cannot be 
an option. On the contrary, the field’s flexibility, openness and 
relevance can 
be sustained only if its meta-theoretical premises are made explicit in 
thorough debate. 
Taking the Frankfurt School scholarship as its main point of departure, 
this article argues that the issues of power, reason and closure should 
made major areas of concern for such a debate. Three normative meta- 
theoretical criteria are suggested, drawing on Adorno and Horkheimer 
(1979[1944]), Birgitta H ̈oijer (1990), Horkheimer (1972[1937]) and 
Wellmer (1991[1985]). Subsequently, these criteria are used in a 
review of some common theoretical perspectives at use in the field. For 
these reviews, texts have been chosen which employ a certain theory in 
very explicit way. The point of these choices is not to criticize 
authors or reject whole theoretical traditions, but rather to show how 
of the applied figures of thought, if allowed to have a decisive impact 
on a 
future canon, could narrow the scope of new media studies in 
Traditional theory, as described by Horkheimer (1972[1937]), hides its 
ideological nature within an aura of objectivism. It assumes that both 
R ̈ohle: Power, reason, closure 
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individual scientist and the scientific process are autonomous from the 
surrounding society. Although ultimately it seeks the legitimacy of 
science in 
its usefulness for society, both its questions and epistemology are 
to derive from within science. However, for critical theory the nature 
of its 
material cannot be taken for granted in any positivist fashion. As 
society is 
marked by struggle and contradictions, theory cannot avoid being 
influenced, if not determined, by these struggles: 
The critical theory of society . . . has for its object men as 
producers of their 
own historical way of life in its totality. The real situations which 
are the 
starting-point of science are not regarded simply as data to be 
verified and to 
be predicted according to the laws of probability. Every datum depends 
not on 
nature alone but also on the power man has over it. Objects, the kind 
perception, the questions asked, and the meaning of the answers all 
witness to human activity and the degree of man’s power. (1972[1937]: 
Thus, the question of power is at the heart of critical theory. Theory 
cannot be separated from ideology and from power relations in society. 
Therefore it seems vital that theory, rather than resting in ‘normality
’, should 
seek to identify and question the power relations which influence it 
which, in turn, it is able to influence. Due to the importance of the 
question, this analysis should be given priority and should be attended 
with utmost accuracy. Thus, the first meta-theoretical criterion is: 
1. The theory should include a sophisticated concept of power that is 
as broad 
and subtle as possible and can be applied both analytically and 
Another difference between traditional and critical theory, according 
Horkheimer, is that critical theory aims not merely at a coordinated 
gathering of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but at ‘the rational 
organization of human activity’ (1972[1937]: 245), ultimately 
‘man’s emancipation from slavery’ (p. 246). 
However, Adorno and Horkheimer (1979[1944]) also discuss the problem 
of instrumental reason, promoting an excluding form of rationalization 
functionalism. Berman (1983) and Bauman (1989) have traced some of the 
devastating consequences of this side of Enlightenment reason when 
incorporated into modernity. Postmodernism has intensified this 
aiming to transcend the homogenizing effects of Enlightenment reason 
(Wellmer, 1991[1985]). Discussing the different aspects of the 
critique of reason, Wellmer summarizes: 
The linguistic critique of rationalism and subjectivism does provide an 
opportunity for thinking in new ways about ‘truth’, ‘justice’ or ‘
determination’; but at the same time it will make us suspicious of 
those who 
New Media & Society 7(3) 
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or unauthorized distribution. at YORK UNIVERSITY on June 10, 2008 
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want to give an affirmative twist, in the manner of Nietzsche, to the 
psychological critique of the subject – by which I mean those 
propagandists of 
a new era which shall have cast off the burden of Platonic heritage, 
and in 
which rhetoric shall replace argument, the will to power shall replace 
the will 
to truth, the art of words shall replace theory, and the economy of 
desire shall 
replace morality. We have quite enough of all that to contend with, 
after all, in 
the world as it is now. (1991[1985]: 70, emphasis in original) 
On the one hand, in Wellmer’s account a thorough critique of reason 
appears as necessary and adequate, considering the history of 
reason. On the other hand, reason is portrayed as one of the few viable 
tools which make normative statements possible. If it is reason that 
the combination of theory and political practice and provides both with 
common direction, it is uncertain what happens if this principle is 
abandoned. Without a common, abstract principle on which to base one’s 
judgement, one truth could appear as valid as any other. Coherent 
or theory would hardly be feasible in such a scenario, as it would be 
impossible to predict the outcome of any action taken. 
According to Wellmer, an absolutist critique of reason has little to 
other than affirmation, regression or cynicism – traits that are 
impossible to 
build politics upon and therefore lend themselves to being smoothly 
integrated into capitalism. Wellmer (1991[1985]) argues, therefore, 
that it is 
necessary to narrow the focus of the critique of reason onto the 
parts and perverted uses of reason, rather than abandoning the notion 
altogether. But he also states that politics in this sense cannot take 
the forms 
once promised by rationalist Enlightenment. Thus the second meta- 
theoretical criterion is: 
2. A theory should incorporate a sensible critique of reason, including 
discussion of alternative ways to maintain political impetus. 
R ̈ohle: Power, reason, closure 
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.