Introducing myself

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Gleb J. Albert

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Dec 17, 2014, 5:50:36 PM12/17/14
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Dear fellow demoresearchers,

Since Markku has kindly added me to the list and the homepage, I thought it would be appropriate to write a few lines about what I'm doing. Some of you might know me as a demoscene activist (among other things, co-organiser of the Evoke demoparty and one of the admins of Scene.org and Demozoo) - however, in "real life" I'm a historian, originally specialised in East European history. Having recently defended my PhD thesis on early Soviet history, I was keen on doing research on something rather different, and decided - motivated by the Demoscene Research Bibliography and the excellent groundwork research you all have been doing - to go for a computer-history-related postdoc. After several conceptualisation attempts and job interviews, since last month I am a very happy holder of a postdoc position at the University of Zurich, where, for the next three years, I will be working on a global, inter-platform history of the software piracy scene(s) in the 1980s and the early 1990s, hopefu
lly resulting in a book.

Unlike much of the research done up to now, I am not primarily interested in the aesthetical side of the cracking scene and its visual products, but rather in its structures and practices. I approach it as a subculture that was deeply embedded into the 1980s not only in terms of popular culture, but also in terms of politics and economy. The project is being conducted as part of the German-Swiss interdisciplinary research group "Media and Mimesis", whose Zurich branch, rooted in the cultural history of economy, is concerned with "Mimetic Economies" - and this is also the analytical lens I'm using to conceptualise the early pirate scene. While crackers positioning themselves as antagonists of the formal software economy, instead practicing their own informal "honour economy" (Rehn), they creatively reappropriated many of the formal economy's practices and discourses - from "branding" and "marketing" their "products" over building up transnational distribution structures to mimicking
the industry's brands and logos. The latter, I would argue, was not merely a parody or a form of "culture jamming" (Klein), but a genuine expression of the subculture's sense of belonging to the larger context of home computing economy. I will highlight this by looking at the manifold and intense entanglements between the cracking world and the games industry, and the ambiguous role crackers played in contemporary mainstream media.

I'm looking forward to the following three years, and am very happy to be part of such an intense and fresh field of research - some of the pioneers of which I am really glad to see on this discussion list. Among other things, Markku and I will organise a small international workshop on digital subcultures in Zurich in early 2016. We will keep you updated as soon as the plans for it are past the very early planning stage.

It would be great if we could revive this discussion list a bit!

Best,
Gleb

--
Dr. des. Gleb J. Albert
Historisches Seminar, Universität Zürich
Forschergruppe "Medien und Mimesis"

Universität Zürich
Historisches Seminar
Culmannstr. 1
CH-8006 Zürich
Switzerland

<http://uzh.academia.edu/GlebJAlbert>
<http://www.fg-mimesis.de>
<http://twitter.com/glebalbert>

Anders Carlsson

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Dec 17, 2014, 6:15:10 PM12/17/14
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Great to hear, Gleb!

I wrote a paper on the scene, where I tried to discuss it more in the light of current social networking sites and also economical terms. For that I read Alf Rehn's Potlatch dissertation, which I think had some very interesting points about how warez culture differs from, well, market economies.

But as you say, there are many similarities too. While reading Daniel Botz' dissertation, I also realised how many crossing points there is between the crackers and the games industry.

Indeed, in the newly released Swedish book "Generation 64" (ping Markku for the bibliography, maybe?) they interviewed hackers, celebrities and "every day people" who grew up with the C64. The moral of the book was basically that C64-hackers, and even crackers, were a vital part in shaping today's tech industry and essentially "good for the economy". You know: from young and reckless to old and entrepreneurial. The story wasn't from crackers to Pirate Bay, but rather from crackers to Spotify. More here: https://chipflip.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/generation-64-a-harmless-story-about-the-c64-generation/

It's very interesting who gets be good and bad respectively, in these discourses...

Well, just a midnight blurb from me. Welcome to the computer club, Gleb!

-a





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Gleb J. Albert

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Dec 17, 2014, 6:45:31 PM12/17/14
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> rather from crackers to Spotify. More here:
> https://chipflip.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/generation-64-a-harmless-story-about-the-c64-generation/
> It's very interesting who gets be good and bad respectively, in
> these discourses...

