Technopolitical autonomy



For almost 20 years I have been committed to the way in which new forms of social self-organization can be boosted by technology (understood in a wide, not necessarily digital or electronic, sense). It is not in isolation (as a Cartesian rational subject) but through the interaction with other humans that we become autonomous, self-determined, free. But this freedom, that is continuously generated through the capacity for meaning and value creation between peers, can be easily challenged by macroscopic structures (the market, the state, religions, etc.) that impose dominating structures upon us. It is therefore of upmost importance that we develop the means to maximize social and personal autonomy (the collective capacity to govern ourselves in community) while minimizing macroscopic enslaving.

In our societies, knowledge is the non-scarce resource that provides the best opportunity to boost individual and collective autonomy. In recent years, information and communication technologies have made possible a radical transformation of the historical inequalities that have dominated knowledge and resource management. The path is now open for a free flow of knowledge and power. At the same time, however, we have witnessed the rapid increase of knowledge as a commodity and the emergence of a huge complex of information and knowledge capitalism and an increasing corporate and state control of its potential benefits. It is to the struggle between this opposing tendencies and to the increase of the means for the social liberation that my research and political involvement at large has been devoted.

Decidim: Free digital networks and democratic commons

Interaction network at participatory democracy platform
Digital interaction network at participatory democracy platform.

Democracy is in danger. Not only by the corrupt and persisting intervention of market capitalism into our government, not only by the increasing inequality that leaves a majority of our societies out of reach for democratic participation, by the increasingly weaker but still pervading concentration of media, but, more recently, and importantly, by the rise of the big data extractivism and huge analytic inequality between big digital corporations and public and commons institutions. Moreover democracy needs and upgrade 200 years after its original design, a design that has been kept mostly unchanged despite radical transformations on almost all areas of human life. Among these transformations the emergence of digital networks poses unprecedented opportunities and challenges to democracy.

Everybody understands the potential of social networks. Often for silly things. Mostly for kittens and fancy photos and things. The potential for open knowledge like Wikipedia, or information spreading like Twitter, or intense relationships like Facebook, also applies to politics. But it does so with high controversy (post-truth, lack of privacy, democratic deficit, no-transparency, etc.). With Decidim we talk about a new generation of political networks that are oriented to decision making, commitment, and accountability. This new generation of social or political networks has to be open source, guarantee personal privacy and public transparency, sovereignty of the infrastructures, independence from private corporations and they have to enforce, by design, digital rights and equity. This is what Decidim provides.

Hacktivism: hacklabs, hackmeetings and the politics of code sharing


The hacker culture and practice brought with it a different way of understanding technology and politics (Barandiaran 2003a). By producing and modifying code and machine instructions we can alter and overcome the constraints, limitations and pre-designed functionalities of the technological complexes that determine our lives (operating systems, communication systems, even finantial or political systems). Motivated by joy, challenge and community sharing values, hackers all over the globe engage in collaborative production, technologically mediated self-organization and self-governance at a scale that often match and outperform the productive capacities of capitalist corporations or old political institutions. Understanding that knowledge is power and that technological knowledge (protocols, engineering, system organization, machine articulation) is driving the way we organize societies, production and imagination, hacktivism tries to remove the barries of access to information, code, communication and technology so as to distribute power and dilute structures of domination. At the same time hacktivists’ goal is also that of protecting individuals and communities from the potential (and often real) abuse and cohertion of hierarchical powers. To do so efforts are focused on producing tools and infrastructures to defend privacy, personal and collective autonomy while revealing the secrets and hidden operations that existing power structures develop turning their back on the citizens and communities they are supposed to serve.

For some time now, since the 90s, hacklabs and hackmeetings (Barandiaran 2003b, Barandiaran 2006) have been spaces of experimentation, reflection and skill sharing to develop hacktivist views. I got involved in the early 2000’s in these experiences that have since irreversibly shaped the way I understand knowledge, power and technopolitics. Autonomous servers, self-managed learning and experimentation spaces, direct action hacktivist collectives… all of them embedded in social centers, alternative economies and grass-root activism, provided for a whole ecosystem of autonomous practices.

Data-Analysis: quantifying democracy and autonomy in social networks

Network analysis of  the multitudinous collective identity of the 15M network (green)
Network analysis of the multitudinous collective identity of the 15M network (green) compared to traditional labour unions (in red). Click on the picture to enlarge.

