McKenzie Wark (b. September 10, 1961) is an Australian-born writer and scholar. He works mainly on media theory, critical theory and new media. His best known works are A Hacker Manifesto and Gamer Theory.
Kenneth McKenzie Wark was born in Newcastle, Australia in 1961 and grew up with his older brother Robert and sister Susan. McKenzie's mother died when he was 6 years old. Brother Robert McKenzie Wark remembers reading to him as a young child and the three children were brought up by their architect father Ross Kenneth Wark. McKenzie studied at Macquarie University, the University of Technology, Sydney and at Murdoch University. He is currently Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at The New School in New York City. McKenzie Wark is married to Christen Clifford, they have two children Felix and Vera.
In Virtual Geography, published in 1994, Wark offered a theory of what he called the ‘weird global media event’. Examples given in the book include the stock market crash of 1987, the Tiananmen square demonstrations of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He argued that the emergence of a global media space – a virtual geography – made out of increasingly pervasive lines of communication – vectors – was emerging as a more chaotic space than globalization theory usually maintains.
Much of Wark's early engagement in public debate occurred in the Australian post-marxist quarterly Arena, through a number of articles and exchanges about the character of real abstraction, the meta-ideological character of post-structuralism, and the consequences of these issues for emancipatory social theory.
In two subsequent books, The Virtual Republic, published in 1997, and Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace (1999), Wark turned his attention to the national cultural space of his homeland, Australia. The first of these works examined the so-called ‘culture wars’ of the 1990s as symptomatic of struggles over the redefinition of Australian national identity and culture in an age of global media. The second of these ‘Australian’ books looked at the transformation of a social democratic idea of the ‘popular’ as a political idea into a more market-based and media-driven popular culture.
Both these studies grew out of Wark’s experience as a public intellectual who participated in public controversies, mainly through his newspaper column in The Australian, a leading national daily. He developed an approach based on participant observation, but adapted to the media sphere.
Wark described the process of culture by which "the jolt of new experiences becomes naturalised into habit" or second nature and describes the information society as not being new but something that changes through culture the balance between space binding and time binding media.
He further describes the concept of "third nature" or telesthesia, where devices such as television and the telephone creates a platform which we use to communicate to people over large distances and not just a machine that we learn to operate individually. This is described in his book The Virtual Republic:
"While it may feel natural for some to inhabit this media-made world, I suspect there is a fundamental change here that has a lot of people just a bit spooked. It's no longer a case of making second nature out of nature, of building things and getting used to living in the world people build. I think it might be interesting to consider telesthesia to be something fundamentally different. What gets woven out of telegraph, telephone, television, telecommunications is not a second nature but what I call third nature."[page needed]
Wark emigrated to the United States in 2000. With the Australian poet John Kinsella, Australian novelist Bernard Cohen and Australian memoirist Terri-Ann White, he co-wrote Speed Factory, an experimental work about distance and expatriation. The co-authors developed for this the speed factory writing technique, in which an author writes 300 words, emails it to the next author, who then has 24 hours to write the next 300 words.
Dispositions, another experimental work followed. Wark traveled the world with a GPS device and recorded observations at particular times and coordinates. The media theorist Ned Rossiter has called this approach a ‘micro-empiricism’, and sees it as derived from the work of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
In 2004 Wark published his best known work, A Hacker Manifesto. Here Wark argues that the rise of intellectual property creates a new class division, between those who produce it, who he calls the hacker class, and those who come to own it, the vectoralist class. Wark argues that these vectoralists have imposed the concept of property on all physical fields (thus having scarcity), but now the new vectoralists lay claim to intellectual property, a field that is not bound by scarcity. By the concept of intellectual property these vectoralists attempt to institute an imposed scarcity in an immaterial field. Wark argues that the vectoral class cannot control the intellectual (property) world but only it in its commodified form, they only control the information in the objectified form but not its overall application or use.
Gamer Theory combined Wark’s interest in experimental writing techniques in networked media with his own developing media theory. Gamer Theory was first published by the Institute for the Future of the Book as a networked book with his own specially designed interface. In Gamer Theory Wark argues that in a world that is increasingly competitive and game-like, computer games are a utopian version of the world (itself an imperfect game), because they actually realize the principles of the level playing field and reward based on merit that is elsewhere promised but not actually delivered.
Wark's recent work explores the art, writing, and politics of the Situationist International (SI). In his book 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International (the result of a lecture given at Columbia University), Wark examines the influences of Situationist aesthetics on contemporary art and activist movements, from tactical media to the anti-globalism movement. Wark pays particular attention to often-neglected figures and works in the SI, including the utopian architectural projects of Constant, the painting of Giuseppe Pinot, and the novels of Michèle Bernstein.
At the theoretical level, Wark’s writing can be seen in the context of three currents: British Cultural Studies, German Critical Theory and French Poststructuralism. His earlier works combined British and French influences to extend Australian cultural studies to encompass questions of globalization and new media technology. His later works draw more from Critical Theory and much revised Marxism. Through his experimentation with new media forms, starting with listservers such as nettime.org and later with web interfaces such as the one developed for Gamer Theory, his works intersect with other new media theorists such as Geert Lovink and Mark Amerika.
Professor Wark teaches the Militarized Vision lecture at The New School as well as Introduction to Cultural Studies.
Wark has come under severe criticism for his recent works on the Situationist International. It has been claimed that these texts are full of inaccuracies and misrepresent Situationist critique by recuperating it into a postmodernist apology for capitalism. At the same time, there was a massive backlash against his decision to give away a Guy Debord action figure as part of a publicity stunt for The Spectacle of Disintegration (2013). These criticisms, and future ones, are collected on a fake fan website.
- Virtual Geography: Living With Global Media Events, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1994
- The Virtual Republic: Australia’s Culture wars of the 1990s, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1997
- Ray Edgar and Ashley Crawford (eds) Transit Lounge, Fine Art Publishing, Melbourne, 1998 (includes several of Wark’s 21C essays).
- Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace, Pluto Press Australia, Sydney, 1999
- Josephine Bosma et al. (eds), Readme!, Autonomedia, New York, 1999
- Dispositions, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2002
- with Bernard Cohen, John Kinsella and Terri-Ann White, Speed Factory, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 2002
- A Hacker Manifesto, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2004 (Spanish translation: Un Manifiesto Hacker, Alpha Decay, Barcelona,2006)
- GAM3R 7H30RY, Institute for the Future of the Book, 2006 (Link)
- Gamer Theory, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2007
- 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2008
- The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, Verso, 2011
- Telesthesia: Communication, Culture and Class, Polity, 2012
- Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation (with Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker) (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
- The New School: Ken Wark
- An Inhuman Fiction of Forces, lecture at Leper Creativity symposium, The New School, 11 March 2011
- Interview with First Monday
- Review of A Hacker Manifesto by Terry Eagleton
- Chronicle of Higher Education article Gamer Theory and the networked book
Texts by McKenzie Wark
- The Aims of Education (The New School convocation, 2 September 2010)
- A Hacker Manifesto
- Hacker Manifesto, version 4
- GAMER THE0RY, version 2.0 (Institute for the Future of the Book)
- Post Human? All Too Human