Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Ned" Snowden: Hedge-Levellers, Frame-Breakers and Whistleblowers

In a comment a couple of weeks ago at Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog, Warren Lunsford called Edward Snowden a "Luddite":
In this Snowden disclosures it appears we are finding standard Marketing Science applied to National Security and Federal Criminal Investigations of Enemies of our County. I would think Snowden is a Luddite. Just as a group of early 19th century English workmen destroyed laborsaving machinery as a protest, we find Snowden attempting the same activity against the application of Modern Technology for National Security.
Lunsford was right but for the wrong reasons. There is indeed an important parallel between Snowden's actions and the frame-breaking of the Luddites (as well as the hedge-levelling of the commoners resisting enclosure). But Lunsford got his chronology backward.

The enclosures of the commons and the mechanization of industry were usurpations that disrupted long-established regimes of property and legality. The real innovation here was the criminalization of protest against actions that previously would themselves have been regarded as violations of acknowledged rights.
The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.
Nicholas Blomley (2007) wrote about "the consequential and often contradictory role of material objects in producing enclosure" emphasizing "the important work that hedges did, physically, symbolically and legally, in the dispossession of the commoner." I would argue, as did Marx, of course, that machinery performs a similar function of physical, symbolic and legal dispossession of labor power from the worker as does information technology dispossess citizens of their privacy.

This is not to say that machines or IT, any more than hedges, are culpable for the dispossession. That would be to reduce them to their physical aspect alone. Rather it is the interaction of this physical aspect with its symbolic and legal interpretations that resulted and results in dispossession.

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