I speak publicly on a variety of topics.

I have a Patreon, here, where you can subscribe to support my security and systems-focused writing.  You sign up for a fixed amount per essay (with an optional monthly cap), and you'll be notified every time I publish something new.  At higher support levels, you'll get early access, a chance to get in-depth answers to your questions, and even for more general consulting time.

If you like the work I do, you can also support it via Flattr:

Flattr this is me.  Along with public speaking, I write, make art, take photographs, and work on a number of public projects.   © 2017 Eleanor Saitta.

RSS Feed for essays and talks

Upcoming Talks

If you're interested in having me speak at your conference or to come in and talk to your team, please get in touch!  I don't currently have any planned public talks.

Past Talks

This section is really terribly, tragically out of date. It's missing my talk with Quinn Norton at 30C3, “No Neutral Ground in a Burning World”, plus talks at the London ICA, the Creative Time Summit at the Venice Bienalle, Hack in the Box GSEC, Malmö's The Conference, O'Reilly Velocity Amsterdam, and a host of others.  Yes, I'll get this caught up once I can, but new work and writing takes precedence right now.  If there's a talk you're interested in and you don't see it here, search on twitter or ask me — chances are good the slides and/or video are already online and just not linked here.

Most recent first:

Ethics and Power in the Long War

I gave a talk on surveillance, ethics, economics, the balance of power, and our responses to all this at OHM (Observe Hack Make), the 2013 Dutch Hacker camp.  A number of political issues came up during the run-up to the camp around several of the sponsors who sold or supported government surveillance, and also around the responses of the organizing committee to public censure there.  Originally, my intent had been to skip the camp entirely, but I'd ended up in Amsterdam during it anyway, so I came and gave this talk.

I'd like to thank Quinn Norton for many conversations over the years that inspired a lot of what I said here; much of the credit is hers, all of the blame is mine.  I'd also like to thank the folks at Noisy Square, the political sub-camp within OHM that worked to collectively resist surveillance culture there, and who were my hosts for this talk and arranged both the talk and this transcription.  The transcribing was done by Lunar, hdez, kali, KheOps, pabs, zilog, and others, and they had it done, proofread, and online six hours after I stopped talking — a great collaborative effort.  I've edited their transcript lightly (here's the original) so it makes more sense in writing, but it's still a bit rougher than what I'd write as an essay.

Why do people spy?  What is the economic structure of international mass surveillance?  How do the revelations of the past months interact with the tools we build and the mindset from which we build them?  What does all this mean for hacker culture, and how does this change the debate that was already happening around OHM?  What, really, do we need the Internet for anyway?  I'll try to leave you with more answers than questions, and with luck, hope for the future too.

Networks and Nation States

Presented at Unlike Us 2, on Saturday, March 10 2012, in Amsterdam.

Moving from a centralized, institution-driven culture to a network structure would imply massive disruption even without the simultaneous failure of neoliberalized capital and onrushing climactic and resource catastrophe.  As we understand of our current position, we must expect an unprecedented degree of societal disruption.  The shape of that disruption is determined in part by the nature of institution to network transition.  If we want to understand this disruption, we have to start here.

In this talk, we're going to look at a couple of specific, concrete projects that point to tha shape, namely the Constitutional Analysis Support Team and our work in conducting a threat model of the Icelandic constitution and the Sukey project in London, a crowd-sourced, distributed, real-time activist counterintelligence system.  With these projects, we'll paint a picture of the structures of institutional failure and reconstitution and what a hollow institution looks like in practice.  We'll close with discussion of the problems of institutional discretion and the jurisprudence of networks.

Slides are available here, and a rough script is available here.

Here's the video of this talk:

Adventures in Participatory Nation-Building

Presented at FSCONS 2011, in Göteborg on Sunday, November 13 2011.

If you had a chance, how would your alter the structure of your state?

What if, instead of being built in smoky back rooms, the fundamental documents of the nations we lived in were made in public, out on the Internet for all to see?  What would this mean for the fight for civil rights?

Constitutions are the fundamental building blocks of states, and they frame the legal context for all of a society.  Law is just another system, however, and constitutional law is a uniquely self-contained legal system.  Over the past thirty years, we've learned how to build systems in public.  In the security world specifically, we've also learned a lot about analyzing formal systems.  The same kinds of analytic techniques used in security and related spheres can be used on law — indeed, the security of law has far-reaching implications, especially for issues like civil rights.

