Tag Archives: occupy wall street

The Politics of Communications Technology

original

It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. (more…)

Augmented Activism: A Tactical Survey (Full Essay)

This is the full Augmented Activism essay. The two parts provide prescriptive tactics for how to incorporate technology in activist work. Part 1 was originally posted here and part 2 was here.

Part 1

Academics usually do not talk about “tactics.” There are theories, methods, critiques, but we -as professionals-rarely feel comfortable advocating for something as unstable or open to interpretation as a tactic. In the latest edition of the Science, Technology, and Human Values (The flagship journal for Society for Social Studies of Science) three authors threw caution to the wind and published the paper “Postcolonial Computing: A Tactical Survey“ [over-priced subscription required]. While the content of the paper is excellent, what excited me the most was their decision to describe their new “bag of tools” as a set of tactics. Kavita Philip, Lilly Irani, and Paul Dourish take a moment in their conclusion to reflect on their decision:

We call our results tactics, rather than methodologies, strategies, or universal guarantors of truth. Tactics lead not to the true or final design solution but to the contingent and collaborative construction of other narratives. These other narratives remain partial and approximate, but they are irrevocably opened up to problematization. (more…)

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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Emotional Technology – Part II: Wired rage, participatory witness

Image from Zeynep Tufecki/Technosociology.org

In the previous installment of this series, I set up what I characterize as the two primary areas of argument that stand against my primary claim: that social media technology and other forms of ICT, far from constraining emotional connections and the emotional power of solidarity-creating rituals, actually serve to facilitate emotions and the powerful connective work that emotional interaction does.

There are a number of ways that one could argue this is done, and Jenny Davis makes an especially pertinent argument in her post about the social cost of abstaining from digitally augmented forms of interaction. For the purposes of this piece, I want to focus my attention on the capacity of ICTs to facilitate the generation of emotional energy around contentious political action – especially contentious political action in a context of violent repression.

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Augmented Activism: A Tactical Survey (Part 2)

Is this an Oxymoron?

Most of our interactions with technology are rather mundane. We flip a light switch, buckle our seat belts, or place a phone call. We have a tacit knowledge of how these devices work. In other words, we have relatively standard, institutionalized, ways of interacting with familiar technologies. For example: if I were to drive someone else’s car, even if it is an unfamiliar model, I do not immediately consult the user manual. I look around for the familiar controls, maybe flick the blinkers on while the car is still in the drive way, and off I go. Removal of these technologies (or even significant alterations) can cause confusion. This is immediately evident if you are trying to meet a friend who does not own a cell phone. Typical conventions for finding the person in a crowded public space (“Yeah, I’m here. Near the stage? Yeah I see you waving.”) are not available to you. In years prior to widespread cell phone adoption, you might have made more detailed plans before heading out (“We’ll meet by the stage at 11PM.”) but now we work out the details on the fly. Operating cars and using cell phones are just a few mundane examples of how technologies shape social behavior beyond the actions needed to operate and maintain them. The widespread adoption of technologies, and the decisions by individual groups to utilize technologies can have a profound impact on the social order of communities. This second part of the Tactical Survey will help academics, activists, and activist academics assess the roll of information technology in a movement and make better decisions on when and how to use tools like social media, live video, and other forms of computer-mediated communication. (more…)

Augmented Activism: A Tactical Survey (Part 1)

Academics usually do not talk about “tactics.” There are theories, methods, critiques, but we -as professionals-rarely feel comfortable advocating for something as unstable or open to interpretation as a tactic. In the latest edition of the Science, Technology, and Human Values (The flagship journal for Society for Social Studies of Science) three authors threw caution to the wind and published the paper “Postcolonial Computing: A Tactical Survey“ [over-priced subscription required]. While the content of the paper is excellent, what excited me the most was their decision to describe their new “bag of tools” as a set of tactics. Kavita Philip, Lilly Irani, and Paul Dourish take a moment in their conclusion to reflect on their decision:

We call our results tactics, rather than methodologies, strategies, or universal guarantors of truth. Tactics lead not to the true or final design solution but to the contingent and collaborative construction of other narratives. These other narratives remain partial and approximate, but they are irrevocably opened up to problematization.

I will employ the language and approach of the “tactical survey” to offer a new set of conceptual tools for understanding augmented protest and revolution. It is my aim that they prove useful for activists as well as academics and journalists following Occupy Wall Street and similar movements. This first part focuses on the intersections of transparency, social media, privilege, and public depictions of protest. Part 2 will cover the utilization of corporate technological systems (e.g. Apple productsTwitter) and building alternatives to those systems (e.g. Vibe, Diaspora). These tactics are forged from observations (first hand and otherwise) of the #OWS movement. They are intentionally abstract, because they are menat to apply to a wide range of instances and scenarios.  (more…)

Self-Organization and The Hierarchy of Institutions

Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation analyzed twitter associations of Occupy Wall Street tweets and found a viral, highly decentralized network of individuals. They compared this to the Tea Party, which had a much more centralized group dynamic.

Americans have gotten so good at being consumers that it almost seems hackneyed to acknowledge such a thing. I say “almost” because there are still wonderfully interesting things being said in some literary and academic circles that continually find deeper levels of meaning in the seemingly shallow end of the societal pool. Our near-perfect systems of consumption not only make it technically possible to exchange beautifully designed plastic gift cards,but  it makes it socially acceptable as well. A gift-giver can reliably assume that the recipient a thousand miles away has access to the same stores, with almost the exact same products. The gift-giver can also assume a certain level of homogeneity about gift-giving practices. Most of us share a set of common beliefs about what constitutes a good gift: It should, relate to our interests, be useful, carry sentimental value, reflect the nature of a relationship, provide entertainment, and/or fill a need. When you give a gift card, you are acknowledging the need or want, but allowing the receiver to specify its final material (or digital) form. This system relies on stability and uniformity to function smoothly. There must be a common culture, as well as a reliable stream of goods and services. But such stability is becoming less, and less likely. Whether it is peak energy, financial collapse, or a little bit of both- our world is becoming less predictable and the systems that rely on steady streams of capital and petroleum are breaking down. In their place, we might begin to find self-organizing systems that are not only more efficient, but also much more just forms of resource distribution. (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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Archive of #PDMteaows Flash Conference

Credit: Andrew Hoppin

Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and PJ Rey (@pjrey) live-tweeted Personal Democracy Media’s From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond: A Flash Conference. Below is an archive of the conference backchannel (also here) as well as the video from the event. (more…)

Occupy Wall Street and Jacques Ellul’s Technique

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Start at 13:42 – 15:37 for images of Zuccotti Park being dismantled

The clearing of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators from the streets of various cities over the past few weeks has been a strikingly naked demonstration of the characteristic properties of what Jacques Ellul called “technique.”

Like other philosophers, Ellul thought of technology more as a state of being than as a collection of artifacts. “Technique” is the word he used to describe a phenomenon that includes, in addition to machines, the systems in which machines exist, the people who are enmeshed in those systems, and the modes of thought that promote the effective functioning of those systems.

In The Technological Society, Ellul called technique “the translation into action of man’s concern to master things by means of reason, to account for what is subconscious, make quantitative what is qualitative, make clear and precise the outlines of nature, take hold of chaos and put order into it.” The machine, he added, is “pure technique… the ideal toward which technique strives.” (more…)