May 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
B-Fest, run by the Babylonia media collective, is a three-day event bringing together music and discussions. There are some amazing acts and speakers lined up, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been invited by the Digital Liberation Network to run a discussion about my work. I’ll talk in English, but Greek translation will be provided. It will be on at 19:00 on Friday, 24th May, at Panepistemiopoli in Zougrafou.
I’ll give an overview of some of the important developments in the struggle to control digital technologies, as well as talking a bit about how this is connected to other movements. After that there’ll be time for questions and discussion, including about how this might apply in the context of Greece.
From the program:
«Χακευοντας το Μελλον: Το Παγκοσμιο Κινημα για τα Ψηφιακα Δικαιωματα & οι Προοπτικες του» με την Sky Croeser (Curtin University) Διοργάνωση : Δίκτυο για την Ψηφιακή Απελευθέρωση
Έχει ασχοληθεί ερευνητικά για τον ακτιβισμό υπέρ της ανταλλαγής ηλεκτρονικών αρχείων (filesharing), το κίνημα ελεύθερου και ανοιχτού λογισμικού αλλά και με άλλες μορφές αυτού που αντιλαμβάνεται ως παγκοσμιοποίηση από τα κάτω (όπως τα κινήματα ενάντια στις γενετικά τροποποιημένες σοδειές στην Ινδία , ενάντια στις πατέντες και τα πνευματικά δικαιώματα), ερευνώντας τη σχέση όλων αυτών μεταξύ τους.
For more details and to see the full program, check out the Bfest website.
May 3, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Recently, professors at a San Jose State refused to use a lecture series by Michael Sandel at their university: it’s well worth reading their explanation of this decision. After a long and somewhat frustrating discussion about this, I think it’s worth teasing out some of the issues surrounding MOOCs. Much of this draws on the conversation which I just had, but mostly because these views are representative of much more widely-held opinions.
There’s the assumption that just because something is ‘open source’, it must be good. This is tied to other assumptions about what openness means, such as the assumption that ‘open source’ necessarily means more participatory and more accessible. While MOOCs certainly have the potential to make interesting, useful, learning material widely available so that students (and others) can enrich their learning, we do need to bear in mind the context in which they’re being developed. Context matters. ‘Open source’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ in all contexts, because other considerations must be taken into account.
In this case, we need to remember that MOOCs are being developed in the context of cuts to university funding around the world, and in the context of university systems which tend to privilege publishing over teaching, with ever-increasing class sizes and workloads for lecturers. We’re seeing a massive casualisation of the workforce as we shift from full-time lecturers doing most of the teaching to the use of underpaid teaching assistants who are usually on short-term, precarious contracts. Funding for students is also limited, making it harder for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to get a university education (in the US far more than in Australia).
What does this mean for our evaluation of MOOCs? Firstly, we need to be aware of the probability that requests (or demands) that lecturers use content from MOOCs hosted at other universities are motivated more by a desire on the part of university management to cut costs than by a concern for quality teaching. Secondly, there is a strong chance that the use of lecture content from MOOCs will be used to justify further casualisation of the academic workforce on the basis that as the backbone of the unit is there, all that’s needed will be teaching assistants/tutors rather than full-time lecturers. Thirdly, this is likely to contribute to and reinforce the existing two-tier system (more so in the US than Australia): some students will have access to lecturers who develop units, have funding for research, and engage in hands-on teaching, while poorer students at under-resourced universities will get content developed elsewhere, taught by tutors who are unlikely to have the resources and support necessary to develop themselves as teachers and as researchers.
There’s also the issue of what we use as the standard. While I’m sure Sandel is an engaging lecturer with many valuable points to make, the outline for the ‘Justice’ unit which the San Jose professors declined to use states that, “principal readings for the course are texts by Aristotle, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls.” In a unit covering “affirmative action, income distribution, same-sex marriage, the role of markets, debates about rights (human rights and property rights), arguments for and against equality, dilemmas of loyalty in public and private life”, it’s worth questioning whether a backbone consisting purely of dead white men is most appropriate.
Universities, and particularly the most prestigious and well-funded US universities, are still disproportionately accessible to privileged groups within society. If unit content is increasingly produced primarily by these universities, and then farmed out to other places, we are likely to hear a more and more narrow range of perspectives. The existing constraints on marginalised voices within academia will be reinforced: women and minority groups will, in all likelihood, be those who are pushed (further) into precarious employment as short-term teaching staff unable to create their own units.
I’m not against the idea of MOOCs. But we need to think about the broader context in which they’re developed, and take active steps to shape them in positive directions. We need to hold open spaces for participatory, accessible learning that values a diversity of voices – including those of both students and teachers. In order to do this, we can’t take the discourse of ‘openness’ associated with MOOCs at face value.
