21A.511 Hacking from the South

During the last stretch of the COVID-19 quarantine era, students enrolled in MIT’s 21A.511 mobilized anthropological perspectives to explore what it means to “hack from the South.” This intellectual journey aimed to connect two critical moves: (1) understanding how definitions of hacking are grounded in specific political and socio-cultural contexts, and (2) focusing on knowledge production practices “from below” that summon the hacker ethos by manipulating technical structures and turning systems on themselves.

The resulting audio/video essays combine immersive storytelling with personal experiences and rich soundscapes to illuminate how hacking from the South serves as a call to work in solidarity across North/South divides in order to reverse relations of power by repurposing systems for equitable ends.

Jenny interweaves her reflections on public transportation infrastructures with voices from community members who participate in matatu culture in Nairobi, to ask what ridesharing might look like “from below,” or what perspectives from the Global South might teach us about innovation and “development.” Victor highlights how independent Android developers, from Venezuela to Los Angeles, develop grandiose aesthetics which fly in the face of “responsible” consumption, at the same time that they reclaim storage space in custom ROMs that allow users to maximize the usability, longevity, and personality of their devices. Max takes us on a visual voyage through divergent aesthetics of animation that demand not to be understood but to simply be experienced, where animators from around the world craft worlds “where the male and female, the North and South, the mundane and strange can all exist at once.” Aidan brings us into the cultures of Romhacking, where hackers who participate in robust transnational communities translate video games by spending countless hours building custom computational tools to navigate the intricate software conventions of original game consoles. Andrea’s evocative soundscape connects contemporary cyborg witchcraft with the politics of body hacking, the spiritual dimension of makerspaces, and the metaphors that emerge when these movements align, in order to consider what it means to live an ecofeminist life.