Tag Archives: social movements

Thank you, Geoffrey Miller

Earlier this month Geoffrey Miller (@matingmind), the now infamous professor of evolutionary psychology, punched out a really awful tweet. He said this:

Tygm

His message is blaringly ironic, coming from a man who clearly lacked the willpower to think through the statement before making it public #truth. Although he later deleted the tweet, his followers had already created screen captures and sent the image into a spiraling journey of virality.

I don’t want to spend my post today harping on Miller’s particular indiscretion. Others have been busy doing just that, quite eloquently, for the past week and a half. Instead, I want to talk about Fatness as a moral stigma, and the ways in which Miller’s tweet first, exposed the moral nature of body size and in turn, offered Fat Activists an opportunity to publicly reject Fatness as a marker of immorality. This was facilitated, I argue, by the affordances of new technologies coupled with determined and conscientious social actors. (more…)

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…)

A Request for Methods: Studying the Development of Software

IBM’s SAGE, a large semi-automated air defense system from the Cold War era. C/o Wikimedia Commons

IBM’s SAGE, a large semi-automated air defense system from the Cold War era. C/o Wikimedia Commons

I just left my department’s colloquium lecture series where Dr. Virginia Eubanks from SUNY- Albany was giving an excellent talk on the computer systems that administer and control (to varying degrees) earned benefits programs like social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. The talk was really fascinating and a question from Dr. Abby Kinchy during the Q&A really stuck with me: How do we study different (and often long-outdated) versions of software? Particularly, how do we chart the design of software that runs on huge closed networks owned by large companies or governments? Are these decisions lost to history, or are there methods for ferreting out Ross Perot’s old wares? (more…)

HRC Profile Pictures: In Defense of the Red Sea

in defense

 

Last week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments on landmark civil liberties cases with regards to same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the courts took on California’s Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage, and on Wednesday they heard arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, a law that excludes same-sex couples from federal recognition. In light of these cases, I saw two interrelated trends in my Facebook newsfeed: profile pictures in the form of the red Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sign (headline photo), and snarky status updates making fun of these HRC profile pictures, accompanied by a note of support for marriage equality[i]. That is, although both groups shared and expressed the same opinion about same-sex marriage, they disagreed about the appropriate methods for showing this support. This disagreement highlights debates about political activism in the face of new technologies and brings us back to the question: Does slacktivism matter? I will argue here, as I have argued before that yes, it does. (more…)

The Battle in the Dark: Syria’s Communication Blackout

Via Renesys
http://www.renesys.com/blog/2012/11/syria-off-the-air.shtml

  *12/01/2012: SEE UPDATE BELOW ORIGINAL POST*

Today (Thursday November 29, 2012), Syria’s internet shut down. This is a serious situation with literal life and death implications. We have been following the situation on the Cyborgology Facebook page since the story broke (largely, this consisted of seeing what was going on with Andy Carvin @acarvin). Much of this story has yet to play out, and we will certainly continue to follow/write about it as events progress and we learn more. Right now, I want to take a moment to explore one aspect of what this all means. Namely, I want to explore the question: why did the internet shut off now? To do so, I turn to Derrick Bell’s interest convergence theory. (more…)

Damnit, I Want to Talk About #OWS (But I Don’t Want it to Come Back)

“Those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves.”

“Power to the imagination.”

“I don’t like to write on walls.”

-Graffiti in May of 1968 Paris, France. 

I was gonna write something about how I appreciate Procatinator more than everyone else, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Not today anyway. Remember when the United States had this popular uprising and everyone was talking about it and the political establishment was actually afraid of what it could accomplish?  When hundreds of thousands of Americans were exposed to political organizing and direct action for the first time? That started a year ago today, and while the summer did not see massive protests, the Fall promises a new start. A resurgence built upon… arbitrary calendar dates, I suppose. Truthfully, I see no reason why Zuccotti park should be re-occupied, nor should anyone feel the need to act out of a fear of “losing momentum.” Momentum is important for steering large ships, but direct action is all about swimming against the tide. Anarchist movements (and Occupy undeniably fits this category) are by their very definition: voluntary, small, functional, and temporary. We don’t need another occupation of Zuccotti Park. We need something new. (more…)

Twitter Isn’t a Twitterland, and That’s Why It’s Dangerous

Photos by Nathan Jurgenson, taken in Washington, D.C., 17, January 2012.

Malcolm Harris has posted one of the most provocative things I’ve ever read about social media, “Twitterland.” I’d like to point you the story and go through some of the many issues he brings to light. Harris’ story is one of theorizing Twitter and power; it can reinforce existing power imbalances, but, as is the focus here, how it can also be used to upset them.

Digital Dualism
Harris begins by taking on the idea that Twitter is a “tool” or an “instrument”, arguing that, no, Twitter is not a map, but the territory; not the flier but the city itself; hence the title “Twitterland.” However, in nearly the same breath, Harris states he wants to “buck that trend” of “the faulty digital-dualist frame the separates ‘real’ and online life.” As most readers here know, I coined the term digital dualism and provided the definition on this blog and thus have some vested interest in how it is deployed. And Harris’ analysis that follows indeed bucks the dualist trend, even though I would ask for some restating of the more theoretical parts of his argument. I’d like to urge Harris not to claim that Twitter is a new city, but instead focus on how Twitter has become part of the city-fabric of reality itself. (more…)

#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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#TtW12 Session Spotlight: Revolution, Now what?

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). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

Last year, at the inaugural Theorizing the Web Conference many of the presentations and indeed conversations outside of the formal panels centered on attempting to understand the role of social media in political movements. Understandably many of these discussions were heavily informed by the events surrounding, for lack of a better term, “the Arab Spring.”

A year later criticism about the role of social media in political protests has matured, for the most part the conversation has moved beyond the reductive and simplistic, “Twitter and Facebook caused the revolution vs. Social Media was the least interesting thing” polarity, instead crystalizing on a more nuanced approach. While scholars have more or less come to terms with the notion that social media can play a role in social protest, contributing to a media ecology which empowers revolutionaries in a way not possible during prior struggles, the ensuing struggle has raised questions about the role social media can play in establishing a new power structure (not just in overthrowing an existing one). In short social media might be good for revolutions, but is it good for democracies?

Indeed a year out critics are now pointing out that the social media enabled protests in Egypt have yet to yield a stable democracy. And in another example critics are also quick to claim that while social media helped to drive the Occupy Protests, the digital network has not been as useful in helping the Occupy Movement produce any substantial policy change.

This session seeks to address these questions, examining the effects of social media on re-building power after a revolution, asking not only what effect has it had, but how might social media technologies be engineered to help with the moments after the revolt.

Panelists after the jump: (more…)