From libertarian dream to oppressive nightmare -- or the critique of the both?

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Fri, 05/04/2012 - 09:45

I have been participating at the Critique, Democracy and Philosophy in the 21st century (CDP21) conference organised by the Department of Informatics and Media of the Uppsala University. As Mathias Klang (@klang67) notes in Twitter, the conference is not very techie. It is more about society than about ICTs. 


Apart from presenting an excellent overview of that what's going on with critical theory and ICTs, CDP21 clearly shows the potential and need of a focused critique of ICTs, digital society and the entire fabric of concepts, tools and contexts discussed in information disciplines. Critical theory provides a viable framework for a debate with a clear theoretical focus and as Christian Fuchs suggested in his keynote, it might indeed be good if Manuel Castells and Henry Jenkins would read a bit more Marx. Similarly, though, it could be equally useful and/or at least interesting or entertaining if Marx would read a bit Castells and Jenkins. 


The conference has also underlined the apparent yet often undermined possibility to be critical from myriad theoretical perspectives. In this respect, even if the hard-core theory is very much not passé at CDP21, the conference shows, somewhat similarly to the volume of theoretical LIS research from 2010, "Critical theory for library and information science: Exploring the social from across the disciplines" edited by Leckie, Given and Buschman, that critique has a certain significant intrinsic value and very concrete practical relevance independent of the assumed theoretical standpoint and of the goals of the project that is being criticised. In a way suggested by the particular critical theory, critique is a method and a tool, but it should probably not be confined as much to that particular direction of theory as it tends to be. After all, a (slightly larger) bit of equally explicit critical attitude, conceptualisation of theories as critique and critique of own, other's, predominant and minority assumptions and practices would be equally useful even outside a particular theoretical canon.