Recursive Publics and the Geeks

Public sphere is an extensively concept elaborated by Jürgen Habermas who states: “We call events and occasions ‘public’ when they are open to all, in contrast to closed or exclusive affairs”. Öffentlichkeit is the original German counterpart of this concept, there is an emphasis of discussion, being visible and open to public, trying to find solutions to societal problems through deliberation. In communication studies, it is believed that this concept has two connotations, one in cultural communication and the other in political. Habermas, who studied the role of media in shaping the social and political life of a society, is believed to ignite debates on the issue. Definition of public sphere has been expanded with the input of other scholars. For instance, communication scholar Gerard Hauserdefinesthis concept as a discursive space where individuals and groups associate in order to discuss matters of mutual interest and, if possible, reach a common judgment about such matters under discussion. From public sphere being a discursive space,Internet regarded as an arena for public discussion, we see a transition to recursive public as stated by Kelty in his bookTwoBits. Geeks, bound together by affinity, in this arena play an important role, and display certain characteristics as described by Kelty who conducted field research in different parts of the world including Boston, Berlin and Bangalore.

The writer confesses that although the starting point of the book was not centered on Free Software, it would not be possible to disregard it if astudy into geeks was intended. In addition, Kelty sees the importance of Free Software in its significance as cultural practice, exemplifying a more general reorientation of power and knowledge. This reorientation is most probably reiterated through his book since it is repeated many timesin Part I. For him, Free Software is one instance of recursive public which is defined extensively on page 3. In a nutshell, recursive public differs from interest groups and corporations as well as churches and other forms of organization as Althusser would call Ideological State Apparatuses. If deemed legitimate, a public sphere is inclusive of the outsiders, those whose voices may have been heard or unheard. The maintenance is ensured by the participants’ practice. It is stated that recursive public is not a replacement of public sphere. In addition, Internet is not considered a recursive public. Yet, it is a unique platform that is important for the recursive public which is an analytic concept that aims to clarify the relation of Free Software and the Internet.

As it has become far easier to access products, publishing, circulation, modification, remixes and other kinds of reuses have become easier as well. However, concerns about validity, ownership and control have arisen. In the process of reorientation of power and knowledge, Kelty calls Free Software as discursive public because he finds the current understanding among scholars as well as in colloquial sense inadequate. For him, self-governing public description is not sufficient. If we return back to “reorientation of power and knowledge” once again, we see that Kelty states two aspects or assets of the recursive public concept, which are availability and modifiability or adaptability. These are the core aspects of digital disciplines.

Having read the first part of the book, I believe that it could be interesting to pursue reading the rest of the work assuming more details will be given regarding the geeks’ activities rather than the pure description of the places they hang out. Observations and participations as Kelty included in his research is not only fun to read, but it also definitely adds more to one’s knowledge when compared with studies that rely only on quantitative data with very little interpretation provided. Here, in Kelty’s book, you have the chance to have a glance at sections of the geeks’ lives. Such a choice in terms of methodology also fulfills curiosity while serving for research purposes as well. In a way, it is like enjoying the best of both worlds.

writtenby A. Dereli as Response Paper V(for COMM 720 Week 7–2016–2017 Academic Year)


Kelty, C. (2008). Two bits (1st ed.). Durham: Duke University Press.

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