Against The Black Box: Strategies of Control and Tactics of Resistance


Abstract:The Black Box is explored as a tool of power and control. Originating as a problem solving tool in electrical engineering it is shown to have developed through its military and cybernetic use into an inherent part of technologies and knowledge, obscuring their origins and complexities. Although this process is accepted as an often necessary, its hidden and unquestioned existence is shown to be problematic through a number of examples from networked consumer technologies to the governmental surveillance techniques.

The power of the Black Box is shown, with reference to De Certau’s notion of the Strategy, to come from its ability to isolate its own place, giving it an advantageous sight and allowing it to stockpile and make use of collections of knowledge. This is related back to the examples given in terms of the collection and algorithmic mining of large amounts of data.

Tactical Media, is explored as a possible method of resistance. Utilising De Certau’s Tactics, the art of the weak, its speed and adaptability is praised. However, the Black Box is ascribed a further advantage, beyond those of the Strategy. Obfuscation, the ability to conceal parts of itself and capabilities at will, is shown to allow the Black Box to infiltrate the tools relied on by Tactical Media, twisting them to its own ends.

The work of the Critical Engineers is looked at and is shown to begin to build on and realign Tactical Media to critique and recreate its tools, to root out the Black Box. Finally, following Benjamin’s thoughts on the political act of production, the case for the creation of an improved apparatus is put forth, whereby consumers can become producers an, and the Black Box can be seen, and therefore tackled.

Awarded the RCA / Intellect Dissertation Prize 2015.

This is my MA Dissertation, full text can be found as HTML here: http://oliversmith.cc/against-the-black-box/ or as a PDF here: http://oliversmith.cc/against-the-black-box/oliver-smith-against-the-black-box.pdf.