CoDI Show: Turn to the Darknet

Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Dipsphotography, CC0

In this blog post, Andreas Zaunseder, teases out how the Darknet has stimulated his teaching, and has helped him scrutinise the teaching environment. He considers why a resistant communitarian-anarchist structure may be a guide to a more humanist and egalitarian future for teaching and the university as a whole…

Environments in which an actor is embedded – be it a member of teaching staff or a user of the world wide web – may change in ways that raise profound concerns about detrimental consequences for the activities and actors. Higher Education and the World Wide Web serve as two pertinent examples. A great number of critical observations illustrate the importance of deeply worrying developments in both environments.

Capitalist economic interests in combination with the political powers of the state authorities have arguably led to a significant infringement of online privacy. A wealth of examples point to the collection, harvesting, analysing, measuring, selling, and use of online user data by private companies – often with the justification of enhancing performance and user experience. No wonder we receive customised ads on web pages. On the other side, particularly since 9/11, putatively liberal states (USA, UK, member states of the EU) have increased surveillance, control, and analysis of online activity and gained unaccountable powers to interfere under the pretext of security. The so called “Darknet” has proven a space not only for grass-roots resistance to this infringement of privacy and commercialisation of the environment, but also for envisioning a real alternative in the form of a structure that protects actors as well as building and nurturing a narrative and a lived experience of an alternative to the hegemonic world wide web.

Universities in the UK have had disastrous encounters with similar “forces”: governments have stripped them of funding and forced them to implement surveillance measures (e.g. Prevent) – the latter under the pretext of security. Universities are being transformed into profit and growth driven corporations whereby economic interests shape the teaching environment within the university. Turning students into customers and teachers into service providers, their primary focus on financial investments are supposed to enhance performance and “student experience”. At the same time, the competition for jobs, fetishisation of marks, marketable teaching and research performance are telling indicators of the adoption and integration of capitalist market logics.

By contrast, the Darknet essentially provides a decentralised and non-hierarchical framework for anonymous interactions of many kinds. Beyond the more widely known cryptomarkets, it provides fruitful spaces for collaboration amongst activists and harbours communities that establish their own model of governance that often ensure a high level of accountability – which is an essential aspect of real democracy. People co-create knowledge, provide support, share experiences, challenge hegemonic and / or established conceptions and values without facing imposed, unquestionable, and rigid censorship.

I believe many characteristics of the Darknet framework could be of benefit to the teaching environment. Just as many users of the internet are concerned about the development of the wider online environment and consequently resort to the Darknet, I think that it is also time for teachers and students to democratically co-create an alternative teaching environment. The Darknet is the analogical epitome for much needed rethinking of higher education, the structure and role of universities, power structures (asymmetries), approaches to teaching and determining its content. Such an environment could encourage us to rethink, develop, and to PRACTISE real alternatives.

The pre-figurative function of the occupation of George Square lecture theatre in spring 2018 is a perfect example. The democratic teaching and learning environment that emerged as a result became a platform for a variety of student and staff run teach-outs and –ins. Quite striking was also the disinterest in measuring performance and participation by marks. The occupation gave birth to the Sociology course The Future of Our University: an Interdisciplinary Experiment in Cooperative Learning which will run in 2018/19, and nurtured the initiative that launched the Equality Collective in the School of Social and Political Science. In my experience, the Darknet provides transferrable inspiration for teaching.

Andreas’ will be performing his show Turn to the Darknet at the New Town Theatre on August 12 @ 8:10 pm – 9:10 pm You can read more, and buy tickets, here.

Andreas Zaunseder

Andreas is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at the University of Aberdeen. For several years he has worked as tutor and senior tutor in Sociology and Sustainable Development as well as research assistant in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Andreas is co-founder of the interdisciplinary research network “World of Work” which spans several universities across the UK. He currently serves as editor at H-Citizenship. His doctoral research investigates the political culture of workers’ co-operatives in Scotland. He has been involved as co-investigator in research projects on cryptomarkets (in the Darknet) and the grassroots politics of alternative gatherings and festivals.

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