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MoneyLab #6 Conference
Infrastructures of Money
University of Siegen | 7-8 March 2019
The MoneyLab network was founded by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam. MoneyLab considers, critiques and intervenes within our new digital economy. It is a network of artists, activists, and geeks experimenting with forms of financial democratisation in contexts such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, cashless society, and Universal Basic Income. We question persistent beliefs, from Calvinist austerity, growth, and up-scaling, to trustless automated decision-making and freedom on the dark web, from (anarcho-)capitalist dreams of the days of yore to the special sauce of neoliberal entrepreneurialism and its right-wing libertarian counterparts.
The black box of finance has been etched into the imagination of the public and there has rarely been a more generous context to manifest working alternatives for the 99%. Cooperative platforms, decentralised technologies and direct democracy movements indicate profound attempts to rebalance the distribution of wealth and power. As resistance towards poverty, precarity, tax havens, algorithmic speculation, and financial crimes grows, the challenge ahead is to find ways to improve and sustain such financial experiments and to intervene in current debates both inside and outside of our established political systems.
Before arriving in Siegen, MoneyLab has included 5 international conferences and 2 globally distributed readers:
MoneyLab #1 – Coining Alternatives: Amsterdam, 2014
MoneyLab #2 – Economies of Dissent: Amsterdam, 2015
MoneyLab Reader: An Intervention in Digital Economy, 2015
MoneyLab #3 – Failing Better: Amsterdam, 2016
MoneyLab Reader #2: Overcoming the Hype, 2018
MoneyLab #4 – Art, Culture, and Financial Activism: London, 2018
MoneyLab #5 – Matters of Currency: Buffalo, NY, 2018
Thursday, 7 March 2019
Doors open & registration
10:00 - 12:30
Moderation: Geert Lovink
Room: Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Lecture Hall
Anthropology of Money
Sociality, like everything else, can be monetised. Are we in need of a new general monetary theory? Money is as much a question of practice as it is of social infrastructure. Things are bought and sold. Money changes hands. The anthropology of money has a long tradition of exploring these localised practices of exchange through ethnographic inquiries into the relations between money, gift and credit. The quantified data units of platforms and their new digital tokens of value introduce new standards of exchange and challenge anthropologists to account for situated practices and global infrastructures at the same time. How do these changing infrastructures alter monetary practices and our account of value?
|12:00 - 13:00||
Combined with an opening of “The Attention Fair” by Julia Janssen at 12:30, room US-A 234
13:30 - 15:30
Moderation: Patricia de Vries
Room: Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Lecture Hall
Aesthetics of Financial Flows
There is a rich tradition of visualising financial flows going all the way back to the 1920s. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, understanding the often opaque operations of finance suddenly became more urgent. Visualisation practices have since been taken up by a broad array of artists and activists. By following internet cables, dissecting financial architecture, and mapping the timelines of flash crashes, these maps have given us renewed insights into a notoriously complex and incredibly high speed sector. But what do we do after the mapping is over? Are there routes from the visual to the political? How can knowledge of these systems lead to new regulation, local action and increased agency?
|15:30 - 16:00||Coffee|
16:00 - 18:00
Moderation: Sebastian Gießmann
Room: Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Lecture Hall
Finance, Automation and Surveillance
Financial surveillance is still on its way up. Though practices of surveillance date back to the 19th century, there is a new intensity and ubiquity to them today. Think of transnational transparency regimes (Basel III), think of new EU regulations concerning identification in payments technologies, think of credit card transaction leaks that are quickly de-anonymised by researchers. These developments foreground the fact that technologies of accounting, scoring, and subjectivation are at the core of digital and mobile network media now. How can we think about the new distributedness and temporalisation of monetary practices? And how does machine learning transform monetary valuation, algo-trading, fintech platforms, their APIs, and financial decision-making? As regimes that automatically intervene in real-time transactions, such technologies establish, perpetuate, and remediate “orders of worth”. Of course, this desire for automation has been part of every computerisation movement. But we also recognise that money often serves as a medium of heteromation and dis-automation. Financial surveillance is frequently accompanied by infrastructural frictions and calls for accountability. We want to hear about
For the Love of Money: A Braudelian Perspective
Starting with F.B. Steiner’s Notes on Comparative Economics and Paul Bohannan’s Study of Tiv Exchange Spheres, non-modern money has been dissected and classified according to different spheres of exchange, esp. via micro-levels referring to (a.) subsistence or food exchange, (b.) the exchange of goods and artifacts, and (c.) of prestige goods and personal privileges. The terminology has been notoriously unstable, f.i. concerning the question how to describe the acquisition of prestige goods and personal privileges in non-modern societies: Are they sold and bought? Are they shared or enacted on behalf of ancestors and unborn inheritors? Are they given as gifts? Are they „bundled“ temporarily and remain parts of separate privileges? Different observers have found differing descriptions, f.i in describing the formidable paradigm of Northwest Coast Potlatch. And if the tokens exchanged are called „money“, they partake in the indeterminacy of the basic vocabulary, which probably cannot be resolved categorically, because only an ethnographic description may clarify the moods or even „the spirit” of the transactions involved. But at least the trichotomy of Steiner’s and Bohannan’s exchange spheres has been proven to be fruitful for all kinds of societies, and even uncannily corresponds to Braudel’s equally famous trias of macroscopic exchange spheres: (a.) subsistence, (b.) markets, and (c.) capitalism and the anti-market.
