Steinmetz, Kevin F. Hacked: A Radical Approach to Hacker Culture and Crime. 2016. New York: New York University Press. xv + 285 pages. Paperback, $28.
"Hackers" and "hacking" occupy a complicated place in twenty-first century American life. Images of misfit teenagers, sinister manipulators of the democratic process, and monomaniacally-focused corporate intruders abound. Kevin Steinmetz acknowledges that those archetypes have some legitimacy but makes a convincing case that "craftsperson," "guild member," and "exploited proletarian" should be added to the iconography of hacking. On his account, hackers and hacker culture occupy an interesting and important place in American culture and the post-Fordist economy, one that can be fruitfully explored with a "radical" (Marx-inspired) approach. The book provides a worthwhile overview of the breadth of hacking and hacker culture for those who are unfamiliar with the phenomenon and provides some real insights into the political economy of hacking in the twenty-first century.
Hacked's greatest original contributions lie in its conceptualization of hacking as a "craft," with all of craftsmanship's political economic connotations. Defined as "doing something well for its own sake" (p. 74), Steinmetz is able to explore some of the internal life of those he considers hackers, drawing clear and legitimate parallels to practitioners of other crafts. This allows him to specify a specific hacker mindset (a "hacker ethic," pace Levy 1984) that, on his analysis, differentiates hacking from other technological avocations. This is probably appropriate but does raise analytic problems later in the work.
Another noteworthy contribution lies in describing the social/ideological construction of hackers as a "problem population" (p. 172). Steinmetz notes that the term "hacker" has generally become conflated with "criminal," and situates the social construction of hackers and hacking into the broader context of moral panics, which generally result in the citizenry ceding more and more autonomy to the state. There is ample room for follow up work here on the intersection of media framing of hackers and changes in...