Academy of Asociality

For forty years, steirischer herbst has been taking place in Graz, an Alpine mountainous town in central Austria. This “avant-garde” festival integrates art, music, performance, dance, theatre, literature, architecture, new media and theory into one month long series of events under a different theme each year. The leitmotif for this year’s festival is “I prefer not to … share!”

My two-year experience with the festival has centered around its conference and series of workshops called Herbst Academy. This year’s conference, Academy of Asociality, began with the premise “sharing is the imperative of our age.” So, the conference asked, what options do we have not to share? And, since “these days there is nothing that shapes our notion and practice of sharing as strongly as the Internet,” there was a particular emphasis on the digital realm.

Is privacy (or the right not to share) a bourgeois concept?

What about the role of consent? agency?

Can we have activism and criticism?

What are networks, really?

Is communication control? …attention value?

And, perhaps most importantly – Who owns the data?

Over two days, all of these questions and more where considered by a performance, expeditions, a range of presenters (including Sean Cubitt, Nishant Shah, Francis Cape, Christoph Engemann among others), and an ongoing installation. There is much that could be shared about those experiences, but I will focus on my overall reflections here.

First, there are at least two definitions of sharing itself. In the first case, I may share my coat or bread with another, but this definition requires ownership. This may be understood as a gift, but the expectation, or not, of reciprocation is not really the point. Even in a ‘gift economy’ individual ownership is still a necessary precursor to the exchange and reinforces power dynamics.

The second case of sharing includes those things which are held, or shared, in common – the commons – the communal use of shared resources. This requires at least a minimal amount of (self-) organization, but specifically does not (and possibly cannot?) require individual ownership (of commonly used goods).

Where do we go if we think a cabin in the woods is not an option?

Capitalism gives us the convenient illusion of sharing (such as with that button on facebook), but we know this is actually a form of capitalizing and privatization – of our preferences, our data, our selfies and ultimately ourselves. But just as privatization means that everything is owned – it means that it is ultimately owned by somebody – by us. Yet, individually if we own everything, collectively we also have nothing – and our only recourse, our only counter-strategy, is to start sharing. But in the end, it does not seem so much to be a question of sharing or not sharing (although it may be a question of what types of sharing are recognized or not recognized), but instead: How do we share? How can we share? What is the role of ownership and the commons?

Sharing is hard!

Sharing does not necessarily mean an end to individual ownership, but the beginning of a chance for mutual agreement. This does not come easily since we have little experience outside of individualistic materialism, but that does not mean we have none. Like waiting in line at the bus stop, or any other situation in which we find a simple amount of common decency, sharing is a process of negotiation that requires our active participation. These brief glimpses can remind us of what we are working toward (Utopia is a ‘no-place’ that does not exist and cannot be planned) and if we are working toward something, then we must have hope that it will succeed in some way.

The success of the current market-driven system (neoliberal capitalism) is its ability to reframe hope in a negative light. It is always a deferred hope, selling us what we hope to be – as an individual, and most importantly, as a consumer. If we examine how we share, we find; “When, for the benefit of our security and belonging, we evoke a hope that ignores the suffering of others, we can only create a hope based on fear.”1 In short, we must explore new ways how we might share in recognition of others, in common – and hope for what we might gain by that sharing, not fear of what we might lose.


  1. Mary Zournazi. Hope: New Philosophies for Change. New York: Routledge, 2002. pg. 15

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