Gary Hall is a theorist, writer and experimental publisher, working in the areas of new media, philosophy, art and politics. He is Professor of Media and Performing Arts in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and Director of the Centre for Disruptive Media, at Coventry University, UK. He is author of Pirate Philosophy (MIT Press, 2016), The Uberfication of the University (Minnesota UP, 2016), Digitize This Book! (Minnesota UP, 2008), and Culture in Bits (Continuum, 2002). He is also co-author of Open Education (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2014), and co-editor of Experimenting (Fordham UP, 2007) and New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh UP, 2006).
In 1999 he co-founded the critical theory journal Culture Machine. In 2006 he co-founded Open Humanities Press (OHP). He also co-edites OHP's Liquid Books series and the Jisc-funded Living Books About Life series.
He has given lectures and seminars at institutions around the world including the Australian National University, Columbia University, European University Institute, University of Heidelberg, University of Calfornia, Irvine, K.U. Leuven, Lund University, Monash University, New York University, University of Southern California, the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. With over thirty peer-reviewed publications in edited books and academic journals including American Literature, Angelaki, Cultural Studies, Journal of Visual Culture, New Formations, The Oxford Literary Review and Radical Philosophy, his work has been translated into Chinese, French, Japanese, Turkish, Russian and Slovenian. He is currently developing a series of politico-institutional interventions that draw on digital media to actualise, or creatively perform, critical theory; and completing a new monograph, Data Commonism/Übercapitalism.
He is associated with the development of a number of concepts and critical practices, including ‘open media’, ‘liquid theory’, ‘living books’, ‘radical open access’, ‘the microentrepreneur of the self’, ‘affirmative disruption’, ‘disruptive humanities’, ‘übercapitalism’, and ‘pirate philosophy’.
His research is characterised by its experimentation with:
- Acting in a non-rivalrous, non-competitive fashion to explore new models of economy, property and ownership (see OHP’s sharing of its expertise and publications with other open access publishers). These new models include those associated with online file sharing networks, shadow libraries, and so-called internet piracy.
- Taking a political approach to open access, free and open source software, open data, open science and open education.
- Gifting labour as a means of developing notions of the community, the common, and of commoning that break with the conditions supporting the unified, sovereign, proprietorial subject.
- Developing projects that are concerned, not only with representing or critiquing the world, but also intra-acting with it in order to make something happen. Hall terms these performative projects 'media gifts'.
The projects with which Hall is involved are not confined to the world of critical theory, though. In fact, one way of thinking about his work is as constituting a plurality of forms of intervention that respond to specific issues across a number of different sites, including art, education, business, politics and the media. Hall's projects do so in order to disarticulate the existing playing field and its manufactured 'common sense', and foster instead a variety of antagonistic spaces that contribute to the development of counter-institutions and counter-environments. This is why a range of different interventions have been produced: because the 'counter-hegemonic struggle is a process involving a multiplicity of ruptures'. What these different performative media projects have in common is that they are all characterised by a hyper-political willingness to open up an unconditional space for thinking about politics and the political beyond the ways in which they have conventionally been conceived.
The political here is not merely about the kind of intended consequences and affects that can be articulated in advance. The political is also something that has to be invented and created in relation to specific practices, in particular contingent situations and contexts, by performing the associated decisions, and otherwise doing things that may be unanticipated and unpredictable - and which are thus beyond analysis. There is something artistic and poetic about this invention: it is not just theoretical or philosophical. Hence Hall's interest in poeticity and singularity; and why he describes his media gifts as operating at the intersections of art, theory, media and politics.
Data Commonism / Übercapitalism, his current work-in-progress, can be understood in just these terms. It is designed not merely to offer a critique of the for-profit sharing economy businesses of platform capitalism (there are already quite a few books of that sort available). Data Commonism / Übercapitalism is also intended to form part of an expanded, interrupted, iterative text involved in creating a performative media project that is concerned with intra-acting with the world in order to invent a different, more caring future: for the sharing and gig economies; for our towns and cities; but also for post-industrial, post-capitalist society. The aim of this project is to make a counter-hegemonic intervention by re-articulating the situation in a new configuration, thus affirmatively disrupting digital capitalism so that we might begin to replace Uber, Airbnb, Deliveroo et al with a multi-polar consortium of counter-information and data platforms. Among other things, Data Commonism / Übercapitalism asks: can we work collaboratively to invent new ways of organising platforms, institutions, and communities, in all their complexity, uncertainty, and multiplicity, which don’t just repeat the anti-political reductionism, lack of criticality and individualistic, liberal democratic humanism that is a feature of other accounts of community and the Commons, including those associated with platform cooperativism? What if we were to devise our own collaborative community or data Commons as a way of creating an actual, affective point of potentiality and transformation - not least in order to counter übercapitalism and its for-profit sharing economy?
