From hacking to simulation: Periodizing digitally-inspired social theory
Journal article, 2019
Interrogating the question of whether critique can be reimagined through inspiration from the world of digital computing and hacking, this article explores the work of four theorists who converged on that very topic in major texts published just after the turn of the millennium. Structured as a historical literature review, the article compares this body of theory with recent work by the same authors. The literature is, in turn, analyzed through the lens of a theoretical framework that stipulates that in any given “machinic era”, social theory tends to operationalize conceptual models abstracted from dominant technologies. The article makes three claims. First; in the early 2000s, theorists were challenging traditional, hermeneutic modes of critique by replacing motor metaphorics with conceptual models borrowed from computing. Secondly; when reviewing more recent work of these same authors, this project appears to be abandoned. Instead, there is now a shared interest in computer simulations, inasmuch as they act as proxies for comprehending the stakes of the Anthropocene. Thirdly; this suggests that digitally-inspired social theory – construed as a period of thought emerging after the demise of the motor-based machinic era – itself needs to be periodized.