Tag Archives: augmented dissent

#TtW12 Panel Spotlight: Manufacturing Dissent

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 4.2.12 and was updated to include video on 7.11.12. See the conference website for

Any study of politics is going to be fundamentally about power, and about who is free to exercise it and how: How policy is made, how the public sphere is constituted and how boundary lines are drawn around it, who has a voice and who is excluded from

Presider: Sarah Wanenchak

discussion or consideration, who is central and who is marginalized. By the same token, the study of contentious politics – as it focuses on dissent and protest – is fundamentally about how those who have been marginalized, denied a voice, and left without power act to seize the things that have been denied them: How activist communities form and frame themselves, how their objectives and tactics change over time, how they seek entry into the public sphere and engage the actors they find there, how the voiceless find a voice and what they use it to say. Moreover, it’s about what is visible and recognized: How we understand political action in light of what’s gone before and what might come in the future.

All of this would be complex enough without communications technology, and what this panel highlights is how technology changes and enriches this already-complicated picture. Communications technology has the potential to change what we understand by “public sphere” and how we construct meanings around events, as well as how different collective actors organize and react to each other. If knowledge and information are vital to the development of a social movement, then understanding how knowledge and information flow is additionally vital.

Given recent and ongoing global protest movements, the intersection of technology and protest is a subject both broad and deep. Rather than attempt to capture all aspects of it, the excellent papers in this panel call attention to more tightly focused corners of the political picture, and in so doing, illuminate further potential avenues for research and exploration. Additionally, the geographical and cultural focus of this panel is truly diverse, allowing us to push back a bit against the American-and-Eurocentric bias that appears too often in research of this kind.

Titles and abstracts are after the cut.

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Social Media, Public Space, and Claimsmaking

 

Last week, cell phone footage emerged on Youtube that purports to be taken by a Saudi Arabian woman in a mall, of her clash with the Saudi religious police. The woman is righteously indignant, insisting that they have no right to harass her, that it’s “none of [their] business if [she] wears nail polish”. She also tells them to “smile for the camera”, as she’s filming the entire thing and is sharing the footage.

The pattern of this particular encounter isn’t necessarily novel, and by Western standards a claim on the right to wear nail polish in public seems fairly mundane, but there is something worth noting about the specific dynamics inherent in sharing this kind of footage. Most obviously there’s the fact that in countries with repressive laws based on gender, wearing nail polish in public may indeed be an extremely subversive act, but that leaves aside the question of the cell phone footage itself, and what uploading it to Youtube does.

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Technology and the Power of the Injured Body

The image of injured war veteran Scott Olsen used as a call to further Occupy action.

The idea that bodies are the loci and the focus for the movement of power is a well-established one in sociological thought. In this sense, bodies are inherently political things – they are not just sites for the production and reproduction of social power but they also have political significance. What they do matters; what happens to them and why matters. In social theory this is often centered around Foucauldian concepts of discipline and the production of knowledge, but for the purposes of this post I want to go back to a previous post, where I made an argument specifically about the political significance of bodies in contexts of violent protest:

[B]odies have symbolic weight and power, and often they have the most symbolic weight and power of any other part of the movement. A dramatic flush of international outrage was generated around the film of Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death in a Tehran street, but it was the physical suffering and death of her physical body that generated that rage. Outrage grew exponentially out of the footage and images of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying seated UC Davis students, but again, that outrage was generated by and situated around the physical suffering of physical bodies.

It’s important to emphasize the aspect of physical suffering in itself; the body carries political, discursive significance not only when it is intact but when – sometimes especially when – it is in the process of being damaged and destroyed. And the context of this damage and destruction – the circumstances under which it occurs – is part of what imbues the  body with its significance and alters what nature it already has.

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Limbaugh’s Social Media Problem

Rush Limbaugh is experiencing an advertiser exodus, and social media is playing a big part.

It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:

Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology

Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time? (more…)

Occupy in Hibernation: A Response

Photo by David Shankbone, September 30th, NYC

Two days ago, Nathan Jurgenson wrote on what has become one of the central questions around Occupy Wall Street: Now that the encampments are closing up and the winter is coming on, can Occupy survive? The crucial point that Nathan makes is that we need to think about Occupy not just in terms of space but in terms of time – that permanence has been a part of what’s given the movement so much symbolic and discursive power. Nathan brings up an additional point, to which I want to respond here: that the role of physical permanence that the encampments represented was powerful because it resulted in a form of cognitive permanence in the minds of everyone who saw them (and heard them; the auditory side of Occupy is also vital to pay close attention to).

