Geert Lovink on Mon, 24 Dec 2007 15:05:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Interview with Caroline Nevejan

The Politics of Presence Research
Interview with Caroline Nevejan
By Geert Lovink

The Dutch cultural producer Caroline Nevejan is known for her work at
the Amsterdam pop temple Paradiso, as a co-founder of the Waag centre
for new media culture and in her manager role at HvA, the university
for professional education. Currently she is a member of the Dutch
Council for Culture and the Arts, which advises the Minister of
Culture. She was about to leave the Hogeschool van Amsterdam in 2004,
intended to write her PhD, when I arrived there. The dissertation
is ready now. In April 2007 Caroline Nevejan got her degree at the
University of Amsterdam. The title is Presence and the Design of
Trust and can be freely downloaded at The
interview below was done to reflect on her PhD research.

I must have ran into Caroline around 1980, during the turbulent riot
days of the Amsterdam squatters movement. Late 1981 we were both part
of the group that kicked off the bluf! weekly, bringing together
undogmatic factions within the new social movements of the time. For
a few months we were both in the editorial team. A few years later
Caroline reappeared as the events producer of Paradiso. It was there,
in August 1989, that we worked together during The Galactic Hacker
Party, Amsterdam?s first computer hacker?s convention. I was there in
my capacity of ?illegal scientist?, as a member of the Adilkno group
and Mediamatic editor, writing reports and manifestos. A year later
I participated again in an event of a similar visionary magnitude,
the Seropositive Ball, which connected HIV-AIDS activists on a global
level. Out of these grew the first Next Five Minutes ?tactical media?
festival in January 1993.

Key element of these events was the spatial arrangement of the
interaction between the Paradiso audience and people elsewhere.
In conjunction with De Balie, the cultural centre next door, an
Amsterdam style was developed in which a lot of emphasis was put to
create an ?aesthetics of public debating?. Discussion was more than a
disagreement between key actors. It had theatrical elements in which
the producer took up the role of director. It was in this context
that new communication technology such as telephone, fax, video
conferencing, bulletin board systems and the Internet started to play
a role. Why limit a dialogue to those who were able to gather in a
particular time and space when you can also involve others remotely?

?Presence and the Design of Trust? is certainly an innovative and
non-conventional piece of research. Let?s call it singular. Caroline
decided to take both The Galactic Hacker Party and Seropositive Ball
as her case studies and came up with valuable insights that contribute
to the yet unwritten history of Amsterdam?s new media culture. The
central dynamic she studied is the one between natural and mediated
presence. Technology has altered our sense of presence. The question
that Caroline Nevejan poses is how networked events can produce
?thinking actors? that play a role in building up ?crucial networks?.
Overcoming the usual binaries between real and virtual is one, but how
can we build ?communities of practice? that really make a difference,
beyond techno-fetishism and political dogmatism? How can we overcome
the tendency to produce noise and tension on the line and develop a
sense what ?vital information? is?

GL: You have a broad, conceptual understanding of ?design?. Where does
this idea come from? People know Dutch design and architecture, but
that?s perhaps not what you refer to. Design, in your understanding,
seems to be a procedure, a set of rules, not unlike project
management, which is a practice, one that is not by definition related
to aesthetics.

CN: Coming from Holland, the ?man-made? land where everything is
designed and which has a remarkable design tradition of which the
modern aesthetics have influenced worldwide perception of design,
has definitely influenced my perception. I know the environment is
?made?, I know aesthetics matter, I know different designs operate at
different scales and need different approaches to resources, project
management, distribution and protection. My personal understanding
of design is also deeply influenced by social movements, by critical
science and by the specific Amsterdam evolving digital culture at
the end of the 1980?s and early nineties, which was a remarkable
inspirational environment to be part of.

It was not till I entered into the Doors of Perception community
that I started to refer to my own practices in terms of design.
In the Doors of Perception large global network people have been
discussing and presenting best and worst practices in the developing
networked society since 1993: scientists, engineers, artists,
graphical designers, interaction designers, philosophers, businessman,
inventors, computer wizards and others coming from art, grass root
organizations as well as from small companies and large multinational
corporations. All were concerned to find good and profitable ways to
proceed in this unknown and fast changing landscape. Already in the
mid nineties the discourse in this conference changed and started
to imply that designing ?stuff? implied designing behavior and
experiences of others. It became apparent from practices in business
as well as social organizations that design is a way of looking at
problems and solving them.