What’s the motor of long-distance entanglements and intercontinental trade since the Bronze Age? The exchange between local staples and exotic artifacts, the translations of subsistence, artifacts and the privileges of prestige goods. The market never ruled the lowest and the highest ends of economic activities, neither the sharing of food nor the prestige of capital-building, warfare and kingship. Thus, if we translate the „micro“-aspects of exchange spheres and the „macro“-layering of Braudel’s economic levels, the pre-history of capitalism and capital-hoarding can be organized around a cluster of perennial topics, and they extend all the way from the Bronze Age to the end of „Archaic Globalization“ (as defined by C.A. Bayly) in the long 19th century. Modern financial capitalism and the creative destruction of its financial products appear as the logical sequence of the long interplay and conflict between markets and anti-markets, and we may expect current technological controversies about money technologiess about money technologies to be impregnated by the archaic conflict and class-struggle of markets and anti-markets, too. The turbulence around cryptocurrencies will be no exception.
New Governmental Money. From Rationing Cupons to Refugee Credit
Recent years have seen a remarkable renaissance of the rationing coupon. It was Mary Douglas who once compared these media of redistribution to natural currencies. She did not see them as a hallmark of socialist (poor) planning, but as important means of sustenance of the social fabric in times of scarcity. In fact, they nourished the better part of Europe during the war economies of the 20th century. In 1948 they helped to build the state of Israel. After droughts and tsunamis, in times of inflation and failed speculation rationing devices have been utilized worldwide by nations, intergovernmental agencies or nongovernmental organizations.
This talk will outline the present FinTech solutions of the World Food Programme, one of the largest and most innovative purveyors of basic needs. It uses biometric identification (IrisScan), smart cards and a global data cloud in Geneva, and is on the forefront of monetary development for the unbanked. It will be argued that by establishing a link between ID and medium of exchange a new brand of governmental money emerges.
Society after Money: A project
The contribution is based on the project “Society after Money – Beginning of a Dialogue” funded by the VW-Foundation, which is now succeeded by a bigger project called “Society after Money – A Simulation”. Its basic assumption is that the widespread distribution of digi- tal technologies on the one hand comes into conflict with capitalist relations of production (crisis of labour and crisis of the commodity-form), but on the other opens up possible new roads to go – perhaps beyond capitalism. In the exposé for the MoneyLab we can read: „Moving beyond finance, some affordances of blockchain applications allow for novel forms of exchange and data practices. Do we see the beginnings of new models for exchange and valuation that might replace the crumbling ad-based model of monetization?“ It seems that ‚exchange‘ and ‚valuation‘ are uncritically presupposed as eternal, naturalized forms of economy. That is highly problematic given the long history of critique of exchange-between- separated-producers and therefore value already in Marx and of course neo-marxian theory (‚critique of value’), but also in anthropology (David Graeber) and recent commons studies (following Elinor Ostrom, Nobelprize for economics 2009)
In the talk, the main results of the project will be presented. Its main question – central in the second phase of the project – is, if under the conditions of recent digital infrastructures some or most of the problems, which prevented commoning to become a serious economic alternative on more than local scales, can be solved. Commons and commoning are, as shown by Elinor Ostrom, feasible in principle and can operate as economic structures beyond the state and the market. But their expansion (‘up-scaling’) from local to regional to even global levels might be blocked by the same calculative (Mises) and informational (Hayek) problems that also affect diverse other forms of communicatively and cooperatively organized (‘planned’) economies. The talk will discuss these problems and their genealogy – it is worth reminding that Lange remarked long ago: “The market process with its cumbersome tatonnements appears old-fashioned. Indeed, it may be considered as a computing device of the pre-electronic age.” So one question is, if and how the market, exchange and valuation and therefore money can or will be transformed or overcome by new digital infrastructures.