This past year, Iceland took a radically new, open approach to attempting to rewrite their constitution, and I was part of a team that attempted to provide analytic support to the Constitutional Assembly.  We crowdsourced translations, used a variety of textual and semantic analysis techniques, and worked on threat models for the new constitution.  This talk will look at the way the Assembly worked, the tools and methods we used to support them, some legal history going back to the 17th century, and what's up next for the Constitutional Analysis Support Team.

Slides for this talk are available here, and video is online here.  For more information on the Constitutional Analysis Support Team, see our website at

Arse Elektronika 2011: Experiential Technologies for the Performance of Socio-Sexual Identities

Presented at Arse Elektronika 2011 in San Francisco, on Saturday, October 1, 2011.

We usually think of technology as something physically embodied in hunks of glass and silicon, but it's now just as likely to refer to a purely virtual object.  Let's take this a step further and look at social patterns and scripts as pieces of experiential technology.

A significant amount of work has been done over the past two decades using performance as a lens to understand how gender and sexuality operate in people's lives.  In general, this work has looked at performance as something mostly unintentional and unconscious — social learning by unconscious modeling of societal patterns.  However, this isn't always the case, and there are and have been many classes of people who engage in performance intentionally and intellectually.

What happens when we use experiential technologies to weird socio-sexual performance?  This isn't just a theoretical question, and in this talk, we'll look at BDSM, drag, chaos magic, and avant-garde live action roleplaying as starting points to project forward from.

No slides for this talk, but a rough script will be available at some point, and will be published in a future Arse Elektronika anthology.

Our Stories, Our Weapons

On suicide, stories, and war.  Originally delivered on Saturday, August 20, 2011 at the 2011 Uncivilization festival in Hampshire, in the UK.

Turning the World Upside Down, or Threat Modeling a Constitution

Presented at ToorCon Seattle 2011, on June 18, 2011.

We hear a lot of news about how law affects the security world, whether it's crypto-rights, disclosure laws, or jurisdictional questions, but very little about the security of law.  Laws are just another system — the same security analysis techniques work on them too, and the Icelandic Constitution Analysis Support Project is doing just that, building threat models of a new constitution.  This talk will look at the project, the tools in use, and a bit of legal history going back to the 17th century.

Slides are available here, and a rough script is available here.

Things Fall Apart

Presented at an internal Philips Design Probes conference on “Livable Cities” in Eindhoven on Wednesday, April 27, 2011.  This talk contained a large amount of the material for “Your Infrastructure Will Kill You” below, and I haven't written a separate summary for it, but it adds a material on soft infrastructure and how networks act as power structures.  Philips specifically asked me to speak to the following questions:.

  • Can non-government networks step up when governments fail to provide basic services?

  • How much will the digital layer and the physical layer melt into each other?

  • What will be the influence of self-organized digital communities on cities?

The slides from the talk can be found here, and the script I spoke from is here.

Your Infrastructure Will Kill You

Presented at 27c3 in Berlin, Wednesday, December 29, 2010.

The past century our infrastructure has seen both massive expansion and heavy centralization.  When it fails, it fails big — this is the reality of our modern interconnectedness.  We live in a world of crumbling bridges and bankrupt states, and our infrastructure will kill us.  The people we're relying on to keep us safe are trying to accomplish long-term risk management with short-term thinking.  So, what now?  We can't opt out, but we can become more resilient, and we can start thinking about risk differently.

In this talk, we'll look at threat modeling in the real world, six ways to die, failing states, that big party in the desert, the failure of the humanitarian project, algae and the U.S. military, large-scale natural disasters, the power grid, and many other things.  The problems we face are big in every sense of the word — they involve some of the biggest things we've ever built — but the solutions may not be.  Can non-governmental networks step up when governments fail to provide basic services?  Can we avoid a further expansion of neoliberalism in a post-infrastructural state?  Are the power structures embedded in our infrastructure cultural destiny?  What happens when maker culture grows up?

Come find out, while you still have a choice.

Preliminary slides for this talk are available here.

Here's the video from the talk:

Making Space / Making Publics / Making Politics

Presented at DIY Citizenship 2010 in Toronto, Friday, November 12, 2010.

New hackerspaces are starting all over the world on an almost daily basis.  In creating any new space, there is always a period of build-out, turning the shell of a rented building into a useable, functional place.  During this time, the basic character of the group begins to appear, relationships with the larger community are formed, and the political structure of the group is tested.  Hackerspaces, especially young ones, tend to inhabit nondescript locations, and operate like temporary commercial enterprises.  What effect do those spaces have on the members, their interaction with the community, and the way their politics operate?  Are there different physical models that would encourage more engagement with the surrounding community?  How do models of physical and virtual access to the hackerspace relate to each other, and shape the feeling and function of the place and its community interaction?  How does the act of physically building the space alter the power relations of traditional space consumption?