In the fast changing landscape design methodologies appeared to
be capable of dealing with a large variety of input in a fast
output process. People realized that such an approach could be very
useful, also outside of the classical design realms. The evolving
networked and information society and the elaborate digitalization
of many processes had a huge impact on basic structures of many
organizations and businesses. They needed the skills from the design
world to be able to deal with the complexities they were facing. In
my view, today, design has become a paradigm in itself. Because it
emphasizes the ?making of things? people from different disciplines
can contribute and collaborate. The ?thing? to be designed brings
perspective to the collaboration. In design a variety of languages and
media is used (writing, drawing, sketching, photo?s and film etc.)
to make mock ups, demo?s, storyboards, scheme?s etc, and the use of
such ?boundary objects? facilitates the conversation between people
who usually have a hard time understanding each other. Nevertheless I
argue that I think that ?design as research? or ?deep design? as Peter
Lunenfeld formulated it, has not yet developed the rigor and knowledge
base it needs to be able to deal with the complex issues it faces.

I propose to distinguish between 2D design for space (space) and 3D
design for function (space and action), 4D design for dramaturgy
(space, time and action) and 5D design for orchestration (space, time,
action, relations between people). When focusing on dimensions, each
of these kinds of design has its own traditions that it can build on.
In the different arts and sciences basic issues around the structure
of time and space, actions and relations between people have been
studied and experiences have been gathered that can be used.

Originally ?design? referred to 2D design for space as in layout and
to 3D design for function (space and action) for creating objects and
architectures of all kinds. This design is inspired by the classical
?design is art? tradition. 4D design for dramaturgy (space, time and
action) designs sequences of action. It is used to create events,
educational modules, computer applications or the creation of games.
This 4D design can build upon the rich traditions of theatre, dance,
music, film, architecture and certain sports. Over the last 10
years we have seen the rise of 5D design for the orchestration of
processes (space, time, action and the relation between people). One
is today much more aware how infrastructures, frameworks and platforms
influence how people interact. Designing user platforms, intranets
and communities online have led to using design methodologies for
designing new business processes, learning ecologies and human
communities. Sometimes one can wonder whether to call this design.
I do when design methodologies are used to tackle complexities.
Traditions to look into are the arts in which improvisation and
synchronization between the artists plays a role of significance as
well as into the social and organizational sciences. So, yes, I guess
I do have a conceptual understanding of design. I do argue, though,
that aesthetics matter.

GL: How did you encounter the concept of ?trust?? Isn?t it a concept
of business consultants who saw that their clients had a security
problem with their computer networks? How did this concept get
introduced in cultural theory and design?

CN: The moment I was introduced to the existence of Internet
immediately raised the issue of trust. In the 1980?s networks like
Peacenet and Greennet provided us with news, which could travel beyond
the censorship rules from countries like South Africa. So the Internet
provided ways to get around not to be trusted formal news reports and
it generated ?trust? because the witnesses themselves could speak
up and testify unedited. When I started to make shows in Paradiso
I collaborated with hackers and through them I found out how the
technology itself is easily manipulated, how any code can be broken
and how the business propaganda of delivering ?safe? environments was
(and is) a fairy tale. At the time I could not have formulated it in
these terms, but in hindsight I can see that we were dealing with
multidimensional designs and were struggling how all these related and
contextualized each other and in this process trust appeared to be
fundamental to be able to understand what was happening.

Trust is a fuzzy concept and at the same time it is crucial in any
interaction. Everyone who makes things that other people use faces
issues of trust. In collaborations, agreements and contracts, in
delivering and using services, as well as in every street, issues
like safety, liability, believability and trustworthiness profoundly
influence the dynamics of interaction. Even though little has been
written about ?trust? as such in the design world, since people
realize that they are modeling behavior of others, trust surfaces as
an issue.

