Last week Twitter introduced an alert system that they described as “ a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren’t accessible.” The alerts show up on users phones as special push notifications and SMS notifications and are marked with an orange bell in your feed. At first blush it seems like a great idea but, given that I’m writing this during yet another government “shutdown”, are governments and NGOs really the only organizations that should get access to this useful service? What can activists do to push back? more...

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Last week I came across an announcement on Facebook that said, “Introducing: The Occupy Money Cooperative.‪ #‎LetsCooperate‬.” At first, I’ll admit, I thought it was a poorly executed joke. Perhaps I’m projecting a little bit, since I’m one of those terrible people that still think occupy jokes puns are funny. (“Occupy toilets!”) Still thinking the link was from Occupy Lulz I clicked on it (maybe it would be funny…?) and was brought to a page that could have been mistaken for the Chase website. The cool blues and abstract shapes scream “financial institution” and the video still looks like it might come from a credit card company. All the distinguishing aesthetic features of finance are there. But this is definitely an Occupy venture, and a serious one at that. Why would a radical leftist movement try to make a bank?


“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...

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...

Before Zuccotti, before UC Davis, there was the G8 Summit in Seattle, 1999. Image c/o Wikimedia Commons

I am really pleased to see academics tackling the problems of ineffective activism and capitalist oppression. Overcoming such large and complicated problems means trying out every tool in the tool shed. That is why Levi R. Bryant’s “McKenzie Wark: How Do You Occupy an Abstraction?” is so important. It is one of many efforts by academics to apply their reasoning to an active social movement. His recommendations are quite brazen. Bryant writes: “You want to topple the 1% and get their attention?  Don’t stand in front of Wall Street and bitch at bankers and brokers, occupy a highway.  Hack a satellite and shut down communications.  Block a port.  Erase data banks, etc.  Block the arteries; block the paths that this hyperobject requires to sustain itself.” The ends that Bryant suggests are intriguing. They certainly demand bigger and better things from the Occupy movement, but the means by which he reaches these conclusions are severely problematic. I think they neglect to consider the full effects of such actions and I attribute this oversight to his choice of analytic tools: object-oriented ontologies, new materialism, and actor network theory.



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.


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.


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.


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...

On this blog we often talk about the role of the prosumer, or actors that are both producers and consumers and that serve to muddy the longstanding distinction between production and consumption. For example, Jenny Davis and Nathan Jurgenson wrote on prosuming identity online, and how Web 2.0 technologies (especially social media) have allowed for the creation of new identities like transability and asexuality. Similarly, Nathan Jurgenson has written extensively on how social media has contributed to the “participatory, prosumer, dissent” of the Occupy Movement, playing into the much larger atmosphere of augmented dissent that has gripped the Middle East and other parts of the globe for some time now. And finally, Jenny Davis and I have written on the “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” Chrome Application, which allows users to genderswap the content they read on the internet.

Occupy DC encapsulates our "atmosphere of augmented dissent." Photo by Nathan Jurgenson.

Each of these examples reveals the tight association between social media and prosumption. That is, social media has greatly expanded the role of the prosumer in contemporary (augmented) society. This is because the individual voice is amplified through the digital networks of Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. Just as the Arab Spring and Occupy have changed the conversation regarding participatory democracy, prosumers are continually reworking culture through the creation of memes, identities, and new online content, blurring the distinction between the production and consumption of cultural forms. A great example of the prosumption of culture is fanfiction.

And this brings me to Star Wars. Finally.

This feature-length fanfilm titled “Star Wars Uncut” is a shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, produced entirely from 15 second film clips sent in by fans. Casey Pugh, a 26-year-old web developer from Brooklyn created the film after posting on his blog asking for submissions. These fans each prosume Star Wars as both a brand and a cultural artefact (Bruns 2007) when they rework iconic scenes with a “twist,” allowing for the expression of new cultural forms and greater participatory expression from the larger Star Wars fan community.

The film, which won the 2010 Emmy for Interactive Media, is also an example of what Nathan Jurgenson has called “curatorial media”, where old media forms (eg: print newspapers) are augmented by new crowdsourcing capabilities of social media. The film above is an example of curatorial media because centralized gatekeepers (ie: Casey Pugh himself) selected which film clips to include. He then edited the film shot for shot, splicing together disparate scenes produced by widely different fans around the globe. I myself watched the first 45 minutes of it, mostly because I was curious and also because I was a huge Star Wars nerd as a kid.

Darth Vader and her stormtroopers.

Although the film clips can be a little jarring at times (especially when jumping from live action to crudely animated MS Paint images and back in a matter of a few seconds), it does serve as a humorous reworking of an extant cultural forms. That is, many film clips reveal anachronistic revisions to the actual film.For example, the entrance of Darth Vader onto the rebel starship (arguably one of the most iconic scenes in the original film), has been replaced by an all female squad or storm troopers, Vader himself briefly appears as a female.

Throughout the film we get several more examples of this sort of literary prosumption (Olin-Scheller and Wikstrom 2010), bolstering my claims that social media and Web 2.0 have allowed for an effervescence of collective cultural production and consumption. Fanfiction has long used extant cultural forms for the creation of new cultural forms, the homoerotic revision of Spock and Kirk’s relationship on Star Trek as but one iconic example.

Homoerotic tension between Kirk and Spock has been a treasure trove for fan fiction revisionism.

Although this film is not the first of its kind, it is a great example of participatory filmmaking. As new technologies continue to incorporate more and more social media capabilities (cell phones, tablets, etc), it is likely that we will see increasingly utility of the term “prosumer.”