Stephen Wright: Toward a Lexicon of Usership, 2013

The past several decades have witnessed what might be described as a broad usological turn across all sectors of society. Of course, people have been using words and tools, services and drugs, since time immemorial. But with the rise of networked culture, users have come to play a key role as producers of information, meaning and value, breaking down the long-standing opposition between consumption and production. With the decline of such categories of political subjectivity as organised labour, and the waning of the social-democratic consensus, usership has emerged as an unexpected alternative—one that is neither clear cut nor welcomed by all. For usership runs up against three stalwart conceptual edifices of the contemporary order: expert culture, for which users are invariably misusers; spectatorship, for which usership is inherently opportunistic and fraught with self-interest; and most trenchantly of all, the expanding regime of ownership, which has sought to curtail long-standing rights of use. Yet usership remains as tenacious as it is unruly. The cultural sphere, too, has witnessed a shift. Turning away from pursuing art’s aesthetic function, many practitioners are redefining their engagement with art, less in terms of authorship than as users of artistic competence, insisting that art foster more robust use values and gain more bite in the real.

Wright, Stephen. Toward a Lexicon of Usership. Van Abbemuseum: Eindhoven, 2013.