Hackerspaces often conceive of themselves as separate from other, older traditions of non-normative spaces, from squats to art collectives, even though there is more of a continuum of praxis.  How do hackerspaces relate spatially to these others?  Is the lack of organizational memory supported physically?  Do spaces in the larger DIY community have different spatial relationships than hackerspaces?

We will approach these questions with a combination of a survey and analysis of existing spaces and design fiction to point the way toward alternate electronic and physical configurations.

Preliminary slides for this talk are available here, and a rough version of the accompanying essay is  here.

Designing Spaces for Sex: Expanding the Intimate Possibilities of the Built Environment

Presented at Arse Elektronika 2010 in San Francisco, Saturday, October 2, 2010.  This is the blurb I went into the talk with, and the content went roughly along these lines.

The design world loves to talk about “making things sexy”, but somehow that rarely translates to actual sex or actual intimacy, only the consumption of desire.  The modern city is not designed around human relationships, let alone intimacy, so we adapt ourselves to the city instead, figuring out how to have those relationships inside the consumptive structure of the city.  As we try to fit our lives and our selves into the city, the logic of the built environment exerts social and economic force to limit us to a narrow range of acceptable intimacies, identities, and structures.  What would it look like to change this?  What does a city that's designed for human life, in all its varieties, look like?  What does an architecture of sexuality, in both the theoretical/fantastic and practical/real modes, look like?  Let's find out!

The slides for this talk are available here, and a rough script is available here.

Buying Privacy in Digitized Cities

Presented at SIGINT 10 in Köln, Monday, May 24, 2010, and at The Next Hope in NYC, July 16-18, 2010.  Talk description:

As new sensing technologies appear in our cities almost overnight, what does it mean to be visible or invisible?  What happens when socioeconomic categories determine when, where, and how you're seen?  The asymmetry in who is visible, and where, is a long-standing urban problem, but it is now being built into our technologies and our cities.

The worlds of advertising, city planning, and law enforcement are each creating their own inconsistent visions.  Privacy is not dead; rather, it is being selectively vivisected.  What can we do to fix this?  In this talk, we'll cover a lot of problems and a few solutions, including the announcement of a new competition for the development of tactical countersurveillance tools.

The slides from The Next HOPE are available here and the script is available here

Playing with the Built City

Originally presented at 26C3 in Berlin, Tuesday, December 29, 2009, and again at Notacon 7 in Cleveland, Friday, April 16 2010.  Talk description:

Architecture and urban planning define the world we interact with.  This has many deep and not always obvious effects — everything from what we can do in public spaces to the kinds of families we can live with.  The cities end up with rarely allow us the flexibility and humanity we want.

Cities, buildings, infrastructure are heavily politicized systems with embodied power structures on many different levels.  We can intervene, alter those structures, and create the spaces we need and want.  Architecture is generally the domain of the rich and powerful, but it doesn't have to be — we can intervene and hack the city.

In this talk, we'll explore modern urban power structures and look at different ways we as individuals can subvert the city.  We'll move outside the design-culture consumer conversation around architecture and urban futurism, and explore how to change our cities, one brick at a time.

The slides from Notacon (updated with more images) are available here.  Additionally, there is an essay, now published in monochrom (volume 26-34, “Ye Olde Self-Referentiality”, ISBN 3950237267) and also the forthcoming proceedings of the 2009 Paraflows conference: URBAN HACKING.  A copy of it is available here.

Here's the video from the talk:

Designing the Future of Sex

Originally presented at Arse Elektronika 2009 in San Francisco, Saturday, October 3 2009, and again at Notacon 7 in Cleveland, Saturday, April 17 2010.  Talk description:

Humans use tools, and the tools we use change us.  This is true for everything we do, and we're rarely more inventive than where sex is concerned.  To understand the future of sex, we need to think like designers, and look at the future of sexual technology.  The most basic frontiers of sexual technology are relatively well-trodden.  An IP connected dildo is boring — fun to use, and certainly not an exhausted category, but theoretically less interesting.  Let's explore new territory, ask questions, and answer them with design fictions.

  • How do we find partners in a post-hetero networked world of splintered sexualities?
  • What happens when you mediate intimacy?
  • What defines safe sex when boundaries are seen as challenges?
  • How can we build radically fictive sexual bodies right now?

The slides from Arse Elektronika are available here, and an essay version of the script is here.