A multimodal conversation

 Governance Archaeology for the Future of the Internet

Image source: Questions and Answers - Audel’s New Electric Library (1938). Scan is courtesy of the Media Archaeology Lab.

After a full year of almost every facet of life porting online, the stakes of governing online communities and infrastructures have never been higher. As a contribution to current digital policy conversations, this project invites artists, tinkerers, and technologists to bring explorations of human governance practices, from ancient civilizations to contemporary social movements, from the slums of emerging megacities to Indigenous communities—all into dialogue with the governance of the Internet.

In comparison to present and historical democratic institutions offline, online communities have an impoverished set of tools available for democratic governance (Schneider 2020). Excavations: Governance Archaeology for the Future of the Internet is interested in what might be learned from pre-digital mechanisms across diverse societies and cultural practice. Ancient Athens’ system of lotteries for public offices, for instance, could help us better regulate algorithms today (Carugati 2020). There is a long record of practice and research on governance in the social sciences that bear valuable insights. For this exploration, we propose to conduct media archaeology on a wide range of historical, present-day, and fictional governance practices and to radically expand the repertoire available for governance in online and offline communities alike.

Excavations will employ a research-creation model based on the exchange between the social sciences and art practice, in the context of online community governance. How can communities govern platforms in the age of algorithmic governance? Who is accountable to whom, and how? How is labor distributed between code, bot, land, and flesh? How is identity negotiated between what is fluid and verified? What are instances in which freedom of expression is in conflict with regulation?

This project aims to open the spaces between the visible and the layered, nuanced particularities of specific communities and platforms, through a collaborative excavation of what it means to make and be community on the Internet today. We hope to explore governance challenges including, but not limited to:

  • Accountability for how platforms organize work and personal data
  • Participatory design and consent
  • Building and sustaining communities
  • Resolving rule violations and conflicts
  • Overseeing algorithmic decision making

We invite creators to explore possible futures for Internet governance, drawing inspiration from non-digital sources of experience including:

  • Indigenous practices exploited, ignored, or suppressed by colonizers
  • Historical democratic practices that have been absent from more recent governance norms
  • Emergent innovations in subcultures past or present
  • Imaginations of future governance from science/speculative fiction
  • Rituals of community in conversation with rituals of justice systems

Practice-based researchers are invited to apply for our multimodal cohort, which will develop and co-create online explorations into a public conversation and exhibition. Chosen practitioners will receive a $1,000 stipend to develop Web-ready explorations, in collaboration with other members of the cohort. Explorations can range from documentary to speculative, including provocations, proposed frameworks, visualizations and maps, prototypes, reenactments, identity corrections, interventions, musings, and anarchives (Zielinski, 2015). The cohort will meet online in both synchronous and asynchronous form from July-September 2021 on a regular biweekly basis, in which each of the chosen projects will be developed in a collaborative process of iterations, mutual feedback, and collective work. The result of this process will be an exhibition at global digital policy venues, a public conversation, and a collective web space. 

Timeline:

  • Deadline: June 15, 2021
  • Notification of decisions: July 1, 2021
  • Cohort residency: July-September 2021
  • Public conversation: December 2021

Apply here

Curated by Federica Carugati of (King’s College London), and Darija Medic and Nathan Schneider (Media Enterprise Design Lab, University of Colorado Boulder), with support from the Eutopia Foundation and in collaboration with DiploFoundation.