Akseli Virtanen (Economic Space Agency)::
For the Love of Money: A Braudelian Perspective
How can cryptographically enabled distributed economic-organizational systems – aka economic spaces – allow for the building of a radically different political economy and modes of collective individuation? The capitalist profit extracting value calculus and its implied take on “rationality” is a design environment that is geared toward a certain kind of optimal behavior. It is a protocol for the kind of people and sociality it requires to function, seeking, nudging, sifting up and training players toward the required and desired (game theoretic, axiomatized expected utility seeking) competencies – the programmatic abstraction called homo oeconomicus. Economic agencies and DAO’s of different natures are designed to think like corporations and compete in the next level of economic game coing ahead. Without techno-social devices and infrastructures that operate at the protocol level for reshaping the economic gamespace toward commons-oriented purposes, we are left without politics, incapable of addressing and intervening efficiently in the processes redefining our rapidly evolving and fragmenting future.
Speculative Algorithmic Trading
Since its foundation as an art collective, RYBN has conducted several long term extra-disciplinary investigations on the hybriditization of economics with cybernetics. From the conception of a low frequency trading automaton (ADM8, 2011) to the esoteric history of algorithmic trading (The Algorithmic Trading Freakshow, 2012), from the dissection of the most opaque offshore schemes (The Great Offshore, 2018) to the minutious reconstitution of the infamous 2010 Flashcrash (Flashcrash Sonification, 2011), from the extremeisation of labor division that comes with the development of Artificial Artificial Intelligence (AAI Chess, 2018) to the economic Newspeak (Atelier de décontamination sémantique, ongoing), the various projects conducted by the collective try to capture the new spirit of Capitalism at the era of algorithmic governmentality. For Moneylab, RYBN will introduce some of the uncanny prototypes developped for their recent collaborative plateform ADMXI (2015), and will unfold the methodology that lies at its core. RYBN is an extradisciplinary art collective, founded in 1999, and based in Paris.e, ongoing, the various projects conducted by the collective try to capture the new spirit of Capitalism at the era of algorithmic governmentality. For Moneylab, RYBN will introduce some of the uncanny prototypes developped for their recent collaborative plateform ADMXI (2015), and will unfold the methodology that lies at its core. RYBN is an extradisciplinary art collective, founded in 1999, and based in Paris.
Chris Anderson, Angeles Briones, Michele Mauri::
Fog of Finance? Visualising Offshore and the Aesthetics of Uncertainty
What can be learned from data practices to render offshore financial flows visible and actionable for advocacy, policy and public debate? How can data visualisations be used to narrate the scale and dynamics of offshore financial activity? How can they convey uncertainty without insinuating sublime unfathomability? How might the communication of what we know and what we don’t know about offshore finance both draw on, complement and modify existing visual cultures, practices and aesthetics of uncertainty? What might critical or inventive data practices for visualising offshore finance look like?
