Mei-Chun Lee takes the page 99 test

At the bottom of page 99 in my dissertation “The ‘Nobody’ Movement: Digital Activism and the Uprising of Civic Hackers in Taiwan” is a quote from the g0v (pronounced gov-zero) manifesto: Built on the spirit of the open-source community, g0v stands for freedom of speech and information transparency. We aim to use technology in the interest of the public good, allowing citizens easy access to vital information. Opening up and making data public allows the people of Taiwan to take a closer look at politics and important issues. This gives them the tools needed to evaluate their government and exert their democratic right to influence government actions.

g0v, the focus of this dissertation, is a Taiwan-based civic tech community that intervenes and subverts bureaucratic government through the technological translation of openness. Replacing the letter “o” in “government” with the number “0” to indicate the computer binary zero and one, the name “g0v” signifies both their hacker identity and the grassroots, bottom-up approach of activism. This quote on page 99 vividly encapsulates the multiplicity and equivocation of openness. Here we see openness is translated into open source technologies, freedom, transparency, public, and democracy. Openness is both the means (open source technology and open data) and the ends (civic participation and democracy). Its rich meaning provides the room for these hackers to improvise their political actions amid the changing political environment.

Later in the dissertation, I also reveal that the equivocation of openness can lead to tension and conflicts in this decentralized community especially when some participants started to connect and collaborate with hierarchical organizations such as companies, NGOs, and the government. The most renowned case is Audrey Tang, one of the most active g0v participants who was later appointed as Taiwan’s first digital minister in 2016. While Tang’s government appointment allows her to push open data and public-private collaboration further from within the government, this also leads to the institutionalization of openness and devours g0v’s political space. To tackle this community crisis, g0v participants maneuver within translations of openness in order not to be depoliticized. It is in the process of contesting openness that g0v takes a parasitic position between inside and outside, continuity and disruption, collaboration and resistance in order to keep on making politics.

The quote on page 99 is where I took an initial clue before delving into the translations of openness. As the manifesto and the idea of openness continue to appeal to young generations in Taiwan, we must continue examining how openness is conceived, discussed, practiced, and envisioned towards a techno-political future.

Mei-Chun Lee. 2020. The ‘Nobody’ Movement: Digital Activism and the Uprising of Civic Hackers in Taiwan. University of California, Davis Phd.

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