While I clearly agree with Nathan that the physical permanence that tents represent has been what’s given Occupy a lot of its power, I think we can glean enough evidence from how things have proceeded so far to at least make an educated guess at an answer to his question. For me, the answer is yes: I expect that Occupy will survive the winter and emerge in spring, albeit – like a bear emerging from hibernation – perhaps in somewhat of a different shape. There are several reasons why I come down on this side of things.

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Occupy, Space, and the Symbolic Power of a Tent

When the occupiers in Zuccotti Park began setting up tents, it was an inherently practical move. After cold, uncomfortable nights on tarps and huddled into sleeping bags (a situation imposed by a no-tent policy in the park, which was eventually not enforced), tents were a welcome way to make an occupied space more of a home, and closer to familiar conceptions of an established community.

But we need to understand tents as more than just tents.

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Everything New is Old Again: Historical Augmented Revolution

Occupy Berlin!

With all the rhetoric around “Facebook Revolutions” and “Twitter Revolutions”1 that we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years, it’s easy to get the sense that there’s something new about the character of contemporary political protest and revolutionary action, and that this newness is, in some fundamental way, the practical result of the omnipresent nature of technology. It’s difficult to miss the profound interweaving and enmeshing of the physical and digital aspects of protest as we see it in both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street – the weight of the protests produced by the occupation of physical space by gathered human bodies, coupled with the constant documentation and nearly instantaneous sharing of images, video, and text that have chronicled these physical occupations and arguably helped them to grow – in short, the augmented nature of contemporary social action. We see this and to us it feels new. Even if we recognize that there are old things at work here – symbolism, patterns of mobilization and diffusion, pieces of the past reclaimed for the purpose of the present – we at least feel instinctively that there is something novel about the Arab Spring, Occupy, and all the other movements and events that have birthed themselves in correlation.

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Jailbreak the Patriarchy! Chrome Extension

“Jailbreak the patriarchy!” is a new Chrome extension from Danielle Sucher. The neat little project allows you to reframe the information you encounter on the internet by switching the gender of the content presented. The extension basically replaces instances of man with woman, he with she, and various other nouns and pronouns with their gendered equivalent (although it doesn’t always retain proper grammar). As Sucher herself states:

Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: “he loved his mother very much” would read as “she loved her father very much”, “the patriarchy also hurts men” would read as “the matriarchy also hurts women”, that sort of thing.

This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!

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#OWS and the Formation of Rhizomatic Associations

Zuccotti Park before a march

Last week I went down to Zuccotti Park out of an overwhelming desire to be a part of something intensely important. One of my professors  compared the occupation of Wall Street to People’s Park in Berkley, California. He also sees strong connections to the ongoing hacktivist activities in Spain. OccupyWallst.org draws their tactics explicitly form the Arab Spring. I have waited so long to write something about my own experiences because, frankly, it almost feels too personal. So, if you’ll indulge me, this post is going to be a little different from the ones I’ve written in the past.

While the major news outlets try desperately to shoehorn OWS into existing frames, smaller outlets have provided excellent commentary and insight. Jenny Davis was the first on this blog to write about the movement’s use of social media. Since her insightful post, social media has proven to be an effective tool in revealing police brutality and even possible entrapment by the NYPD. The various Twitter backchannels have been instrumental in organizing and publicizing the organization – as well as the results- of major protests. Nathan has also done an excellent job of discussing the relationship of online and offline action. And yesterday’s post by Sarah Wanenchak describes exactly my feelings on the confluence of various forms of technology. There truly is no easy way to describe the feeling you get when you hear the people’s mic for the first time. It is a little difficult to master, but a truly powerful tool.

Having participated in (more…)

Social Media and Our Atmosphere of Augmented Dissent

laptops at the #occupy protests

Mass collective action is in the air, on the ground, on the web; indeed, there exists today an atmosphere conducive for revolutions, flash mobs, protests, uprisings, riots, and any other way humans coalesce physically and digitally to change the normal operation of society. [Photos of protests around the globe from just the past 30 days].

Some gatherings have clear goals (e.g., ousting Mubarak), however. there is also the sense that massive gatherings are increasingly inevitable today even when a reason for them is not explicit (e.g., the ongoing debate over the reasons for the UK Riots or the current #occupy protests). For some this is terrifying and for others it is exhilarating. And still others might think I am greatly overstating the amount of protest actually happening. True, we do not yet know if this second decade of the 21st Century will come to be known for massive uprisings. But if it is, I think it will have much to do with social media effectively allowing for the merging of atoms and bits, of the on and offline; linking the potential of occupying physical space with the ability of social media to provide the average person with information and an audience.

For example, the current #occupy protests across the United States (more…)