This paper explores the making of an Atlas of Offshore FDI as a collaboration between the Tax Justice Network, a network of researchers and research centres and the Public Data Lab. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is supposed to reflect bricks-and-mortar investments and “real” acquisitions by multinational corporations, and is often considered to be the backbone of globalization (Haberly & Wójcik, 2015). However, roughly two thirds of total global FDI is either from or in jurisdictions widely used as domiciles for shell companies and corporate inversions – most often for purposes of tax avoidance. Despite international action to address offshore tax avoidance and financial secrecy, there is still no publicly available dataset that allows for the FDI entering countries via particular offshore jurisdictions to be traced back to its ultimate origin. The Atlas of Offshore FDI aims to explore the scale and significance of this offshore activity, as well as to shed new light onto its contents, by creating the first publicly available database of global offshore investment. The project explores combination and modification of visual practices for making sense of transnational economic activity and financial flows, as well as visual practices for representing uncertainty. While public data practices often emphasise and value the production of certainty, this project considers what data projects may learn from diverse cultures for visually representing, managing and articulating uncertainty, including in physics (electron clouds), meteorology (weather conditions), statistics (confidence margins) and art history (landscape painting). As well as reflecting on the prospects of critical data practice around financial flows, the paper situates the atlas project against broader debates around the knowability, unknowability and governability of transnational economic activity and the infrastructural configurations of relations between markets, states and citizens. [based on joint work with Jonathan Gray, Daniel Haberly, Tommaso Venturini]
Vienne Chan, Giulia dal Maso:
Inspirations from the Periphery: A Speculative Counter-Approach to Carry-trade Activityp>
Our intervention looks at Croatia and Italy to grasp potential socio-economic possibilities arising from the EU periphery. 10years after the financial crisis, socio-economic conditions continued to be exacerbated, and austerity has favoured mass unemployment and increasing indebtedness. Foreign banks have been exploiting the periphery’s high home-ownership model, with a high rate of mortgages being signed. These transactions fuelled banks’ carry trade activity, whereby banks wrote FX denominated mortgages to profit from interest rate differentials. Risk was effectively externalised to households. We ask if households’ inclination to risk in order to secure the future can open up new ways of structuring money. Finance currently functions from unknowability and then benefits from the ordering of probabilistic situations. Can we find other ways to leverage the unknown future and turn a pervasive condition of economic uncertainty towards more socially positive trajectories? In envisioning a counter-method to the current banking system’s effects, a key issue is the scale at which banks operate. In a speculative move, we look at housing in an attempt to address the questions of scale and carry trade as an activity profiting from households.
Ownership Experiment – Partial Art Auction
C-2 is an digital art collective based on the Ethereum network. C-2 invites their audience to re-negotiate the concept of ownership. During MoneyLab we will hold an auction selling at most 49% of each art piece.
Traditionally ownership is the state or fact of exclusive rights and control over property, which may be an object, land/real estate or intellectual property. Through tokenization ownership can be shared by a group. Similar to stock, token holders can hold a share in a company or co-own a plot of land. However, people seem to get uneasy when being confronted with the idea of partially owning a piece of art. Who wants to have the Mona Lisa’s nose if you have to share the rest? To challenge the idea of ownership and to introduce the concept of partial ownership we will hold an auction during MoneyLab. In the auction we will partially sell art works. Conference visitors can become self made art collectors for little money by acquiring tokens, representing partial ownership in an artwork. We will tokenize up to three art works (depending on time) and sell up to 49% of ownership rights in each work. In return art collectors will receive C-2 Tokens. To fund the partial purchase we will ask for test Ether, a form of fake Ether or small sums in EUR which will be later on donated. Once the art works are sold we want to explore together with our new art collectors the different problems which are arising when co-owning art. For example, who will take the work of art home first and how will it rotate from home to home?
On the Datafication of Money: How the Payment Card Became a Technology of Consumer Surveillance
Modern payment cards encompass a bewildering array of consumer technologies, from credit and debit cards to pre-paid and loyalty cards. But what unites all of these financial media is their connection to recordkeeping systems. Each swipe sends data hurtling through invisible infrastructures to verify accounts, record purchase details, exchange funds, and update balances. With payment cards, banks and merchants have been able to amass vast archives of transactional data. This information is a valuable asset in itself. It can be used for in-house data analytics programs or sold as marketing intelligence to third parties. This paper examines the development of payment cards from the late nineteenth century to present, drawing attention to their fundamental relationship to identification, recordkeeping, and data aggregation practices. The history of payment cards, I argue, is not just a history of financial innovation and computing; it is also a history of consumer surveillance.p>
Cashing Out and Keeping Account: A Politics of Transactional Dataveillance
Money talks. Many of the new channels and infrastructures for payments, such as magnetic cards and their associated standards, mobile phones, the wired Internet, social media platforms, and RFID technologies, record detailed transactional data alongside a range of other identifying data. As a result, payments intermediaries now have extremely detailed records of the many ways that money circulates, is transferred and is spent. These records underpin new business models based on market segmentation, advertising, logistics and risk analysis. More significantly, they also form the basis for new forms of social segmentation, scoring and discrimination.