Anders, thanks a lot for this rundown of the book - very useful for all of us who don't read Swedish!

In fact, a similiar narrative ("Generation 64", including crackers, as the forebearer of modern network society and economy) is present in the recent book by German journalist Christian Stöcker (Nerd Attack: Eine Geschichte der digitalen Welt vom C64 bis zu Twitter und Facebook, Munich: DVA, 2011 -- I will write a short blurb no it for our bibliigraphy as soon as I've sorted my excerpts).

On the one hand, the fact that this narrative has been publicised has advantages for us as researchers of the scene, since it gives our topic the relevance it deserves.

On the other hand, as you rightly point out, this narrative is highly problematic at the same time. The last thing I would want to do is to adopt this "cracking as a childhood mistake of the digital world" paradigm. My point (or, at least, this is what I think that I could show in my research) is rather that already from the beginning, the cracking scene in its discourses and practices embodied all the problematic aspects of 1980s mainstream social and economic thinking: depolitisation, deregulation, the fetish of unrestricted market competition, the hero-image of the ruthless enterpreneur, and so on (not to forget the latent misogyny and racism that is strongly present in early scene artifacts - also very much a product of the conservative backlash of the 1980s and not just a "teenage folly"). The scene was a true child of the 1980s - in its "bad" just as much as in its "good" aspects.

Marq

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Dec 18, 2014, 1:21:48 AM12/18/14
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torstai, 18. joulukuuta 2014 1.15.10 UTC+2 Anders Carlsson kirjoitti:
Indeed, in the newly released Swedish book "Generation 64" (ping Markku for the bibliography, maybe?) they interviewed hackers, celebrities and "every day people" who grew up with the C64. The moral of the book was basically that C64-hackers, and even crackers, were a vital part in shaping today's tech industry and essentially "good for the economy". You know: from young and reckless to old and entrepreneurial. The story wasn't from crackers to Pirate 

I'm glad to announce that Generation 64 is already on the bibliography :) Still haven't bought or added the 8-Bit Reggae one, as I'm still pondering as to how much of chiptune research should be included in the first place - at times it's related, at times not.

Marq

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Dec 18, 2014, 1:34:25 AM12/18/14
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torstai, 18. joulukuuta 2014 1.45.31 UTC+2 Gleb J. Albert kirjoitti:
On the other hand, as you rightly point out, this narrative is highly problematic at the same time. The last thing I would want to do is to adopt this "cracking as a childhood mistake of the digital world" paradigm. My point (or, at least, this is what I think that I could show in my research) is rather that already from the beginning, the cracking scene in its discourses and practices embodied all the problematic aspects of 1980s mainstream social and economic thinking: depolitisation, deregulation, the fetish of unrestricted market competition, the hero-image of the ruthless enterpreneur, and so on (not to forget the latent misogyny and racism that is strongly present in early scene artifacts - also very much a product of the conservative backlash of the 1980s and not just a "teenage folly"). The scene was a true child of the 1980s - in its "bad" just as much as in its "good" aspects.

Moreover, these days I'm finding it increasingly difficult to discuss "the scene" as a whole at all. In addition to significant platform and chronological differences, some of the local scenes have grown in a very different atmosphere. Most notably, of course, the former East Bloc scenes that are nearly forgotten in most publications so far (the Hacking Europe book is an important firstie, as it represents the "local histories" track).

Another topic that I'd personally like to look into when time allows are the peripheries of the scene: people who maybe did a demo or two and then disappeared, those who just hung around, or maybe occasionally visited Assembly or another big party a few times. The borders of the community aren't that well defined after all and there are these grey areas, too, that don't fit the normal - rather uniform - picture where enthusiastic coders, musicians and graphicians churn out demos as a tightly-knit group.

Anders Carlsson

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Dec 18, 2014, 2:55:50 AM12/18/14
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The reggae book mentions the scene and sceners but there's not much new knowledge because of it. Except, obviously, some examples of reggae works :)

I also had a thought about researching the peripheries, and more specifically how people with fine arts degrees deal with the aesthetic norms of the scene(s).

It's interesting since the scene is more about craft and engineering, than (conceptual) art. "Media art" discourses don't really fit. For example, some art people I talked to appreciate the scene socially rather than aesthetically. 
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