The possibility of using multiple identities on the Internet has made
more and more people aware about for example the basic trust people
exchange when they meet. I find the design of trust most complex
in 5D designs. These often deal with power relationships in which
the establishment of trust can easily be misused. I do not think
such misuse only happens in business, I have seen it in many places.
Especially when larger groups of people start to express themselves
and start to take responsibility, as is facilitated by developments
like the Internet, the old fashioned forms of control is not good
enough anymore. With new ways of generating knowledge and new ways
of interacting, new management styles are necessary. Such styles
focus on orchestration, on delegating responsibility (instead of
tasks) and facilitate people to contribute and meet other people with
other skills and knowledge as well. The way ?trust? and its dynamics
are shaped, shapes how people will relate and this defines possible

GL: I read your study as a reflection on the culture of organizing
public debates that existed in Amsterdam. From early on you have been
looking for alternative formats and ways to ?stage? controversies
in a different manner, for instance through a banal detail like
the rearrangement of seats. Do you think that we reflect enough on
this new culture that has been created in Amsterdam? It is great to
read about the Galactic Hacker Party and the Zero Positive Ball.
However, you also get the feeling that we do not take ourselves
serious enough. Could we talk about a ?school? in Amsterdam that
deals with alternative designs of public debates? There is a lot of
knowledge floating around amongst event an organizer that is not
written down. You?re not a historian, and neither am I. How do you
see that we could better ?capture? the overflow of innovative, unique
practices that happen in this city? How can this fertile place of
experimentation gain more influence, worldwide?

CN: When traveling I realize again and again that the Amsterdam
cultural context in which I grew up and to which I could contribute
to, was very special. It would be interesting to analyze this from
a design perspective: to distinct the historical, the structural
and the self-organizational elements for example. What created this
amazing challenging and yet safe playground at the time? Such an
analysis also needs to take into account how it changed early this
century. How community centers were shut and kids were back in the
streets, how people retreated in their own realm, how bureaucracy and
administration dehumanized, how the homo scene is suddenly in defense
again, how the local media scene more or less disappeared. Most of all
I wonder whether the current generation of young people in Amsterdam
experiences this freedom and richness we participated in at the time.

I do agree with you that in the seventies, eighties up to the
mid nineties there was a very special culture here, which was
internationally recognized and which maybe you could even label as
what I would propose to formulate as The Amsterdam School for Public
Research. One of the characteristics of this Amsterdam culture was and
maybe still is that things are made and tried out in public spaces
and had a research character. People from different disciplines
participated as well as artists, whose involvement has been crucial
for success. By making things in public place, ?the public? influences
what happens. And as a result things that are made and happenings
inform the larger political and social debates. Public Research, a
notion we introduced when we founded the Waag Society in 1994, has
not been much elaborated very much upon since. There is a lot of
not-formulated experience and insights in how to make Public Research
happen, here in Amsterdam as well as in other places (like the Sarai
initiative in India for example). I wonder, though, whether this is a
question of ?capturing?. I guess cultures fertilize new cultures when
there is a chance to experience. Such an analysis should inform new
designs that can operate in the new current contexts.

Your question also seems to suggest that the ?Amsterdam approach?
should gain more influence worldwide. Even though I tend to be
skeptical about such ?cultural transmissions?, I realized through the
many responses on the Al Jazeerah broadcasting of ?Couscous and Cola?,
a television series produced by my (own) sister, in which a group of
migrant teenagers from the Amsterdam-West suburbs freely discusses
their lives, that the ?openness? that till today characterizes Dutch
society, resonates with young people around the globe. To be able and
to be allowed to ask questions and listen to each other is fundamental
to Public Research. The challenge as well as the safety needs to be
provided though.

Personally I have taken the challenge to take the things I learned
into a different professional arena in 1999, namely to higher
professional education: to design a sense of performance in education,
to switch the attention from designing ?education? to designing
?learning environments?, to orchestrate public research in such
large organizations. The methodologies we developed in the emerging
Amsterdam digital culture were rather useful in that context. I also
witnessed that the battle for power is much stronger which pointed out
how fragile such processes can be.

Because of the Web 2.0 developments, and the knowledge management
problems that organizations have, more study into Public Research
makes a lot of sense. James Surowicky points out that diversity and
independence are prerequisites for any ?wisdom of crowds?. Scale
makes all the difference and as my research strongly suggests, a
balance between mediated, witnessed and natural presence has to be
found. Such research will address a larger movement in society: how
do we create and communicate experience and collaborate at a time of
post-industrialization, hypermodernity and mass-individualization?
I like your suggestion to start this analysis with a focus on the
re-arranging of seats. How the seats are positioned, I can testify and
you as well, makes a huge difference in what will happen next.

