Masterclass: Hacktivism and counter-movements in the network society

Masterclass Maastricht University

When? Wednesday, January 20th. 11:00-18:00
Where? Maastricht University, TBA
Credits?  1 ECTS

Due to circumstances this Masterclass has been cancelled, we expect that it will be scheduled later this year.

The masterclass will consist of a 2 hour seminar from 11:00 till 13:00, organized by Graeme Bunton (Tucows, Toronto), Karin Wenz and Annika Richterich (both Maastricht University), with a focus on hacking and net activism. It will be exclusively offered to RMeS RMA students and PhD candidates. The masterclass will be followed by a workshop open to all interested staff members, PhD candidates and research master students and media culture MA students from Maastricht University as well.

Seminar: We claim control: Counter-movements in the network society

The Internet and digital technology may serve traditional social relations and communities. This applies, for example, to established political parties that started as group offline and use the internet as an additional communication tool. However, there are communities that established themselves through the use of the Internet and digital technology: they inherently depend on the technological possibilities, make use of digital data, online networks and the specific characteristics of digital media. These communities often include digital natives who are growing up with an understanding that sharing (digital) data is essential to how friendships and social relations are being built and maintained.

Hacking and Free and Open Source Software communities are examples for such communities. They enable researchers to investigate digital user practices, their political agenda and how knowledge is built and shared. Those communities are strongly technology-mediated. Sharing and transparency are basic principles of their functioning. Ethical and social norms of sharing and an extensive culture of open access to knowledge and information/archives enable these communities to collaborate and experience collective reflection. Activities and practices (creating code, making tutorials and modifying codes and objects) connect their members.

However, hacking community members may also break into networks and share confidential information of governments and those in power as the example of Wikileaks and the NSA shows. Hackers have been described as technological “mobile new-found elite” (Brand 1972) – situated somewhere between the experts and forerunners of digital innovation or, in the cases of Assange and Snowden, maybe even as ‘Robin Hoods’ of our digital era. At the same time, the term, hacking is increasingly used as buzzword. It is mentioned in many domains nowadays and seems to have left the realm of illegal practices. ‘Hacking’ has entered the realm of what is socially acceptable – as events such as the hackathon organized by Tate Modern, London, in June 2014 indicate:

In the Netherlands, we can find a wide range of hackathons. The University of Twente organized a summer school for MA students under the title “Hack the Museum” (August 2014) which discussed strategies for audience development in museums. Moreover, phrases such as “life hacking” ( or “food hacking” ( hint at the popularisation of the term. Of course, for the digital elite itself, hacking has always been acceptable as the ‘hacker ethic’ of the MIT in Boston shows (cf. Levi 2001 [original: 1984]). Following the MIT’s hacker ethic, hacking is understood as creative, innovative practice asking for and supporting open access to data. It refers to communal modes of production supported by digital media. However, there are opposing positions understanding those practices mainly as destructive and labeling them as e-banditry (Wong/Brown 2013).

During the masterclass, we will address historical and contemporary debates regarding hacking, net activism and respective communities. Based on the literature suggested below, we will discuss the innovative, productive potential of hacking and its destructive potential.

Please contact us in advance and let us know which question you would like to prepare. Sent your written preparation of ca. 1000 words by January 10th to and prepare a short presentation. The exact time you’ll have for your presentation depends on the number of participants. You will be informed about this on time. You will receive feedback from us by January 15th so that you can integrate our comments in your presentation if needed. Feel free to modify the question you chose or suggest another one alternatively:

  1. How has the public perception of hacking changed over time? To what extent is hacking understood differently by different societal groups, e.g. developers and hacking community members, academics or the general public in Western societies?
  2. What are core assumptions of Levi’s hacker ethics, with particular regards to the relevance of open systems for hacking practices? How do you assess Levi’s hacker ethic from a contemporary point of view, e.g. in the light of comments by hacking community members and developers such as Acid Phreak who have stated that: “There is no one hacker ethic. Everyone has his own. To say that we all think that same way is preposterous”. (Acid Phreak, 1990; cited in Coleman and Golub, 2008, p. 255)
  3. How can we explain the popularisation of the term hacking and its utilisation in diverse, contemporary contexts? More specifically, to what extent may this be related to the mantra of an allegedly participatory culture? (Cf. the newspaper article “Making it” in order to address this question, Morozov, 2014).
  4. To what extent and under which conditions can hacking be considered as political practice? When does hacking become hacktivism, and how are practices such as hacking and whistle-blowing related to each other?
  5. The International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants offers an information security programme and certification called “Ethical Hacking” (Electronic Commerce Council, 2015). How does this initiative – or comparable ones which you may introduce during your presentation in the master class – relate to the historical and current academic discourse on hacking?
  6. How does hacking relate to the notion of information politics as discussed by Jordan (2015)?
  7. The discourse around hacking is very present in the media. There are different videos available on Youtube introducing different aspects as hacking and scamming/cybercrime (, hacktivism and specifically Anonymous ( Present and discuss this discourse in class. Feel free to choose other examples than those suggested.


Remark: A new special issue of the Journal New media and Society on hacking and making is in preparation. Should it be out by January 2016 we might suggest some of the text published there additionally.

  • Brand, S. (1972). Spacewar. Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums. Rolling Stone:; accessed October 5th 2015.
  • Coleman, G.(2014). Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. London: Verso.
  • Coleman, G. and Golub, A. (2008). Hacker practice: Moral genres and the cultural articulation of liberalism. Anthropological Theory, 8(3): 255–278. Retrieved from:
  • Electronic Commerce Council (2015). Ethical Hacking: Certification. Retrieved from:
  • Morozov, E. (2014, January 13). Making it. Pick up a spot welder and join the revolution. The New Yorker. Retrieved from:
  • Jordan, T.  (2015). Information politics: liberation and exploitation in the digital society. Digital Barricades. London: Pluto.
  • Jordan, T. (2009). Hacking and Power. First Monday, 14(7):; accessed October 4th 2015.
  • Levy, S. (2001). Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution (Vol. 4). New York: Penguin Books. (e-book available at:
  • Wong, W.H. & Brown P.A. (2013). E-Bandits in Global Activism: WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and the Politics of No One. American Political Science Association, 11(4), 1015-1033.

13:00-14:00: lunch break

Workshop Citizens’ practices and digital technology (working title)

After the 2 hour seminar, the RMeS students are invited to join the half-day workshop organized by the research groups Science, Technology and Society Studies and Arts, Media and Culture:

The workshop will discuss digital technologies and citizen activism in a specific way. We observe that digital technologies are placing significant strains on traditional assumptions regarding democracy, accountability, and security. On the one hand, various technological advances have functioned to greatly increase the potentiality for citizens and noncitizens alike to engage in new and unforeseen forms of democratic action. The Internet is a potent medium for political activism that has wholly circumvented many of the physical, geographic, and social barriers that impeded access to traditional democratic forums. For the same reason, however, the infrastructural technologies that have made this routing possible have itself become perfectly obscure. The medium says one thing, the message another. The aim of the conference is to investigate the practical philosophical questions that emerge at the intersection between democratic technological potentiality and ademocratic technological obscurity.

The workshop will consist of 1 keynote lecture and short presentations of ongoing research at Maastricht University related to our topic.

14:00-15:30: Keynote Graeme Bunton (Tucows Inc., Toronto, Canada):
Hacktivism, the Infrastructure of the Internet and Internet Governance

15:30-16:00: coffee break

16:00-18:00: presentations of ongoing research at UM (15 minutes each + discussion)

  • Smart cities: Merel Normann & Tsjalling Swierstra
  • Quantified Self: Tamar Sharon
  • Surveillance: Matthew Hoye
  • Hacking: Annika Richterich & Karin Wenz
  • Crowdsourcing: Sally Wyatt (to be confirmed)