- Interrogating those fundamental propositions that are taken for granted by theories of data, the digital and the Commons.
The word data has its English origins in the mid-17th century as the plural of the Latin word for datum. The latter means a proposition that is assumed, given, or taken for granted, upon which a theoretical framework can be constructed or a conclusion drawn as a result of reasoning or calculation.
It is those propositions that our culture assumes as a given in order to construct theories and draw conclusions about data, software and algorithms that Hall investigates. They include the 'digital', in many ways now an irrelevant attribute given nearly all media involve digital information processing, as indeed do things as diverse as our entertainment, transport, banking, fuel, food, and fresh water-supply systems. Other datum points are the human, technology, the printed text, the network, copyright and IP. For example, who does the measuring when it comes to data? Conventionally, it is the human subject. With what? With technology and tools seen as separate from the human. How are the measurements – the data – recorded, published and disseminated? Print texts and computerized information networks. How is this circulation controlled? Through copyright.
The etymology of the word data thus raises an important issue for the idea of a data Commons. Datum points that are at risk of being taken for granted in the construction of such a theoretical framework and that Hall analyses in his work include capitalism, liberalism, humanism, freedom, democracy, community, communism, and even the Commons itself.
- Engaging with the existing institutions (e.g. the law, politics, the press) so as to transform them.
Since they are the institutions to which theorists are most closely tied, Hall focuses in particular on the university and the scholarly publishing industry, together with their associated liberal humanist values, protocols and practices, based as they are on ideas of the individual proprietorial author, authenticity, the codex print book, and the finished and finishable static object. The idea is to interrogate and transform what it is to create, publish, and disseminate knowledge and research as a theorist. Some of Hall's projects thus concentrate on the book, fixity, and copyright. Others focus on education, teaching, the archive, and academic social networks.
Pirate Philosophy, for example, examines the matter and material factors of intellectual labour. In marked contrast to the 'zombie' discourses of much 'new materialism', the latter includes, for Hall, the work of 'publishers, editors, peer-reviewers, designers, copy-editors, proof readers, printers, publicists, marketers, distributors, retailers' (as well as that of the 'agency workers, packers, and so-called "ambassadors" in Amazon’s “fulfillment centers”)'. It also takes in 'the financial investments made' when producing, publishing and distributing scholarship and research, 'the energy and resources used, the plants, minerals, dyes, oils, petroleum distillates, salts, compounds and pigments, the transport, shipping and container costs, the environmental impact, and so forth'. Meanwhile Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities, a special video issue of the Journal of Electronic Publishing he edited with Janneke Adema, addresses the seminar and seminar series, the talk, 'paper', or presentation, and the journal issue, as well as the individualistic nature of most humanities (and posthumanities) research.
It is important to actively engage with institutions, as far as he is concerned, because simply abandoning or rejecting them in favour of establishing places outside where 'the common' can be achieved risks our work being co-opted by these institutions all the more. Witness the way the Autonomist Marxist theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri end up supporting the aggressive, profit-maximizing capitalist publishing companies Amazon and Penguin Random House. There is little sense of these post-operaists thinkers transforming the accepted common sense rules of the game regarding how theory and criticism is produced, published, and circulated (i.e., as original, rational, linearly written and organised, copyrighted books), so that a new politics of scholarly publishing can be articulated based on communism or the Commons.
From this point of view, and as Hall et al show in Open Education:
- there is no outside to the academy or university in any simple sense, this idea of an outside being itself an academic (i.e. a philosophical) idea, even if it is one that has not always been theorized rigorously.
- efforts to occupy a place or space that is autonomous from the traditional university (whether they are physically located outside the institution or not) too often end up unwittingly trapped inside it, in the sense of unconsciously repeating many of its structures and problems. In particular, such efforts tend to take insufficient account of the way many of those involved in establishing such supposedly autonomous institutions are themselves the products of, and maintain a relationship with, the traditional university.