But alongside these practices, a transactional politics is surfacing that responds to money’s status as a surveillant technology. We can see these practices in cryptocurrencies and alternative currencies, in online obfuscation techniques, in social movements that push for the maintenance of cash, in money burning, speculative design fictions and in calls for greater transparency and accountability in online payments systems. Giving a brief overview of this space – the key platform economies and business models, this paper surfaces this transactional politics and the growing coherence of a set of practices – such as cashing in, obfuscation, mapping and ‘accounting’, that emerge in response to transactional dataveillance.
Cognition, Calculation and Collectivity in Algorithmic Capitalismp>
In my talk I want to briefly consider lessons from high-frequency trading for an understanding of how algorithmic finance distributes cognition, reduces it to calculation, and thereby limits collectivity. In high-frequency trading we neither encounter a „capitalist brain“ nor a „mass intellectuality“, but specific automatisms of capital reproduced in human and machine ecologies. With irony we can note how competition between individual capitals produces absurd media technological and cognitive arms races which limit the socialization of capital and its integration also via other media technologies. With hope we can speculate on how thinking through the position of the algorithmic trader and their relation to cognitive assemblages can help in imagining different futures for collective labour.< p>
Posthuman Financial Markets: The Rise of Algorithms in Finance
Algorithms have a vastly increased presence in financial markets, and they are also increasingly the understructure of other industries. In the past, financial traders saw algorithms as their “tools” and trading was “high human touch.” But algorithms have evolved: The first generation of algorithms learned from humans, the second from theories – this is when algorithms moved beyond imitating experienced traders. The third generation is about to become reflexive – algorithms now learn to use data and “read” news, and make their own trading decisions. This talk examines this development and asks what a posthuman financial market in which human traders and algorithms are both “actors” and “players” may look like, what the differences are between the two types of subjectivities involved, and what engagements and attractions between them develop. It draws an ongoing fieldwork on the trading floors of big banks which algorithms co-inhabit.< p>
Infrastructures For Future Ecosystems
Commoncoin, Faircoin and Bank of the Commons: these three projects could represent a set of socio-political alternatives based on cooperation and mutual aid. I’ll draw out the development of these projects from the perspective of somebody situated within the community of Macao, center for art and research. They work on the local and micro-political levels and at the same time integrate with the international and global movement. They empower autonomous ecosystems, and at the same time do not give up the struggle for a welfare state and public services. They use participatory democracy and alternative cooperative platforms in order to attack the superpowers of capitalistic financial accumulation. This raises the central issue: How can we create human organizations that are able to discuss and design their machine, and how can the machine, the infrastructure of the society, become a space for empowering human relations, instead of generating alienation, exploitation, and violence.
Martín Nadal & César Andaluz:
Critical Mining: Blockchain and Bitcoin in Contemporary Art
The bitcoin was originally conceived as an electronic decentralized system for capital transactions. Each node (user) has the same opportunities to get a reward when validating a collection of transactions (block). In the last years, this system has triggered a competitive struggle in which computing power is the most important variable for earning bitcoins. This involves the use of large computers farms spending physical and environmental resources, a struggle that benefits only the owner of the most powerful and efficient technology. This keynote examines different examples of artworks based on blockchain technology, in particularly how artistic practices are able to explore critically bitcoin mining processes. The objective is to connect aesthetic experiences, creative practices and artistic products analyzing four different spheres; technical, ideological, ecological, and economical.p>
Object-oriented scarcity as a technology of governmentality
Blockchains, or Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), aim at proving the existence of single items within a chronological regime. In the context of bitcoin this was the elephant in the room and mostly overlooked. More recently different kinds of R&D departments – from Wal Mart to the US-Army provided insights into their DLT research. Their common trajectory shows that the time of ubiquitous copying of digital objects might soon be over. This so far most powerful difference between digital and physical objects is about to be redefined with DLTs in connection with the so called Internet of Things. At the same time our common economical typing between digital and physical objects is about to vanish, too, when physical objects are being integrated into a digital regime via the IoT. From the perspective of a commodity economy both are now parametrically governable in their use. This would turn out to be the synthesis of the so called sharing economy that aims at a commodification of all human practice independent from the question of ownership. In the talk, I present the basic axioms of an analytics of power concerning object-oriented technologies of government, which announce an environmentally administered World („verwaltete Welt“). My main argument is that in addition to powers of subjectivation we now witness the emergence of technical modalities of objectivation as a distinct denomination for this environmental regime of government.< p>
Sarah Friend, Saraswathi Subbaraman (Circles):
CirclesUBI: towards a community-owned basic income
Is it possible to create a community owned currency that can exist both globally and locally without relying on the sovereignty of nation-states? And if it were, how would you build it? Circles is a cooperative project working at the intersection of cryptocurrency and UBI, trying to rethink money as a commons and as means to commoning. We are developing a p2p universal basic income using the Ethereum blockchain, and bootstrapping it with a Cafe that accepts our currency – currently gearing up for a research pilot in Berlin in 2019. We hope to shed light on the overall possibilities of alternative currencies, as well as the limitations of working within the blockchain space, given its political economy.
