- The Digital Nexus: Identity, Agency, and Political Engagement ed. by Raphael Foshay
An edited collection of essays around a linked set of themes is a conference organizer's idea of what a book looks like. The Digital Nexus collects fourteen essays from a 2013 symposium, adding three further contributions, an introduction and afterword by the editor, and an interview by Paul Kellogg with the keynote speaker, David Gunkel. The three organizing themes are theory, culture, and politics, a familiar trinity for media theory.
The book's title situates it in the area of the theorization of digitalization and the life-world-changing impacts of digital technologies. The need for more robust philosophical analysis is addressed not only by the contributors across the three themes but also in the two original conference foci – identity and agency. Individually and socially, the former is displaced and redistributed, and, grammatically and technologically, the latter is reconfigured in a new ecology of the virtual. Politically, ubiquitous connectivity conjoins the promises of big data with big brother and resistance as whistle-blowing and hacktivism.
The essays in the digital theory section pose significant philosophical questions. Andrew Feenberg steers between hype and Left-wing conflation of social media ills with the Internet itself by resisting a single definition of the network and regaining its status as developing, contested technology. Ian Angus considers that digitization poses a crisis of culture due to the effects of information as a system predicated on transparency and presence. He opens a place for emergent meaning in silence, where intensity and delay are not completely absorbed into the system. David Gunkel, whose reflections on our ethical obligations towards machines are discussed in an appendix, delivers his verdict on moral subjecthood by appealing to distributed intentionality, agency, and responsibility. Daryl Campbell maps the transformative logic of visibilities within the Open Source Software movement, against Foucauldian limits of panopticism and in terms borrowed from Alain Badiou's transcendental indexing of worlds and identities, attributing change to the latter in communities such as Debian and Linux programmers that affects the former relationships, disturbing the unchanging status quo of computing giants like Microsoft and Apple. [End Page 146]
The section on digital culture begins by reminding us of the role that artists play in questioning the surveillance state, as Carolyn Guertin recounts through struggles for anonymity from around the world. Mark McCutcheon revisits the displaced subject of media, whose social characteristics he teases out by locating how identities are distributed across the digital nexus for certain privileged interpellated users. Similar to Guertin's turn to artists, McCutcheon finds solace in social media accounts that re-signify pop icons for the critical purposes of defamiliarization. Whereas Bob Hanke's nexus is the contemporary network enterprise university – a euphemism for a degraded condition of administrative control, precarious labour, student clients, course management software, and weak scholarly ties. Faculty seem like diminished actors in relation to artists. This section concludes with two somewhat tangential papers: one by Leslie Lindballe, asking whether critical discourse analysis can make a digital turn, and the other by the late Roman Onufrijchuk, writing appropriately on para-mortals embalmed by social media.
The section on digital politics contains the third batch of essays. The first by Peter J. Smith is indicative of how a discussion of a time-sensitive issue, such as the lifecycle of the withdrawn Bill C-30 (Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act), which would have granted warrantless subscriber information from Internet service providers, found second life at least in part in Bill C-13 (Anti-Cyberbullying Law). It was passed the year following the writing of the essay, but this was not updated for publication. Again, in Lorna Stefanick and Karen Wall's analysis of how technology, security, and consumerism erode the role of citizens and shrink the public sphere, references to news reports from 2012–13 seem stale. Josipa G. Petrunic's study of the integrity of e-voting in the leadership race for the Alberta Liberal Party (ALP) in 2011 is a case study that still...