Financial Markets, Public Goods Institutions and Social Interfaces

Financial markets are today visible in stripped down forms. Beside (nevertheless) complex market interactions, efforts to restore confidence in the system are giving way to its fundamental restructuring. As the public mood grows more questioning, fault lines appear in relations between individuals and institutions. Public goods organizations seek to reflect and understand the questioning ethos. Corresponding to this, artists, hackers and activists use new processes to understand structures of contemporary global society, through social dimensions, for future public good.

Technical mastery of markets – promised since the London Stock Exchange ‘Big Bang’ of 1986 – is visible today as a bare wire ‘aesthetics of reduction’; Disparities born of the crisis, together with greater transparency in investment business, have exposed the unprecedented complexity and interdependent aspects of today’s world economy. Steep reductions in market value are a counterpoint to growing intricacy in economic circuitry, as efforts to restore confidence in this system give way to fundamental restructuring. Globalized markets are more responsive than ever to events. Around the clock news and social media are alert to government and corporate criminality. Instances like the News Corp ‘phone-hacking’ debacle, raise political awareness and invigorate rumour mills driving market sentiment. Governments are not alone in fanning flames of publicity – in the United States’ with the pursuit of WikiLeaks; In London at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where internal strife has become a conduit for interest in the Occupy LSE protest.


Such events and the responses to them, have exposed fault lines in ground shared by institutions and publics. There is a vying for attention and influence, moreover, for the revision of rules. In the present political climate, geared towards the reduction of cultural, educational and social public goods, commons-related terminology is coming into general use. This language may be at the bedrock of newly evolving social interfaces, embodying moments of public discourse. Debates on openness and responsibility are also at the nub of perceived incompatibility, and can appear far more disruptive than cohesive; As it encounters austerity-led assaults on public social welfare, the ethos of open questioning may be contributing to a moment of profound ‘techno-cultural uneasy’. This is characterized by widespread contesting, and recalibration of authority which will ultimately strengthen, or work against government hegemony.


Cuts have led to protest in many quarters, including from disparate individuals, as well as self-organizing, self-instituted groups. Of these, some have a specific focus on creativity and creative communities. This is alongside a plethora of (also creative) protest groups and wider movements questioning the extent of, and indeed need for cuts. In their re-imagining of relations and in their active dismantling, appropriation and reproduction of social and economic systems, individuals and groups locate and create public interfaces of collectivity and connectedness. ‘Occupy’ war veterans in the US offer easy comparisons with social unrest of the 1960s and 70s. Hacker-inspired public goods institutions, like the Peer-to-Peer Foundation, propose however, that a different dynamic now exists, as the consequence of a generation born-digital (, 2011). This effort to describe co-operative, participatory modes and forms of engagement, may be a popularization of Actor Network Theory, a description of human social interaction which emphasises frameworks over the proposition of an existing ‘social fabric’ (Latour, 2005).


Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation talks of inter-meshing patterns in society. Hackers and artists have often seen their practices bound into constellations of extraneous, sometimes occupied, spaces. Is it now time these ‘carved out’ spaces leave reputations as pirate enclaves, for the frame of public goods? Artists, hackers and activists today address representation in new ways, through new processes, re-evaluating conditions for creativity: the evolution of Community Wireless Networking into commons-based advocacy for open hardware and open knowledge, is one example; copyleft, with its heritage in social-technical exchange, is another. How we understand and re-imagine emerging structures of contemporary global society, both from the position of consumers and producers (receivers and creators of value), could be significant to continued resolution of forms addressing technical problems, through social dimensions, for future public good.



Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling The Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2011. Michel Bauwens: Patterns That Point to the Future [online] Available at [Accessed 31 October 2011]


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About Magnus Lawrie

Magnus Lawrie is a graduate student at Edinburgh College of Art and the recipient of the ELMCIP PhD Studentship Award. He is undertaking practice-based research involving Electronic Literature. Since completing a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and MFA in Public Art, Magnus has been involved in groups concerned with Free Software and self-organizing practice. This has involved hackspaces and free media labs in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Magnus was active in establishing The Chateau Institute of Technology and, more recently, The Electron Club, Glasgow.

2 thoughts on “Financial Markets, Public Goods Institutions and Social Interfaces

  1. Hello Magnus,

    Reading your contribution, it made me think of another text from Latour, “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik”. More particularly on the way he explains and historically traces what is making us assemble and what he calls the “demon of unity.” I would be interested to know what you think of the roles of P2P or copyleft as either enforcing or acting against the risks linked to a unified total transparency in society.

  2. Hello Magnus,
    thank you very much for your inspiring ideas!
    I wonder if the distinction between consumers and producers in the conclusion of your article still fits your more progressive questions to reimagine.
    And I am very interested in how you think about the relation of redefining the social and creating new economical structures, i.e. the relation of undermining traditional ways of representation (in political and in descriptive/figurative terms) and constituting new ways of creating and exchanging value.