April 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
There’s been a significant push in Internet Studies over the last few years towards ‘big data’ studies, which aggregate huge volumes of information (such as tweets or website linking patterns) and subject them to analysis, often quantitative analysis. Much of this research provides valuable insights into how people are using the Internet and its impacts on society, politics, and economics. At IR13 last year there were plenty of projects which took a ‘big data’ approach to the study of social movements, particularly the Arab Spring and Occupy, and provided important analysis about how they organise and communicate. And, of course, my collaborator on the Mapping Movements project, Tim Highfield, is doing excellent work in the area.
However, I do think that there are important aspects of this shift towards big data that we need to maintain a critical approach towards. Part of the reason why ‘big data’ is so appealing is that it looks like Science: there are numbers! and statistical analysis! There have been claims that it will allow us to ‘do away with the need for hypothesis and theory’ (presumably ridding ourselves of the biases contained in these processes). It fits within our perceptions of what ‘proper’ science should be: more objective, less reliant on qualitative methods like participant observation and interviews. This notion of science has, of course, been critiqued from a number of perspectives. Emily Martin’s ‘The Egg and the Sperm‘, for example, provided an excellent demonstration of how profoundly even ‘hard’, supposedly objective, science, is shaped by cultural assumptions, including those surrounding gender.
The shift towards ‘big data’ is not only linked to the uptake of new analytical tools, it is also linked to our (gendered) ideas of what science should look like. As more funding becomes available for big data research, it is important to bear in mind the ways in which our assumptions structure the value we place on different research, and the ways in which access to different research fields is gendered. While many women provide vital contributions in STEM fields, there continue to be significant structural barriers to participation by women and minority groups in these areas. Devaluing qualitative research in favour of quantitative big data not only builds on misplaced assumptions about the value of ‘hard sciences’, it also adds to the factors excluding marginalised perspectives from academia.
This is not to say that we should abandon big data approaches. As I said, I believe that they provide many helpful insights. There’s also some fascinating work out there that uses big data in ways that undermine the assumptions that this research must be ‘objective’ – Zizi Papacharissi and Maria de Fatime Oliviera’s work on affective publics springs to mind here. Tim and I are approaching the use of big data by drawing together big data approaches and participant observation, interviews, and other qualitative methods. So the issue is not so much whether we use big data, as whether we remain aware of the ways in which its use is structured by our assumptions about what constitutes ‘science’, and of ways in which this may privilege some groups’ participation over others.
April 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Here in Athens, I’m starting to get a much better idea of who I need to speak to and where I need to go, in part because I’ve had some fortuitous introductions from friends-of-friends-of-friends. This aspect of research on social movements is, I think, often under-acknowledged. You can, when doing research, make a more-or-less disinterested decision about the case study that will serve your research project best, show up, and then make contact with activists through websites or by showing up to protests. But activists in many circumstances are understandable cautious about talking to strange people who show up out of nowhere. As well as the security concerns that accompany state surveillance of many movements, activists have many competing demands on their time and talking to academics who may retell the story of the movement in ways which activists aren’t comfortable with.
So I’m tremendously grateful to the people who take some time to introduce me and to tell me who it’s important that I speak to. Our work in Tunisia relied heavily on connections from friends and colleagues, just as my work in Athens does. In return, I try to ensure that my work is relevant for activists, that I write in a way that’s clear and accessible rather than all wrapped up in academic jargon, and that my work is publicly-available (preferably for free as open-access publications). I’m not sure that I always succeed in each of these, but I do try.
As well as attempting to give something of worth back in return for the introductions, explanations, and time taken for interviews which activists give me, academia relies on a complex web of gifting. This morning I spent two and a half hours going through over two hundred applications for Adacamp SF, and after I finish this post I will review conference abstracts for the Internet Research: resistance and appropriation conference. In fact, none of the work I’m doing at the moment is paid, as I’m taking a break from teaching to do research. The book review I’m writing is unpaid, the three book chapters and one article I have due soon are unpaid, the research I’m currently doing is for a book that will only be published a long way down the line and is unlikely to bring me any substantial income in royalties.
Much of this ‘gifting’ is not entirely altruistic – it brings me benefits in one form or another, even if that isn’t financial (just as gifting does in other gift economies). Publishing is essential to getting an academic position, even a teaching-focused position (which is sad, given the importance of good teachers, and the extent to which this is gendered). Some of it also feeds into exploitative systems, like the use of academic articles and peer-reviews (both unpaid) to build a massively profitable academic journal business - one reason why I won’t do reviews for journals which aren’t open access.
I can’t do my work without the gifts – of time, energy, and reputation – that others lend me. And I wouldn’t want to do my work if I didn’t feel like I was gifting something in return (although sometimes I do worry that I’m giving the academic equivalent of an ugly sweater that will never get worn). The context of that gifting, and the relationships involved, need careful thought.
April 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Into the Fire came out yesterday, and the creators are asking people to embed it and distribute it widely. The documentary looks at the impacts of austerity on migrants in Greece, who are facing not only dire economic circumstances but also widespread racism.