GL: Over the years certain concepts become alive. As ?memes? they
start to travel and become meaningful for a group of people and then
are taken outside of that context, appealing to people you had no idea
about. This happened to ?tactical television? that we both worked on
with a group of artists and activists in 1992. This turned out to be
the first Next Five Minutes festival. Three others followed in 1996,
1999 and 2003. These days there are academic anthologies and lectures
series about ?tactical media?. In the book you haven?t emphasized this
event. Can you nonetheless say something about your role?

CN: It started in my perception with a conversation between David
Garcia and me at my kitchen table. We were discussing how the current
language to talk about media did not pay tribute to the things we
liked and thought were good. It was not anymore about ?left or right?,
or about ?independent versus dominant?. We decided to explore this
more and we invited a few people, like you and Bas Raaijmakers,
Geke van Dijk, Raul Marroquin and Menno Grootveld who were all
concerned with media, to share this thinking. In my memory we met
three or four nights and had long conversations and came up with the
notion of tactical television, which emphasized the cracks in the
media-landscape as well as the position of the media-maker.

I was the producer and ?concept-protector/communicator? of the first
N5M. Each of you had a program-line and I was safeguarding that it
became one program as well as that the developed thinking would
communicate. You did Eastern Europe I remember distinctly. Bas en
Geke did the southern hemisphere with Patrice Riemens as well. David
invited artists from all over. Tjebbe van Tijen made the archive. It
was a very rich program and in the end the atmosphere from the event
was nearly utopian. For many participants it was very reassuring to
see how people using media in smart ways could make interventions.
Remember that the strategic freeze of the cold was over and so much
potential seemed to blossom.

At the end of the first N5M I had a clash with David Garcia, which
in hindsight was a very interesting one. He wanted authorship over
the concept of N5M, being an artist this was very important for him
because the building of reputation is crucial for new funding. I,
being the producer and responsible for something that was a collective
endeavour, said that this was out of question. It is a whole group
who made it happen and in case of a community activity one does not
claim authorship, one is happy enough to participate. The issue
of reputation building through ownership of authorship versus the
building of reputation through participation is till today an issue of
tremendous importance.

When we started to produce the second N5M I ran into a serious
disagreement with the editorial group. In 1996 the Internet was
conquering the world and all you guys wanted to pursue net-critique.
You and Pit Schulz had just started the nettime list and this was an
opportunity to meet and explore more. The result was a program full
of white young ambitious boys, yet it has been my pride to always
make programs in which diversity is the fundament and also I thought
that the scope and original agenda of the N5M was not pursued enough.
Together with Patrice Riemens I wrote the article ?Vital information
for social survival? to make my point (which was published in the
Economic Times of India). In the end I withdrew from the editorial
group. I supported the second N5M from out Paradiso, but it was not
?my program? anymore. It is great to see though how the notion of
tactical television has traveled. It makes sense because the notion
of tactical media is way to understand certain positions in today?s
complex media-landscapes. Also, many of the nettime-posters have
become Professors of New Media and Digital Culture, who teach between
them thousands of students all over.

GL: A concept that you emphasized, time and again, is ?vital
information?. It appealed to me, and stayed with me, ever since it was
used in the Zero Positive Ball event in 1990. Can you say something
more about it? Has it been used in other contexts?

CN: Vital information has been an important notion for me since the
Zero Positive Ball indeed. That is where it surfaced for me. The
strive for survival and well-being, the conatus as Spinoza called it,
makes people take hurdles they thought they never would. When this
strive is triggered, original energy of people becomes available and
what happens next will make sense. The dialogues and the connections
that are made, will truly influence people?s lives. When mediated
presence offers ?vital information? the bridge between natural and
mediated presence becomes very smooth. I have found that in any
situation one can find the vital information. It always taps into this
deeper layer of survival and therefore it also taps into the sense of
ethics people feel. One communicates around the current status quo, so
to say, to be able to create, if at all needed, changes in this status
quo. It takes an effort to find ?vital information?, one has to ask
questions and challenge the current status quo.

I only know a few people who work with the concept of vital
information. As you know I am not a regular writer, and after the
first article with Patrice Riemens, I only discussed the concept again
in my dissertation. Nevertheless I have worked with many people over
the years and in those collaborations ?vital information? always has
played a role of significance.

GL: You have somehow copy-pasted the NGO rhetoric around ?human
rights? in your work. I wonder why. As you know there is a whole
debate about how useful the ?rights? discourse is in the new media and
activist context, and how, potentially, disempowering it can be to
claim ?rights?. It?s such a passive and institutionalized activity.
Nonetheless, you have chosen the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights as a central document in your study. One would expect boring
government or U.N. documents to do. Is there maybe a personal reason
why this document plays such an important role?

CN: It is interesting that you ask about a personal reason for this
choice. It was not a personal reason at first. Since the moment
I realized that ?the sense of presence? can be described as ?the
sense for survival and well-being? to formulate it shortly, I was
looking for a way to make trust operational in which this sense
for survival would resonate. I was aware of the many critique?s
that are formulated about the UDHR, but realized that in the light
of destruction during World War II the UDHR is formulated (which
is mentioned in the preamble). In the light of the unimaginable
destruction that happened all ideological or religious reasoning
became obsolete. Also the fact that it is a secular document and
that it has played this vital role in international diplomacy for
over 50 years, defines its significance. And I felt with the current
developments in which there seems to be no limit as to how far we are
digitizing people en mediating our presence around the globe, such a
strong reference point is necessary.

Up to this day, when being involved in working with refugees,
?illegal? people and other political situations, the UDHR has been a
declaration that one can refer to and on which basis one can go to
local, national and international courts, to point out that in certain
situations human dignity was denied and that therefore such situations
have to be challenged and changed. If I would look for an even more
personal reason than I guess the UDHR resonates in its fundament
most with motherhood for me. Children have rights that are not to be
neglected nor denied by any religion or political system. This is
something I feel very strong about.

GL: I noticed that in your references and experiences that you
describe, you easily switch between the world of global corporations,
human rights activists and social movements. Is the context that you
work in really without frictions? You do not often mention that there
are conflicts of interests. I suppose you are not suggesting that we
all work on the same project. In the past people would have asked:
which side are you on?

CN: Already in the past the question: ?which side are you on?? has
produced more than enough atrocities, exclusions and humiliations
that were not beneficial nor necessary as well as that they were
counterproductive to ?the cause?. I strongly believe that people
can be ?good? human beings in all realms of society, even if they
have different interests, as long as they are willing to enter into
dialogues and conversations with others when appropriate. You notice
indeed that I try to get around the ?being good? and the ?being bad?.
I think that does not actually exist, as a scientist definitely not,
but also in my personal life and in my professional life I find this
distinction not useful at all. However, in my dissertation and up to
this day, I have not entered into any thought or dialogue about the
character and value of intentions, which is part of this debate and
which I also expect to have consequences for this debate.

I focused on how things and processes can be good and bad in certain
contexts from the perspective of supporting survival and well-being.
The feeling of something being good or pleasant is an important
indicator of where well being is to be found (I here take the
perspective of Professor Antonio Damasio). To transpose such senses
and feelings into judgments about other human beings in general I find
medieval reasoning. That is why our judicial systems as well as our
scientific structures are important. Logic and reasoning sanction the
action and ideas of people in certain contexts, which is how we can
protect ourselves from each other?s misconceptions and destructive

Nevertheless I do agree that when certain interests color certain
actions and perceptions this should be mentioned. In my perception I
show awareness of this. Are there any specific paragraphs where you
miss the mentioning of certain interests? The introduction of the
?crucial network? specifically deals with these conflicts of interest.
As you can read, I argue that the presence of the ?crucial network?
the gathered conflict of interests, generates an environment in which
trust can be found. Power becomes transparent in such a case and
therefore the power status quo can be challenged as well.

GL: There is an example we can discuss here. Lee Felsenstein, who is
featured in your book as one of the early hackers, has recently made
some critical remarks about Negroponte?s One Laptop per Child project
( How
would you, using your vocabulary of Presence and the Design of Trust,
look into this controversy? Your PhD supervisor, Cees Hamelink, also
has strong views on this ?ICT for Development? field.

