Exploit

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Book: The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007


Review

Daniel Gilfillan:

"In their recent co-authored volume The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, Alexander Galloway, associate professor in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University, and Eugene Thacker, associate professor of new media in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, theorize a contemporary understanding of networks which will account for the existence of systems of control within the distributed networks crucial to globalization, and central to an earlier notion of subversive network resistance that sought to disrupt the central power hubs of the sovereign state. They move the discussion beyond the emancipatory promise of the network to light upon the inherent systems of control and power relations that also inhabit it, and allow it to thrive:

It is foolish to fall back on the tired mantra of modern political movements, that distributed networks are liberating and centralized networks are oppressive. This truism of the Left may have been accurate in previous decades, but must today be reconsidered. To have a network, one needs a multiplicity of "nodes." Yet the mere existence of this multiplicity of nodes in no way implied an inherently democratic, ecumenical, or egalitarian order. Quite the opposite.

In the process of debunking such continued idealistic notions of democratic network potential, Galloway and Thacker locate a renewed sense of networked resistance within the potentiality of the exploit, an opening within the system of control which can be taken advantage of by pliant and vigorous nonhuman actors (the swarm, the flood) that will take their cues from the actions of computer viruses, emergent infectious diseases, and bioterrorism. Let's take a closer look at what all this means.

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks traces the historical development of networks and the tensions that sprout up within them beginning with the disciplinary societies of high modernism and its reliance on centralized and institutional power, through the postmodern with its locale of resistance to these centralized power hubs of modernity and the sovereign state situated within the frame of distributed networks, and on to contemporary control societies and their contradictory use of these same distributed networks as sites of control and modulated freedoms. Galloway and Thacker clearly invoke the work of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze in their tracing of these developments, and locate the roots of their own theoretical discussion of networks squarely in the work of Deleuze." (http://rccs.usfca.edu/bookinfo.asp?ReviewID=552&BookID=396)


Discussion

Wikileaks as an exploit

Excerpted from Alison Powell:

“Galloway and Thackeray argue that the network is merely a condition of possibility for the operation of protocol, which can direct control around the network. Using the exploit (if I understand this correctly) is the way of disrupting the management system that is associated with the network. Discovering holes in existing networks can thus be a way of creating change. This is one thing that WikiLeaks has effectively done; by identifying the logic of control underlying both secrets and their media representations. The exploit in this case occurs on several levels at once. First, it facilitates the power of the swarm by hosting leaked information. Second, it takes over the mass media by slowly and dramatically leaking information which is subject to editorial control both by WikiLeaks itself and by mass media journalists. The mass media is still fulfilling its function, but its logic of control has been undermined – perhaps this is something like the way a zombie computer is mobilized by a botnet – or an organism that has suffered a neurological virus (gesturing at my previous attempt to frame WikiLeaks as a parasite).

The WikiLeaks’ “exploit” is thus more effective than it would be were it less well integrated with the mass media’s networked forms of power. Indeed, WikiLeaks is not itself rhizomatic. It is organized, and with a carefully planned interventionist strategy. It has a figurehead who has acted as a focal point for the media while the real work of undermining state control of information carries on. With the complicity of newsrooms, WikiLeaks intervenes in the power structures behind international news.

The exploit, if this is what it is, disrupts the existing logic of networked control and allows the swarm to intervene in the protocols underpinning news production. This is precisely why it has been so effective. It is a hack – in the non-technical sense. It uses the rules of journalism to break journalism.

As I’ve been thinking about this more, I am more taken by how the exploit, or hack, (yes, the noise in the system) has disrupted several things in several different ways. It’s disrupted the pretense of secrecy around government information. It’s exploited the same network of influence that is normally responsible for filtering government scandals and transforming them into headlines. And the DDoS attacks by Anonymous, whether pointless or amplificatory or dramatic also exploited protocol systems established to govern the web. So there is an exploit within the technical governance level as well as an exploit within the media system. Of course, WikiLeaks’ own resilience through its web presence is also the result of an exploitation of the network, and of the reproducibility of digital content.” (http://www.alisonpowell.ca/?p=366)


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