The Feel of the Infrastructure:
Engineering New Economic Spaces. By European Space Agency
ECSA is discovering and articulating 1. a new distributed value form: a social, organizational, relational value form that leverages the ability to act together; 2. a new value calculus, i.e., modes of measurement embracing different ethical starting points, including aesthetic and qualitative evaluations of what is thought ‘valuable’. It is this relationality and sociality of value – the way we sense and move with one another and leverage the ability to act together – that the old economic grammar does not understand, and for the expression of which Economic Space Agency has created its cyber-social stack (see here). To activate the ECSA stack, we have designed a new kind of collective financial instrument, the ECSA crypto-token, a wager of collective praxis that opens up agency into the new economic space. We call our offer the “Big Put” as it allows investors to buy the right to off-load their exposure to the capitalist calculation of value and gain exposure instead to the new value forms.
The workshop session will be composed of 4 to-the-point introductory presentations designed to share our concrete progress but also questions, doubts and challenges we face while developing these new economic-organizational value forms or “networks with consequences”.
Akseli Virtanen: What backs the value of the ECSA token? Notes on the Big Put
Joel Mason: Protocols for Self-Defense
Jonathan Beller: Demands of the Derivative Condition: Decentralized, De-colonial Financial Protocols
Erik Bordeleau: Crypto-finance, Modes of Exposure and the Derivative Community
BitCoin of Things (BoT).
Theory and practice Workshop. By Martín Nadal & César Escudero Andaluz
This is a Workshop addressed to those who have concerns with Media Art, Digital culture, Critical Economy, Electronics and Internet of Things (IoT). Theoretically, it introduces concepts, examples, art-works and books in order to understand Bitcoin and Blockchain world. Practically proposes to work with a basic electronic circuit, welding and microcontrollers building a playful bitcoin miner. The objective is to transform daily life objects (E.g. Maracas, hammers or salt shakers) into Bitcoin miners able to connect to the blockchain, calculating a hash to trying to get a reward of 12.5 Bitcoins.
Forgotten, Failed, Fictional: Research Methods for Fintech.
By Rachel O’Dwyer
When apps like Venmo and WePay have created a social network for payments, money is communications. And when Tweets, SMS messages, FitBit units and online data all act as payment, communication is also money. These new forms of money have extended the information and communication (ICT) platform into a space called ‘FinTech’, transforming the social and communicative aspects of what we think of as money, transacting and payment. We need a better understanding of how ICT platforms are transforming what money is and does. And to get to that understanding, we need to thing about the kinds of methodologies, tools and frameworks that we using to ask questions and to find things out. This workshop aims to collaboratively map the strategies we as researchers from diverse spaces such as the social sciences, anthropology, media art, politics, business and computer science, are using to engage in the FinTech space, to identify shared strategies and difficulties and formalise what it is we’re doing. We will collectively trace out some key areas including, the adaptation and use of existing digital research methods, transdisciplinary industry research and the use of more experimental techniques from art, design and science and technology studies including the exploration of fictions, failures and media archaeologies. Using brainstorming and fishbowl methods, we will also talk about some of the limitations of these techniques in terms of access, truth and the limits of criticality.