CN: For a start I like to argue that we are not dealing with a
controversy here. If anything we are observing a debate between two
groups of Americans who both claim to know how to change the world.
I guess it is great if they make cheaper computers, do more research
into learning and I am always in favor of people who put children on
the agenda. However, both do not seem to be inspired nor hindered by
knowledge of things that are happening already, nor do they seem to
be aware of the social and economic circumstances of the ?developing
world?. Even IT multinationals like Intel, Motorola, Philips, HP,
Nokia and others have realized at the beginning of this century that
while the northern markets are being saturated with their products,
people in the southern hemisphere of whom most earn less than 1 dollar
a day, can not afford their products. This realization is one of the
reasons that they are shifting from product to service design.

To push for a hundred dollar computer per child excludes most of the
children in our world, also many children in the United States are
too poor to be able to afford such a machine. It is clear to me that
this initiative generates lots of research funding for the Americans
involved and has a potential business perspective worth billions of
dollars. Where this initiative may become dangerous, in the sense that
it will prevent other people to make their own things, is where they
start developing infrastructure with American for profit companies for
all regions of the world. The material infrastructures of the Internet
in the end define who has access to what. Especially the market of
building infrastructures is, as Cees Hamelink has been pointing out
for over 20 years, a new form of colonialism, cultural imperialism or
whatever you want to call it. The ownership and responsibilities that
come with this ownership (and its potential misuse and if not being
affordable), should be of great concern worldwide. Even in Amsterdam
we do not own our own information infrastructure anymore.

Concerning Lee?s proposal for a computer per village, I can only
point to things that are already happening. In 1990?s Sam Pitroda,
and Indian entrepreneur collaborating with the Indian government,
gathered over 300 engineering students one summer to design India?s
telephone system. The idea was that one phone per village makes all
the difference. And so it appears to be. By 2002 every village, so
is claimed, now has an STD phone in its local shop. The shop owner
provides the service of making phone calls to the villagers who pay a
few cents per call and the shopkeeper has a raise in income because
of exploiting the phone. Jiva, one of the many social entrepreneurs
in India, has started to put a computer with every phone to develop
telemedicine as well as distant learning. Infrastructure matters, but
even more so do new models for learning. Since 1999 Professor Sugata
Mitra, at the time connected to NIIT and now connected to Newcastle
University, has been exploring the idea of children who learn through
self organization. His by now famous Hole in the Wall project has
advanced a lot since. In his last experiment he asked the question
whether Tamil speaking children could learn bio-technology in English
on their own and he found that they had acquired 30% of the material
he had left them alone with for three months (speaking English with
a Texan accent they had acquired from one of the sites!). He comes
to the conclusion that groups of children, when left alone with a
computer hooked up to the Internet, actually learn a lot. For this
to happen the computer should be located in a public space so that
children can discuss what they see and can enter into competition with
each other as well as learn by copying each other.

You ask me to connect this to my research into Presence and the
Design of Trust. I guess the market of infrastructures should become
transparent for it to generate trust. However, we people will use
anything that works and a worldwide judicial system that will respect
privacy and promote freedom of expression is not in place. Much
government policymaking is way behind technological developments.

Sugata Mitra?s work on the self organization for learning I find
extremely interesting, also from the viewpoint of my research. He
emphasizes that children who gather in natural witnessed presence,
because they enter into conversation with each other, have unexpected
high learning curves. They make ?sense? of the mediated chaos they
encounter in the first place and within days are capable of operating
this chaos and learn from it. From his research one could conclude
that mediated presence generates the highest learning curves when
it is perceived in natural witnessed presence. A similar experience
we had with projects like Demi Dubbel from the Waag, and also my
experiences at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam point into this direction.

GL: If we become culturally specific, much of the Amsterdam ?making
things happen? that you and I are part of can be reduced to the
exchange between the Netherlands and the United States. In both case
studies, the hackers event and the AIDS conference, US-American
activists, and their concepts and reference systems, are playing a
key role. Obviously, continental Europe had a lot to catch up with in
1989-1990, particularly if we look at cyber culture. If we switch to
the current Web 2.0 craze not much has changed. Americans are flown
in to do their spiel, both in the academic, commercial and cultural
contexts. Just look at the large creative industries event, held here
in Amsterdam so far in 2006 and 2007 called Picnic. The cultural flow
seems one-sided. Have you seen much change over the past twenty years
in the way that the USA and Europe are interacting?