April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In my previous post, I wrote about the growing neonazi movement in Greece and links with the police. However, I also mentioned that there were many signs of resistance to this. This weekend, antiracist and antifascist groups from Greece and around the world will hold a variety of actions that remember the coup which brought the junta to power on 21st April, 1967. I’m trying to put together an overview of some of these events, and I thought I’d share a little of it (perhaps some foreigners in Athens this weekend may even appreciate some English information) – click the pictures for more information (in Greek): [Please excuse any terrible translations, my Greek is struggling with political jargon and slang - feel free to add corrections in the comments, or to suggest other events]
Throughout the weekend, the Embros Theatre in Psirri will host a range of activities. These include documentaries, discussions, and workshops. It’s also great to see that there are many activities for children, especially on the Saturday.
On the 19th and the 20th, there will be events at Antiviosi [Antibiotic] Squat from 7pm on. On the 19th, this will focus on experiences from the Russian antifascist movement, and they will show the documentary “Antifa attitude”. On the 20th, there will be a discussion around ‘stories from the extremes’, with a video from Antifa Salonica.
On the 21st, a gathering will be held in Messina Square at 11:00 in the morning.
On the 21st, there will be speeches and a concert in Freedom Park on Vasilissis Sofias Avenue from 5pm onwards.
April 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
Having completed our work in Tunisia, I’m now in Athens for the next part of the ‘Mapping Movements’ project that Tim Highfield and I are working on. This work looks at the relationships between online and offline spaces, connecting quantitative and qualitative methods to get a better understanding of how activists are using digital technologies. Obviously (for those who know me and perhaps also those who have read my ‘about’ page), this is not just a matter of an abstract academic question: I’m interested in these issues as an activist as well as an academic, because we need to know what works and what doesn’t (and when), and how to be as effective as possible. It’s also important for people outside movements to understand them, to know what they’re facing.
While in Greece, I want to learn more about the antifascist organising here. Before I came, I had some sense of what was going on. Golden Dawn, a neonazi party that holds seats in the Greek parliament, are not only engaging in racist rhetoric – they are also involved in violent acts against immigrants and anarchists, as well as (at the very least) threatening queer people. Meanwhile, there is evidence of a close connection between the Greek police and Golden Dawn, and a recent Amnesty Report shows evidence of widespread and systematic police violence.
Reading about this is bad enough, but it is a different experience walking the streets of Athens. There’s a lot of racist graffiti. Sometimes just the Golden Dawn initials or name, but there’s also more explicit messages. One neighbourhood I walked through was full of “kill blacks”. A lot of this has been crossed out or covered with antifascist messages, thankfully, but I can’t imagine how scary it must be to be visibly non-white or, worse, non-white and in a precarious situation, in Greece right now. (Yesterday’s attacks on migrant workers in Nea Manolada who asked for their unpaid back wages are just one manifestation of this.)
The police are also very present. In Perth I’m not used to seeing large blocks of police – despite the massive over-policing of CHOGM in 2011 and the huge police presence at Lizard’s Revenge in South Australia last year, I’ve been lucky enough to mostly avoid spending too much time in the presence of heavily-armed riot police. My time with Occupy Oakland has done little to lower the anxiety about police that I inherited from my parents (who grew up in apartheid South Africa). So when I see a whole heap of police, all with riot shields and clubs and body armour, and a caged police bus, I tend to think something big must be just around the corner. In fact, it looks like the police bring out this kind of presence for demonstrations of any size. Yesterday I came across a demonstration by hospital workers against unpaid wages and cuts to services: everyone seemed very polite, and I didn’t see any trouble. Nevertheless, there were at least two busloads of police. Someone I spoke to at the protest said, “maybe they want people to think we are dangerous?”
It was a similar case today at the action against the recent shut-down of Athens Indymedia and two radio stations: maybe thirty people at the demonstration, at least one busload of police and a few squads on motorbikes. This is the other part of the story. While the Greek government rejects calls to ban Golden Dawn for its racist rhetoric and action, Athens Indymedia and two radio stations have been shut down, apparently after pressure from the Greek Ministry of Public Order. It is important, for understanding this, to bear in mind claims that there are links between Golden Dawn and more centrist political parties.
Indymedia Athens have called for a week of international solidarity actions to highlight the shutdown, pointing out that while they may have technical solutions (such as hosting Indymedia on TOR) we cannot ignore or just ‘route around’ government attempts to silent dissent.
More broadly, there is the question of what those overseas might do to help deal with the spread of fascism in Greece. One person at the protest suggested that foreigners should boycott Greece, since tourist dollars don’t help those who are having the hardest time anyway. I’ve been thinking about this more. Individual action wouldn’t work – simply deciding not to go to Greece sends no message. A boycott would need to have specific demands (such as independent investigations and action taken on police brutality and racism). In the meantime, at the very least it is important to watch what’s happening here, because this is not just Greece’s problem: racism spreads when unchecked, and Golden Dawn is now looking to connect with racists and neonazis in other countries (including Australia). We can’t afford to step back and treat this as something happening only ‘over there’.