Monthly Archives: January 2010

facebook slacktivism: some perspective


fbsuSome have criticized the new slacker-activism, or slacktivism, on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Slacktivism encompasses activities where people post about issues they care just enough about to spend one minute constructing a status update or tweet about them [some early examples]. This came into the news again because of a viral campaign where women reveal their bra color in order to raise awareness about breast cancer. The critiques against slacktivism predictably followed [here, I am putting aside the important issue of the sexualization of illness that is specific to the bra-color campaign].

These critiques are justified to some degree. It is certainly annoying when you see friends whose support for various causes never goes beyond an incessant stream of awareness-oriented status updates.

However, what is implicit in much of the anti-slacktivism writing is a critique of digital social media. Specifically, that efforts spent on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter must mean less effort is spent in the material world. Opposed to this zero-sum perspective, research on social media has shown just the opposite to be true [this hearkens back to the old Hegelian idealism versus Marxian materialism debate].

Further, anti-slacktivism often falls into the ever-popular trap of criticizing that which is on social media as unimportant or trivial. What fuels this knee-jerk reaction is rooted in the tendency to see the digital realm as separate from material reality. Instead, as I have argued elsewhere, we should view the material and digital as enmeshed and in conversation with eachother. The extent to which social media awareness campaigns are actually enmeshed with material-world activism is an open question.

The point is that if you see status updates and tweets on their own, removed from the user’s everyday lives, they do seem trivial. However, acknowledging that these updates are part of a stream of sociality that bridge one’s digital and material lives allow these updates to be seen for what they are. As danah boyd points out, most of what we say in our everyday lives is trivial, and Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are no exception.

Thus, those who post their bra color or partake in other viral awareness campaigns may indeed care about the issue and be doing more to help. To label them “slaktivists” serves to downplay the overlap that these campaigns have with “real” activism (however the slacktivist-haters actually define this).

Last, it should also be recognized that the anti-slacktivists are writing blog posts, creating facebook groups and updating their Twitter feeds and status updates to fight slacktivism, using just the strategies the slacktivists are being criticized for. So much for the argument that creating memes instead of marching in the streets is ineffectual and irresponsible. ~nathan

Facebook bra color question: Real breast cancer awareness effort, or slacktivism at its finest?

The “African” Culture Industry

Peul_women_in_PaouaThe category of the Exotic Other has embraced the African female; at least for this season.  The New York Times recently published a fashion article (see below) equating Africa, Tarzan, and tree climbing with sensuous beauty in the world of fashion.  Aside from the glaring issue of the geographic ignorance of these comments, this article reveals the explicit racism, commodification, misappropriation and sexism inherent in media and art that continue to have a negative impact on those who are being “othered.”

According to Malcolm Harris, the director of a popular fashion-focused Webzine. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. People are incorporating bits and pieces into their wardrobes and their lives.”

Yet it does very much matter who you are and where you are from.  The models strutting the catwalks in African-inspired fashion are majority white and Western and perhaps most importantly, this is about taking bits and pieces of interpretations of “Africa” and incorporating them into the wardrobe of mostly Western women.

Perhaps most distressing in the article is the overt manipulation of cultural exoticism for capitalist purposes.  As Adorno and Horheimer remind us, “Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through.  The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1944, 121).  In other words, today Africa, tomorrow Thailand may be hailed as the new look for the season.  The marketing employed does not seek to cover up the fact that this is marketing, rather, it does so openly and freely.  In the end the only difference is that the “Exotic Other” of the season changes.

Square-eye NY Times, “Designing to an Afro Beat”

Square-eye Culture Industries

Fear as the Norm

ASUFollowing heightened security concerns in Yemen as well as the failed Christmas Day bombing aboard a flight approaching Detroit, the Obama administration has opted to drastically increase security concerning all flights destined for the United States. According to the Washington Post, these new Transportation Security Association (TSA) measures include the physical search of all passengers who hold the passport of, are traveling from, or are traveling to a country on the Statement Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of concern. This list, comprised of over a dozen states, includes Cuba, Iran Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen. (more…)

Ignoring secondary consequences: the case of climate change

By Dena T. Smith

Global warming is a term we hear batted around, to the point that it has become almost trite, but this is an issue vitally important to discuss on the political scene. The issues at the center of the debate tend to be about whether or not climate change is actually occurring and, secondly, if we accept that climate change is occurring, whether human beings and human societies are really affecting the changes in weather patterns and general temperature increases that have taken place over the last several decades. Is the planet in fact getting warmer? The majority of scientists tell us it undoubtedly is. If it is, is this happening because of human societies? Again, scientists overwhelmingly tell us this is the case. Our cars, factories, farming practices and everyday living could all use serious alterations. However, there are social problems associated with global warming or climate change – both directly and indirectly – that we often ignore in lieu of a focus on the larger and, in many ways, more confusing and less easily addressable problems like climate change overall.  My point here is not to argue that one perspective is more important than the other, but rather that there are benefits of addressing smaller problems, especially when they affect people’s health and well-being.

(more…)

Weak Agreement Better Than No Agreement?

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and United States President Barack Obama at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and United States President Barack Obama at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

Last month, world leaders participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At this conference, President Barack Obama of the United States and leaders of the BASIC Group (President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and Premier Wen Jiabao of China) created the Copenhagen Accord.

The Copenhagen Accord acknowledged the continuation of previous agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, it established a maximum increase in global temperature of two degrees Celsius and welcomed future reviews to consider whether the global temperature increase should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, it committed developed countries to providing additional funding for developing countries.

International organizations criticized the Copenhagen Accord for not being a legally binding agreement and for not specifying targets for reducing carbon emissions. According to representatives from Oxfam International, the Copenhagen Accord is “a triumph of spin over substance. It recognizes the need to keep warming below two degrees but does not commit to do so. It kicks back the decisions on emissions cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash.”

(more…)