CN: In my perception, being a witness of USA policy since the
seventies, the USA has rudely intervened all over the world and
does not hesitate to offend the international community nor does it
hesitate to promote their culture with all means available. This
has not much has changed. In the telecommunications sector the
battle about infrastructure is not over. But also, because the US
government has shown such disrespect for others, the USA underground
is also profound, which again is an inspiration for many of us. The
USA is and has been over the last 50 years ?the? major player in
information and communication technology as well as in the cultures
(music, film, internet, TV) it produced. In 1989 when we organized the
Galactic Hacker Party (before the Berlin wall broke down) the UNESCO
declaration in which a ?more-balanced flow of information? was on
the agenda. However, since the cold war was over, ?wild capitalism?
has conquered the planet as you know, but such dynamics also produce
its counter forces and for example the fact that whole regions of
the Internet are not English anymore will have impact. In the shows
we organized in Amsterdam Americans were never our only guests. And
of course this takes a lot of effort, with many European countries
it is not easy to interact and with other parts of the world it is
even harder. Even with the Internet being so omni-present today, it
is often complex to identify the right people. Networks of trust are
crucial. I remember distinctly that because you had spent time early
nineties in Eastern Europe we had regularly had East-European guests.
Because you were the ?social interface? as you are till today for many
of us to many others we do not know in other areas of the world. I do
argue that current event-organizers do not take enough trouble to make
sure they present a diverse program and reach out to diverse publics
as well. In my dissertation I describe how in Paradiso a constant
effort is taken to prevent the rise of mono-cultures and include new
or not known or not-staged people again and again. I think the taking
of such effort is a prerequisite for any good program that wants to
make a difference.

GL: At the end of your dissertation you have proposed your own
methodology, and coined it YUPTA. It describes a design method in
which the relation between presence and trust takes centre stage.
Could you explain it to us?

YUTPA is the acronym for ?being with You in Unity of Time, Place
and Action?. I argue that if we want to understand the relation
between presence and trust there are four dimensions that deeply
influence this relationship: here/not-here, now/not-now, do/not do and
you/not-you. The dimensions place and time define what synchronicity
is possible and what feedback possibilities there are. I also realized
that the perspective of possible action, to be able to intervene in
what happens next, influences the responsibility we can take (and
not retreat in a moral distance) and therefore influences what trust
we can establish in a certain situation. And this is influenced also
deeply by the relation we have to other human beings. When we are in
relation with someone (family, friends, colleagues, neighbors) we
understand what happens in the context of this relation. people we
do not know and with whom we have no connection we merely treat as
information to which different laws of causality apply.

In the model I developed the four dimensions create 16 possible
spaces for social interaction. I argue that each of these spaces for
social interaction have specific possibilities for certain kinds of
trust/distrust and delegations of trust. When designing communication
processes a much more deliberate design of such processes is possible.
By identifying what kind of trust is necessary, you can also decide
what medium and format to use to be able to establish such a kind of
trust. I find through giving lectures and working with people that
especially in 5D design trajectories YUTPA seems to be a valuable

GL: In terms of education, so much seems focused on short-term skills,
in particular when we look at new media. There is a great fear amongst
higher education officials to miss the connection with the labour
market. However, there are places, such as the Design Academy in
Eindhoven and the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, where they do focus
on concept development. Is it possible to teach conceptual design on
a broad graduate level, to the thousands of students who are now into
new media design? Or do we really have to limit this to a small group
of more experienced students that work in post-graduate labs?

CN: I definitely think you can teach conceptual design to children,
grown ups of all ages and also to the thousands of students who are
now studying new media design. The issue though is ?attention?. To be
involved in conceptual design requires reflection. To be introduced to
the skill of being able to use different ways of reflection requires
personal attention. I think more emphasis is needed on the development
of solid analytical skills and ways of doing research. Also I found
that a lot of the students I worked with were not used to openly
reflect and needed to find the confidence to do this. One can learn
analytical skills by seeing it done, especially when the subject is
intriguing. In my twenties for example I did this fantastic minor in
film in which we saw many unusual films as well as great analytical
talks about them. We were with a few hundred students attending
this course. But we also had breakout groups that were guided by
students who had already done this course before and that made a
huge difference. I realize that education had to deal with huge
budget cuts in the last decades, which triggered the need for more
a self-organizational design of education. Nevertheless I have been
amazed in my years of higher professional education at the Hogeschool
van Amsterdam, how the concept of students teaching other students
is used so little in the orchestration of learning environments.
Today students are mostly left alone in project based groups, but
do not have the advantage of being guided by students who are ahead
of them. So I would argue that it is a question of orchestration in
the learning environments to make sure that the skill to reflect can
be developed and conceptual design can become a ground from where
you actually design ?stuff?. I also think it is very necessary to
do this because otherwise, as you point out, the fear to miss out
the connection with the workforces of the future will appear to be

