Howdy! and welcome to the ‘Community Hacking & Big Society’ project. The project is a research consortium of the Edinburgh College of Arts, University of Leciester and Brunnel University. The investigators are interested in exploring the extent to which parallels between virtual society (Internet) and actual society (communities) may be extended in such a way that helps make sense of both the opportunities and risks of the ‘Big Society’ for communities. Specifically it will explore a concept of ‘community hacking’, which is defined as the capacity for individuals within groups to develop creative social solutions that transgress established protocols for the betterment of their lives.

Many aspects of the ‘new’ rhetoric of the Big Society hark back to the infrastructures that are seen to have bound communities in the past in which neighbourhoods were viewed as public spheres in which people were watched by each other and taking part in local services was viewed as part of community life. Such an approach may be seen to have fostered reciprocal benefit for being part of a community as well as senses of common purpose (Tönnies, 1957). The guiding principles for the use of ‘Common Land’ across the UK represent one instance of this principle and it is no surprise that the Creative Commons movement has adopted it within it’s title to express it’s redistributive approach to copyright. The sense of community implied in work such as Tönnies, and also the value of the commons have both of the source of continuing debates, and recourse to it by proponents of the ‘Big Society’ might be seen as idealistic or ideological, unintentionally or deliberatively ignoring how surveillance can lead to control, participation both requires and brings with it resources, and self-interest often prevails over common purpose. The ‘Big Society’ might be viewed as much as a ”downloading’ of social problems as it is an attempt to build a society: a practice of the Web rather than Web2.0.

On the other hand, if the theoretical proposition of the ‘Big Society’ share more than rhetorical links with Web2.0, then perhaps we might expect there to be some rather more complex dynamics to emerge. For example, we might expect there to be a more/read right relationship, with issues becoming uploaded as well as downloaded. We might expect people and communities to pursue forms of social hacking as more power is passed on to them, and if core services that previously ‘policed’ their behaviour are cut or relaxed. Consequently the aims of the investigation focus upon how to understand forms of ‘Community Hacking’: transgressive processes that facilitate a groups access to resources that was previously untapped. These processes may not be illegal but have the characteristics of a community (virtual or actual) identifying an opportunity to empower themselves in a way that provides them benefit beyond that which the State is currently willing or able to provide.

  • The research will reveal examples of ‘community hacking’ and identify a continuum of processes from benign and socially constructive to deviant and socially destructive.
  • The research aims to understand the parameters of emergent activity and in particular the potential for particular processes to offer empowerment with minimum of harm to communities or individuals.
  • The research project aims to identify viable strategies for communities that operate across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, but in a way that their benefits out-weigh their transgression.
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