As part of the Jadaliyya Roundtable on New Media and New Politics, we offer three audio presentations from the April 2013 Westminster conference that address matters of mediation from theoretical and international perspectives. The topics presented here problematize analyses of the Arab revolutionary action and mediation by looking at these through the prism of "liberation technology," as synerigistic with South American Occupy movements, and as refractions of Marxist theorizations of digital media.
Orientalism of Liberation Technologies: Power Dynamics Between Hackers, Activists, and the Media
Ulises A. Mejias, State University of New York at Oswego
The story of how social media have been applied in recent protest movements is a story that has been told in large part by the mainstream news media. Often, the focus has been on the tools being used, rather than on the people using them. The result is a reductionist view of social movements as nothing more than “Twitter revolutions” facilitated by “liberation technologies.” In this paper, I will provide new insights into the designs, applications, and media representations of information technologies used to organize mass protest movements, theorizing the order and disorder that is produced as social actors shape—and are shaped by—technologies that facilitate political participation. The goal is to contribute towards new explanations of how political changes manifest themselves across contemporary societies by explaining how activists across the globe are attempting to create new forms of digital collectivity to enact social change. Additionally, I intend to explore the motivations of the hackers who design “liberation technologies” and the journalists who report on their use, examining how discourses around digital activism are framed. I will argue that the narratives created around the design and use of liberation technologies often constitute a utopian discourse that tends to circumvent any discussion of the capitalist market structure in which these tools operate. In essence, I will argue that the trope of a revolution enabled by social media serves to depoliticize our understanding of the conflicts and camouflage the role of communicative capitalism in undermining democracy. I will situate this argument in a larger cultural and economic analysis of digitality, examining the emergence of the monopsony as the dominant market structure of social media, and the role of for-profit digital networks as platforms that increase participation while simultaneously increasing inequality.
"The Invisible Spring:" Internet in the Indignation and Occupation Movements and the Cases of Colombia and Brazil
Liliana Galindo-Ramirez, University of Grenoble
Faced with the "Arab Spring," the Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados in Spain there is widespread ignorance about their international impact: these movements pierced its borders to connect with the inconsistency of other contexts, where the use of Internet and social networks involved the configuration of a particular mode of protest and mobilization. What is the relationship between these events and the mobilizations in other contexts? Two cases concern us: the MANE (Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil) in Colombia, who deployed an unprecedented student movement in the last forty years of national history, whose founding charter explicitly refers to the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Spain; and ACAMPA SAMPA OCUPA SAMPA from the Occupy movement in Sao Paulo, born of the global call to install camps in different cities in October 2011. This paper shows how the emergence of new forms of communication involves a reconfiguration of political action.
Marxist Theory and Digital Media: Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács`s Contribution to the Theorization of Modern Media--Reification, Mediation and Standardisation
Rob Jackson, King`s College-London
Discussion of the significance of modern digital media, the Internet and social networking technology in particular, has become a staple diet of public discourse both in and beyond the academy. There have been few attempts however to examine what resources might be contributed to this discussion by thinkers in the Marxist tradition. I intend to select two such thinkers: Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács in order to assess the potential importance of their respective conceptions of standardisation and reified mediation for this discussion. I will argue that Gramsci’s analysis in the Prison Notebooks of the process of standardization can usefully reframe the digital media debate. From this point of view, the Internet and social networking technology can be seen as a qualitatively new stage within a wider social process of mass-ification. I will further suggest that Lukács’s conceptions of reification and mediation provide the analytical tools to explain the apparent subjectivity of these technologies themselves (e.g. Facebook as a revolutionary agent–see Paul Mason), without accepting their subjectivity as authentic or discounting the significance of this appearance for political theory. I will conclude that Marxist theory helps to explain the contradictory nature of digital media, both as a tool for the development of social movements and for the re-production of ever more highly reified and alienated levels of consciousness and social relations.