Accepted Paper:

Hackathons as space-times of creative togetherness: dystopian and utopian hues of ideals and their realisation  


Peter Kahlert (European New School of Digital Studies (European University Viadrina))

Paper short abstract:

Presenting my research on events of creative togetherness like hackathons, I will discuss some of their additional, rather tacit, functions which, concerning asymmetries and selectiveness, render the utopian hackathon ideal an opportunity for a manifold, dystopian parasitism.

Paper long abstract:

Hackathons are commonly promoted as (utopian) space-times of creative togetherness. I studied them by participant, covert observations at seven hackathons within a period of 18 month and subsequent project meetings, focusing on the discursive entanglements of creativity and (software) engineering. I complementarily analysed several blogposts, tweets, publications, etc. on hackathons and creative engineering. On this basis, I present insights into organizers' strategies that affirm this particular event image and illustrate how hackathons thus constitute their dystopian flipside.

Highlighted as leisure activities, hackathons conceal their other objectives of strategic networking, advertising, and profiting from participants' engagement. While the ideational openness of such events functions as their inventive drive, it results for some cases in moral indifference towards (dystopian) outputs: jolly tinkering participants often find themselves absorbed by technological challenges. They thus overlook their actual assistance in developing critical technologies, e.g. control and surveillance tools. Concerning this, significant innovation thresholds almost fortunately remain. Many inventive ideas are eventually left unattended; if they become a large-scale project they often are adapted to established organizational structures - original ideas and intentions become unrecognizable or even obsolete.

However, hackathons offer, nevertheless, great opportunities for exchange, education, and breaching boundaries of traditional production by offering nouveau configurations of groups, interactions, issues and execution. Concerning these different, dark and bright, hues of hackathons, their issues can give different paintings. Hence, I want to discuss how to deal with this techno-societal ridge walk.

Panel C17
Moving together: problematizing the makings of togetherness