Unfortunately for the free and collective digital infrastructures that many hackers developed during the late 90s and early 2000’s, social networks became widely adopted only through centralized services like Facebook and Twitter. These had (and still h as) terrible consequences for privacy and technological sobereignity. However, it critically enhanced the communicative autonomy of citizens and collectives. By 2011 a big part of society was ready to make use of communication networks to coordinate action. We witnessed the Arab Spring, the 15M and Occupy movements. Interestingly, the enourmous amount of data that these communications generated provided an insight into the way in which social networks discuss, coordinate and generate autonomous, away from the more traditional centralized media, away from hierarchical power structures. Data-analysis shows that the people can self-organize in scale-free structures to coordinate action and deliveration in a distributed conversation without a centralized or convergent hegemony, without representation, without a single or permanent leadership. In a set of publications (Monterde et al. 2015, and Aguilera et al. 2013) we study how these forms of decentralized and multitudinous collective identiies emerge in social networks.

Wikitoki and the FLOK Society: the political economy of participatory knowledge commons


The economic dimension of knowledge has taken the lead in social organization and production. Labour conditions, mostly in “developed” countries has shifted to new paradigms. A precarious networking class has emerged: the cognitariat. It has to sell its creative force, emotional capacity, imaginary power or intelligent power to capitalist circuits. Meanwhile intelectual property based capitalism own our myths and symbols (e.g. Star Wars), our scientific production through the copyright publishing industry (Elsevier, Springer, etc.), our computers through pre-installed software, our bodies through pharmaceutical patents, our lands and agriculture through biotechnologies and our social relationships though social-network enclosures. Against these tendencies the alternatives are growing fast, often hybridating with traditional knowledge communities and building on top of open and common infrastructures (from wikipedia to open educational resources, from seed banks to open access and collaborative science).

In order to examine, systematize, facilitate, articulate and boost these alternatives I co-funded and coordinated the FLOK Society / Buen Conocer project. FLOK stands for Free/Libre Open Knowledge:

The Buen Conocer / FLOK Society project, has been a collaborative research and participatory design process, that directly involved up to 1500 people to promote and create sustainable models and policy proposals for a social economy of open knowledge commons, focusing on Ecuador but open to the region and the world. The project has made possible to articulate and define a detailed model of a collaborative society whose productive matrix is based on cognitive commons, shared knowledge and traditional community practices. (Barandiaran & Vila-Viñas, 2015)

A book came out of this project. It summarizes the main resuls and covers policies and sustainable models for education, science, culture, agriculture, biodiversity, industrial design and fabrication, energy, hardware, software and connectivity together with the proposal for new institutional transformations capable to bring together traditional communities, innovation networks and the civil society in the new open economy of knowledge commons.

In parallel to the development of national-scale ecuatorian policies I have also been deeply involved in my proximate social environment as a co-founder and member of Wikitoki, a laboratory for collaborative practices, a co-working space that is self-managed by its members to promote mutual-aid and collective self-organization of cognitive labour, research, activism and creativity.

Related publications

  1. Vila-Viñas, D., & Barandiaran, X. E. (Eds.). (2015). Buen conocer / FLOK Society: modelos sostenibles y políticas públicas para una economía social del conocimiento común y abierto en Ecuador. Quito, Ecuador: IAEN-CIESPAL. ISBN: 978-9978-55-123-3
  2. Barandiaran, X.E. & Vila-Viñas, D. (2015) The FLOK Doctrine. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 7: Policies for the Commons. Accepted [preprint available here]
  3. Monterde, A., Calleja-López, A., Aguilera, M., Barandiaran, X. E., & Postill, J. (2015).Multitudinous identities: a qualitative and network analysis of the 15M collective identity. Information, Communication and Society, doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1043315
  4. Aguilera, M., Morer, I., Barandiaran, X. E., & Bedia, M. (2013) Quantifying Political Self-Organization in Social Media. Fractal patterns in the Spanish 15M movement on Twitter. In Proceedings of the 12th European Conference on Artificial Life (in press). MIT Press.
  5. Barandiaran, X. E., & Aguilera, M. (2015). Neurociencia y tecnopolítica: hacia un marco analógico para comprender la mente colectiva del 15M. En J. Toret (Ed.), Tecnopolítica y 15M. La potencia de las multitudes conectadas (pp. 163-211). Barcelona: Editorial UOC. ISBN: 978-84-9064-458-4
  6. Barandiaran, X. (2003a) Activismo digital y telemático. En Aparici, R. & Mari Saez, V. (Eds.) Cultura popular, industrias culturales y ciberespacio. UNED, Madrid, 2003. pp.425-448.
  7. Barandiaran, X. (2003b) Hacklabs: ensamblaje colectivo de la tecnopolítica como realidad social. .


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