- attacking the ‘public’ university poses a danger of lending force to neoliberalism’s practice of bolstering global corporate institutions while simultaneously undermining nearly all others.
- there is a case to be made for supporting and defending the university as one of the few remaining public spaces where difficult, challenging and avowedly non-commercial ideas can still be developed, explored and disseminated. As the recent student protests attests, the university is one of the few places where the imposition of neoliberalism and its emphasis on production, privatisation and the interests of the market is still being struggled over or even actively resisted.
- creating autonomous spaces ‘outside’ of the established institutions risks leaving the traditional university - and the scholarly publishing industry - in place and unquestioned.
- The use of numerous and at times conflicting figures, voices, registers, and semiotic functions - multiple differential authorial 'I's, as it were - in order to transform his own work processes and produce something different: not only from the microentrepreneur of the self übercapitalism is making us become; but also from the liberal humanist subjectivity that is the default alternative adopted by even the most supposedly radical of theorists.
In Pirate Philosophy Hall adopts the persona of the pirate, someone who tries, tests, teases and troubles as well as attacks; while in The Uberfication of the University he articulates his subjectivity more in terms of the experimenter. The latter is someone who is not endeavoring to speak for a universal subject, be it 'man, humanity, the nation, the people, the proletariat'. In fact, an experimenter does not have a pre-given addressee, whether this be known as a 'public', 'readership', 'audience', or 'market', that they are trying to communicate with, win over, and seduce. Rather, they are by definition involved in questioning the limits of pre-constituted fields to ask, what is art, writing, thought—or, in Hall’s case, what is theory, and what is it to be a critical theorist?
So he is not necessarily trying to come up with a big, new, masculine philosophy or ontology of his own; something to rival those of accelerationism, media archaeology, or speculative realism, say - which of course is what theorists and philosophers traditionally do. (Accelerationism, speculative realism, object-oriented philosophy, et al are quite conventional philosophies in that respect.) Instead, he is more interested in exploring multiple different ways of being, different ways of doing things as a theorist, different ways for theorists to organise themselves and their subjectivities. Rather than simply positioning his philosophy in opposition to that of competing thinkers, Hall frequently articulates it by collaborating critically and creatively with the work of other contemporary theorists: e.g, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall in Culture In Bits; Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in New Cultural Studies; Samuel Weber in Experimenting; Jodi Dean in Digitize This Book!; Bernard Stiegler and Rosi Braidotti in Pirate Philosophy; Chantal Mouffe is Data Commonism / Übercapitalism. It is a manner of doing things that ensures his theory is not always the same in every situation and circumstance. Instead it responds in singular ways to specific thinkers and specific issues across a number of different sites.
- Reinventing the posthumanities, with a view to decentering the human according to a relational and processual understanding of subjectivity that understands it as being produced by complex meshworks of humans, animals and technologies, as well as a host of other non-humans, non-objects and non-anthropomorphic elements and energies (some of which may be beyond our knowledge).
To do so, for Hall, we need to act differently as theorists from the way in which the majority of those associated with the posthuman, the nonhuman and the crisis of life itself expressed by the Anthropocene act. In particular, we need to displace the humanist concepts that underpin our ideas of the author, the book, authenticity and copyright, together with their accompanying practices of reading, writing, interpretation, analysis, and critique, by performing these concepts and practices differently in the ways in which we live, work and think.
Approaches to the ‘posthumanities’ have been dominated by the posthuman Humanities of Rosi Braidotti, Cary Wolfe and others. (A piratical engagement with the humanism of this version of critical posthuman theory can be found in Pirate Philosophy.) Consequently, Hall speculates that the above transformative understanding of subjectivity may be better articulated in terms of the inhuman and the inhumanities. If the inhuman equals the human intertwined with the animal, the insect, the plant, the technological, the environment, and so on, then the inhumanities are the humanities, only with this intra-active inhuman figure at their heart rather than the sovereign, unified, individual human subject of liberal humanism that underlies so many theories of the posthuman and the posthumanities. It is a form of acting, thinking, and working with the non-human, in other words; one that takes account of and assumes a processual, intra-active relation with the non-human.