Designerly Banking and The Securitization of Experience
What happens to (retail) banking under accelerating conditions of automation? When digital infrastructures and their softwares handle the moving of money, opening of accounts, credit card applications, customer service… the full spectrum of banking practices? When the overheads of brick and mortar (i.e. old infrastructure) become too heavy? Less a war on cash than a war on buildings, and labour.
What happens to banking when apps dominate? When internet- or ‘app banking’ are not an additional ‘channel’, but the only via option? This presentation reflects on the rise of digital-only challenger banks in the UK. As apps, these challenger bank offerings are developed within specific designerly ways of knowing and doing, such that banking is recast as a series of (user) experiences. Although this experience paradigm (UX, CX, just X) is hardly novel, its continued deployment across new domains of the social is worthy of attention. This presentation comes to focus on what is perhaps the most important ‘face-to-face’ encounter of branch banking, the moment of identity verification: KYC or Know Your Customer. How do apps handle security? Conversely, how is security handled through apps? [based on joint work with Michael Dieter]
Tom McDonald, Li Dan:
“Pulling sheep’s wool”: Digital Money, Online Thriftiness and Organizational Misbehaviour in a Chinese Factory
This paper draws on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a factory in southwest China to describe the nature and significance of a group of activities that are colloquially described as “pulling sheep’s wool”. This expression, which has in recent years become a popular phrase in the nation’s rich repertoire of internet slang, refers to a wide-ranging group of thrift-oriented practices – frequently conducted through novel online infrastructures such as digital shopping and payment platforms – and directed toward reaping some kind of reward, ideally involving the minimal effort possible. This paper explores the social significance of these widespread and popular online thrift activities, showing how these practices are reshaping the rhythms and structures of everyday factory life by bringing into sharp focus competing demands between online and offline, work and leisure and challenging the distinctions between these domains. We argue that online thrift-oriented practices provide a novel perspective from which to understand workers’ attitudes to labour and economic relations as they occur in the factory environment. “Pulling sheep’s wool” constitutes more than simply a money-saving activity engaged in by financially precarious semi-skilled workers. We draw attention to how these economic practices often run counter to rational economic logics. In so doing, we aim to foreground how worker’s online thrift activities have established themselves as an important avenue for workers to enact forms of “organizational misbehaviour” (Ackroyd & Thompson, 1999, 2015) that pose an implicit challenge to the orthodoxies of power and property that dominate the factory floor.
Mundane Valuation: Co-Creating Objects, Subjects and Media in Social Media
Large parts of current online culture revolve around practices of valuation – through listing favorite movies, liking a tweet, upvoting an image on reddit, or merely by buying a book and thereby contributing to its rise in Amazon’s rankings. It is almost impossible not to attribute positive or negative value to objects on social media, thereby defining them in the processes of interaction and communication. Most current research concerning valuation on social media platforms however, conceptualizes these collective negotiations of value largely as techniques of social distinction in a Bourdieusian sense, as “boundary-policing” (Milner 2016: 36) or contributing to the construction of social roles, groups, and identities. We criticize this bias in three steps. First, we argue that a great deal of research has been conducted on how social media platforms co-constitute the construction of subjects, but much less attention has been given to how social media platforms and their users construct objects. Second, by using several empirical examples, we outline how “vernacular criticism” (Literat/van den Berg 2019) contributes to the construction of objects online. Third, drawing on our own ethnographic research on Twitter in Germany, we demonstrate how media of valuation become themselves objects of valuation: likes, retweets and followers can themselves become highly valuable objects and thereby demonstrate the mutual production of subjects, objects and media online. [based on joint work with Cornelius Schubert]
Influencers and the Commodification of Everyday Life: Brief Histories from Blogshops, Instagram, and tumblr
Looking closely at online advertorials, personal endorsements, and knock-off material cultures as facilitated by social media Influencers, in this talk I present three brief histories on how young people in Southeast Asia and beyond have monetised blogs, Instagram, and Tumblr. Drawing on in-depth anthropological fieldwork from the mid-2000s, the talk focuses on the platform architectures that have enabled commercial activity, cultures of interpersonal exchange and self-branding among various subcultures, and the resultant implications on the brick-and-mortar shopping industry. The talk closes with a review of recent issues pertaining to influencer commerce in the domains of economics, legality, and socio-cultural affairs, and reflects on the longterm impact when younger cohorts of Influencers grow up online through the commodification of everyday life.
Unteres Schloss 1