Boyle attempts to, as he describes it, “[provide] a social theory of the information society” (x). Using various legal cases to explore the varied epistemic and logistical issues with what he conceives of as the ‘rise of the information society,’ Boyle attempts to offer an accessible problematics of information-as-commodity. While some of these cases are quite compelling—the Moore case in California is particularly alarming—they are used in a rather trite manner to suture together a narrative that stops short of actually interrogating some of the larger systemic forces at work in the commodification of information. Considering his noted reluctance to use Marx, it makes sense his final conclusions are somewhat conservative in nature, though I have to wonder if his hyperobssession with the legal prevented him from seeing the larger political-economic landscape he has attempted to chart.

            I want to reiterate something Boyle had written fairly cavalierly—“We do not do this in a vacuum, in some sterile cultural ‘clean room.’ We are always already inside, or between, a set of histories, ideologies, institutions, and practices” (174).  While I am in total agreement, I do not see Boyle adequately deploying this understanding throughout the text. For example, he makes absolutely no mention of the fact that copying and distributing things like software are made easy through a real material political economy totally dependent on the skilled hands of exploited women of color (or are our microchips also assembled by a bucket of bacteria in a lab somewhere?). Questions of our “information society” must also be grounded in an understanding of the labor that’s used to construct it—not solely the labor used to invent it. Moreover, even in his discussion of law and ethics of information authorship/ownership, Boyle fails to provide what I view to be an adequate critique of the imperial-colonial nature of the governing of an information society—even in the US we have plenty of distinct cultures that conceive of information, authorship, and ownership in vastly different terms…While I do see the text as a somewhat useful launching point for more critical discussions, the narrative Boyle offered in this text seemed to be to be incredibly Western-centric and lacking in its understanding of imperial power structure. 

Discussion questions:
  • Obviously I've been thinking of Boyle's text in relation to imperial power and data collection, something I consider at great length in my own work; what are the strengths and limitations of a narrative that preys upon fantastical fears of transgenic slavery rather than the lived realities of drone warfare (which relies on amassing private-access spatial data without consent)?
  • Similarly, limitations aside, what prescience does this text have for us as academics? None of us are going to be in labs curing cancer (as far as we know), but we are responsible for mass dissemination of ideas and 'intellectual property,' not to mention those of us who do ethnographic work and thus have a responsibility to operate in a manner culturally consistent with and sensitive to the communities in which we work. How (if at all) does this translate into our concerns as researchers/scholars/educators in terms of public/private bifurcations and knowledge production/ownership?

1/15/2013 14:26:35

I think Boyle actually does show that there are labor costs and he does make at least passing reference in several chapters to the linkages to colonial and or now neo-colonial orders. While we can certainly pick these out further I don't think he actually fails to do this, it's just not his main project. But we can tease out these implications for our own work and in relation to other post-colonial projects in class.


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