GL: You have not chosen for a classic academic career. Instead, you
have been active as a cultural producer, consultant and manager. Over
the past years you sat down and reflected upon your practice. This
is in accordance with the general trend in the Anglo-Saxon countries
to have more ?practice-based? PhDs. Now that you?re done, how do you
look at the academic rituals? Universities seem to stick to their own
people who have followed the ordinary career path as required by the
sitting professors. New media, design and activism, it all doesn?t
seem to fit very well within the university system. If students do
not chose for a life-long career in their late twenties, they usually
can?t enter academia at a later stage, so it seems. What are the
implications of this for society at large?

CN: I perceive the same trend as you do although it is not everywhere
as rigid as the Dutch situation seems to be. In the United Kingdom and
the USA for example I see that professional PhD?s are valued very much
and academic careers can consist of diverse practices. But overall,
yes, I see that the social sciences strongly defend their position. It
is as if academia has become a class that one has ?to be born into?.
I find this very alienating since social sciences can really make a
difference, which they are more and more loosing out to do. Today,
interestingly enough, mostly in business schools I find the original
thinking and the development of new social practices to be valued and

To answer your question more in depth I turn to the concept of the
?double hermeneutic? as it is formulated by Anthony Giddens. Social
sciences retrieve their concepts from society, add and produce new
concepts that in turn produce new practices which are then analyzed
which produce new concepts which produce new realities and so on. This
makes the social sciences very complex, as Cees Hamelink points out
again and again. Only when I found out how much my practice has been
influenced by the concepts I gathered, of which quite essential ones
come from social sciences, I realized the implications of this double
hermeneutic in the social sciences. When the exchange between academia
and society is diminished to academic publishing and the influx of
other kinds of knowledge and output is discarded of, it will be lesser
and lesser equipped to be able to deal with today?s complexities and
for that reason slowly fade out in the end. In professional social
science?s realms (in business, in large organizations as well as in
individual practices) you can clearly see that many more methodologies
for creating engaging reflexivity have emerged. Interestingly it
are the business schools and some anthropology departments that
have devoted attention to such new models. It seems that academia
is still trying to show the natural sciences that it matters by
focusing on questions that can be measured in the manner of natural
sciences. Such positivist research can be very useful provided it is
contextualized in larger frameworks of thinking. Especially in the
thinking I perceive a reluctance to connect to innovative and original
theoretical and professional practices. Instead of claiming specific
methodologies for its own domain, it adapts to a system which in the
end, I suspect, will appear to be very counterproductive to its own

Another way of analyzing the current situation is by focusing on the
current social science?s research paradigm. As Thomas Kuhn elaborated
so eloquently, science develops steps and gaps between paradigms,
which make previous paradigms obsolete. Possibly the social sciences
are stuck in a paradigm that deals with social realities as we could
perceive them in the 1980?s. The current huge changes because of
technological development as well as the scale of globalization that
we have to deal with everyday, are mind blowing. Instead of taking
the lead in these developments it seems that the social sciences have
retreated in a world as we knew it, adding ?some new wine in old bags?
and, what I object most to, demanding obedience from its students in
the first place. The result is a mediocre thinking, which does not
inspire social practices at all, since it does not take into account
the need for innovation as it happens in education, in health, in
business, in government etc. I also object to the fact that the few
people, who dare to develop concepts that deal with these issues, are
marginalized up to the point of exclusion.

So you can ask me why interact with this community? I guess that
social sciences are dear to me, that I value the scientific
methodologies very much and that they can help to understand and to
invent the new ways of social interacting that we witness and practice
everyday. I wish that the research establishment of today would open
up and start to play its role of significance again because there is
a body of knowledge to be developed that is badly needed by many. The
current fragmented and distributed development of social practices
would greatly benefit from social sciences taking up their historical
role again.

(Thanks to Patrice Riemens for editorial assistance)

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