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Accepted Contribution:

Metis and the hacker  
Charles Berret (Linköping University)

Short abstract:

This talk will mobilize the concept of 'metis' to characterize the peculiar intelligence and technical practice of hackers, who find surprising sources of flexibility in systems and situations where others see patterns and rigidity.

Long abstract:

The concept of 'metis' offers an especially effective means of characterizing the intelligence and technical practice of hackers. Metis, for the ancient Greeks, denoted the improvisational craftiness of a figure like Odysseus, whose intuitive understanding of the regularities in a particular system or situation facilitates acts of subversive cleverness. After all, it was Odysseus who devised the Trojan Horse, perhaps the first hack recorded in Western literature, and later the namesake of an actual variety of malware. This is a revealing affinity, and the connections between metis and hacking run deep. Metis is an especially useful concept for understanding hackers because it is a form of practical knowledge distinct from episteme and techne. Whereas episteme denotes the pursuit of factual regularities in the natural world, and techne implies the application of episteme for engineering, craft, and material production, both episteme and techne are inherently systematic. In contrast, the essential characteristic of metis is its subversion of systems and regularities, finding surprising sources of flexibility where others see only patterns and rigidity. To view hackers through the lens of metis also helps explain why hacking thrives in settings characterized by what James C. Scott calls "seeing like a state," that is, where an excessively schematic reduction of a system's natural complexity leads to the concealment of idiosyncrasies that become ideal sites for a hacker's exploitation. Developing an account of metis offers a new framework to explain why hackers thrive in infrapolitical practices that are inherently opposed to seeing like a state.

Combined Format Open Panel P347
Hacker Cultures! The Podcast Panel Season 3!
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -