UDC2015 Circuits of Struggle Day 3: commoning, digital infrastructures and/for social movements, and white men taking up space

May 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Social Reproduction and the Emerging Institutions of the Common opened with Fiona Jeffries’ and Pablo Mendez’ work on ‘Domesticating the struggle! Commoning Care in the Global Encampment’. Jeffries, presenting, framed the encampment protest-form recently (re)popularised by Occupy and other Squares movements as a way of making the domestic visible. The encampment challenges the binaries of public/private and personal/political, turning ‘home’ inside out. There’s been a lot of debate about the failure of political encampments, but Jeffries and Mendez argue that their significance lies in the ways in which they showed the necessity of placing social reproduction at the centre of struggle. The home space is where the crisis is experienced, and where people have to address it. Silvia Federici reminds us that home has a double character, both a site of reproduction of relations of domination, and as a site for potential resistance.

Elise Thorburn followed with ‘Communication Technologies and Social Reproduction: Securitized and Autonomous’, discussing the CUTV livestreaming of student strikes in Quebec. She began by noting some of the ways in which digital technologies can be seen as alienating us from our very existence as human beings: the neoliberal fixation on productivity and speed separates us from the solidarity and connections that would help us build resistance. There is a need to liberate our channels of communication (not just digital, but also embodied) from neoliberal control. CUTV made an attempt at this by using high-definition livestreaming equipment during student strikes in an attempt to humanise the protesters, to build audience’s connections with them, and to monitor police violence. For some protesters, livestreamers provide a sense of safety, a space which is at least moderately protected by counter-surveillance. Livestreaming technology is harder to shut down, because of the connection to different networks (including 3G and 4G) and the ability to turn the packs into wireless hotspots. However, livestreamers can also become a target for police violence, and livestreaming can be used by police to watch protesters (we also talked about some of the debates around livestreaming in our research on Occupy Oakland). After a certain point, CUTV made a decision to move away from filming people’s faces, and to avoid filming acts that protesters might be charged with. We need to be prepared to constantly adapt our uses of digital technologies, as repressed forces co-opt them or counter our efforts.

Symon Benetti, #Macao in Assemblea – #tuttisumacao

Enda Brophy ended the session by exploring the Cultural Workers Organize project. He emphasised the need for responses to increasing precarity among cultural workers that consider ways of decommodifying labour and build possibilities for escaping wage relations. The research team has been looking at some of the occupations of theatres, cinemas, and other spaces which began in 2011 (building on a longer history of related occupations). Many of these have become laboratories for horizontal management through open assembly. They also tend to be spaces in which there is a radical openness to the community around them, creating forms of organisation that are expressly articulated around the idea of the common, rejecting the binary of public/private. However, they face serious challenges, including evictions by the state (as has happened to the Cinema America) and the need to find income streams to support participants. The sheer audacity of these initiatives encourages us to aspire to something beyond the binary of ‘good work’ and ‘bad work’, and to look for ways to build institutions of the common.

The next session addressed Social Movements and Digital Technologies. Stephane Couture and Sophie Toupin opened by looking at two case studies in ‘Digital Infrastructures and/for Social Movement’, both of which respond to the increasing commodification and surveillance of the Internet. Stephane discussed the World Free Media Forum (there are also notes on this in my summary of day 1), which has lead to the production of the World Charter of Free Media and journal edition on Free Information and Open Internet. He talked about attempts to use free software in the organising of the Forum (for example, mumbles rather than skype), and to set up spaces for tech activists to share their knowledge with others. However, there are challenges to this work, including the difficulty of working some tools and ideological clashes. The second case study was about feminist servers, broadly defined to include software, hardware, code design, social solidarities, and space (this was also addressed at the FemHack event I went to in Montreal). Feminist servers are a response to violence, bullying, harassment, surveillance, and the corporatisation of the internet. Infrastructure matters, even if by design infrastructure is made to be ignored (we often forget the infrastructure, until it fails). And frequently infrastructure is not designed by people thinking about safety, particularly not from a feminist perspective. As in yesterday‘s presentation from Melissa Meade and Cricket Keating, Sophie emphasised the importance of a “do it together” rather than a DIY ethos. (And perhaps you can also do it together, as the next TransHackFeminist convergence happens in Mexico in July). Both Stephane and Sophie emphasised the difficulty of bringing different communities and struggles together, and the necessity and value of doing this work. There is a need for more spaces and people that do this bridging work.

Elisabetta Ferrari followed with ‘Social Media for the 99%? Rethinking Alternative Media and Social Movements’ Identity in the Corporate Web 2.0′. This research explores some of the changes to the alternative media landscape since the late 1990s. One of the issues for social movements is that corporate platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become vital spaces for making alternative perspectives visible. Elisabetta’s analysis of Occupy Chicago’s use of these platforms produced some surprising results: a very limited proportion of content deals with identity, and mass media content shared with endorsement outweighs the proportion that’s shared with critical commentary. This is in part because OC was making an attempt to develop relationships with mainstream media – putting out press releases, holding press conferences, running media training, and even producing PR guides. The lack of identity material can be seen as a response to the difficulty of defining “who we are” for Occupy: reporting an actions provided a way to balance this by saying “what we do” instead. The lack of identity content can also be seen as a coping mechanism for movements where there is a fundamental disjuncture between a diverse, decentralised movement and accounts on social media that are built around singular identities. It is useful to investigate the relationship between political choices and technological choices: movements benefit from using corporate social media, but at the same time the structures of these media exacerbate existing political tensions in decentralised movements.

Image from @ksurkan

Image from @ksurkan

Finally, Anne-Marie Romanko talked about ‘Pepper Spray, Photoshop, and Protest: The Meme as a Tool for Socio-Political Protest’. Romanko argues that photoshop memes can create opposition to hegemonic forces through powerful political messages, focusing on the image of Lieutenant John Pike pepperspraying protesters at UC Davis. Memes give agency to polyvocal discourse: they allow for the voice of the other to be included in the message. They can act as a way to influence or counter mainstream media discourse, and while some scholars believe images and politics are trivialised through memes, they create dialogue, and humour can be a powerful form of dissent. Memes can connect people who might otherwise have little in common.

Anyone following me on Twitter will have gathered that I found the ‘question’ session on this panel very frustrating. There are useful critiques to be made of question sessions, and of the hierarchical structure of experts and audience. However, the commonly-expressed frustration at “more-a-comment-than-a-question” is based in part on the fact that those making “more a comment” are often the privileged (rather than marginalised people disrupting power hierarchies). I expect a moderate level of “more a comment”s at conferences, and have learned to sigh and bear it, but this panel was particularly remarkable because there were five or six white men in a row who took the opportunity to talk at length about their own ideas, the case studies they thought were relevant, or the arguments they thought should be used to frame these issues. Only one of them appended any pretence at a question mark. I asked a question (and made a note that others hadn’t), and as soon as presenters answered, there were more “comments” from the audience. Frustrated, I nervously tried to speak up and point out what was happening. And then one of the female presenters got thirty seconds into talking about her arguments before another white man interrupted to argue with her.

There are obviously things that individual men could, and should, be doing to avoid this: being aware of the demographics of who speaks and who is interrupted and how they might be contributing to that dynamic is a good start. (Similarly, white women need to be aware of the ways in which our voices are privileged in some spaces.) Continuing on from my previous post on thinking about conferences as technologies which should be approached with the same critical perspective we’re turning on digital technologies, there are also steps that organisers can take to build a better “question session” technology. For example, it might be useful to set out guidelines for moderators that include using a progressive stack to take audience questions, and making it clear whether comments will be accepted (if they are, making this explicit will make space for those who don’t feel confident commenting in a question session).

If we’re going to talk about the ways in which particular digital platforms marginalise or facilitate particular voices, we should also be prepared to think about that in our own spaces.

IR13 Saturday highlights: Jedward, Peppa Pig, Occupy, Occupy, more Occupy, Twitter, Twitter, and more Twitter

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

A kitten falling asleep

(Kitten gifs are allowed for blog posts on Internet studies conferences. Because kittens.)

On Saturday there were four sessions, each of which had up to four papers in them. Even though I skipped the third session to drink coffee and debrief, it was a lot to digest. Happily there was a good mix of papers relevant to my research and papers not-at-all-relevant but interesting enough to help me push through the exhaustion. (My apologies to any presenters who were unnerved by my glazed appearance in your session. It’s not you, it’s jetlag!)
There were quite a few papers looking at various aspects of Occupy, many of them doing large-scale Twitter analysis. Zizi Papacharissi elaborated on her plenary, talking about the rhythms of Occupy: broadcasting and listening practices on #ows. She spoke briefly about the affect of the Twitter stream, which is an idea that makes sense to me on an intuitive level: if I understand it correctly, this is the idea that the stream itself (rather than individual tweets or accounts) has a certain texture and rhythm. This is something I’ve had a sense of when following or participating in high-volume Twitter streams; analysing it seems tricky, but focusing on the emergence of tagging networks and other emerging structures seems to yield some useful results. For example, the Occupy movement’s openness seems to mean that #ows tags are often associated with those of more right-wing movements, particularly the Tea Party.
A map of network connections for sites shared associated with OccupyThere were also quite a few papers on Occupy from the Washington University Social Media Lab (and, having a quick look around their site, it looks like they’re doing a heap of stuff I want to look into further). A couple of papers used Gnip Powertrack and Radian6 to analyse content from Twitter and/or YouTube, showing that much of the content shared around Occupy is from professional sources (although there’s more movement-produced material than for other movements, like the campaign around Proposition 8 in California). The presenters emphasises the importance of the surrounding environment in shaping media use: the context shaping Prop 8 (in 2008) is very different from that around Occupy. (A number of the talks at IR13 made this point, which I think is an important one: protest ecologies matter.) There was also some useful discussion of the ways in which protesters use hashtags to sort through the vast volume of material associated with #ows.

The final session for the day included another WU SoMe Occupy paper: Kevin Driscoll‘s work on how activists understand and make choices around different platforms. Some of his findings were quite different from what we’ve found (which is not surprising given the diversity of the Occupy movement) so I’m looking forward to looking into this more. And just in case that isn’t enough Occupy, I’m hoping to find some of the Occupy papers that I ended up missing because of clashes, including #Occupy the City (another paper out of the UW SoMe Lab) and The Occupy Movement Online: Same Label, Different Projects, from Tomi Oladepo and Dennis Nguyen. The latter is one of the few papers that looked at the Occupy movement beyond the West.

Image of Ireland's entrants, Jedward

This paper actually made me regret not watching Eurovision this year

The next session I went to looked at ‘fans and Twitter’. While it’s great seeing what other researchers who are in my area (more or less) are doing, I like interspersing these with talks where I’m learning something entirely new, or making new connections. I particularly enjoyed Rachel Magee et al’s paper on fans’ Twitter use around The Hunger Games, and #Eurovision: Twitter as a Technology of Fandom, from Axel Bruns, Stephen Harrington, and my colleague Tim Highfield.

There are some useful parallels between studying fan cultures and social movements which I’m beginning to consider. In both cases, there’s a significant difference in the framework of the research between those working inside communities and those looking in from the outside. I’m curious to see whether there’s much writing looking more directly at this connection and the ways in which fan studies and social movement research might interact. There are also issues of ethics and representation: Rachel Magee anonymised all data as part of the university ethics requirement, which meant that she was not able to quote any tweets directly or even mention the characters which participants were acting as on Twitter, which is in sharp contrast to the approach I’ve taken.

Introductory slide for the talk, with an image of Peppa Pig

Peppa Pig is the future

The final session included a couple of papers that relate to my work on the digital liberties movement: Mauger‘s on the Pirate Bay in Denmark and Burcu Bakioglu‘s on Anonymous’s war on the anti-piracy campaigners. Tama Leaver also gave a talk on global media distribution and the tyranny of digital distance which expanded on his pre-conference presentation. I learned less about Peppa Pig than I was hoping to, but the argument was interesting enough to overcome this gap in the literature.

One of the benefits/downsides of the very lively #IR13 Twitter backchannel is that the already-difficult choice between sessions is made harder by people tweeting about excellent talks happening at the same time as the excellent talk you’re attending. Among the many other gems that I’m sure future browsing through the program will turn, I missed Joseph Reagle’s Infocide in Open Content Communities, what seems to have been an important roundtable on the politics of algorithms, Holly Kruse’s paper on pneumatic tubes (there seems to be more about this here), and Helen Keegan‘s This is Not a Module: Learning Through an Alternative Reality Game, Running the game seems to have been a nerve-wracking experience (since it involved elaborate pranking), but ultimately awesome. I can only hope to give students such an interesting experience.

IR13 Friday Session: Protest and Online Activism

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Class Let's Take a 15 minute break" Nice, class is over!There have been more talks here on activism than it’s been physically possible for me to attend without splitting into two. Friday afternoon’s session on protest and online activism began with a look at ‘Protest and Internet humour memes in UK universities’ from Gordon Fletcher, which was pleasantly LOL-heavy (even if I was missing the appropriate background for many of them). Fletcher argues that while this is politics of a sort (“politics, but not as we know it”), it’s not necessarily particularly effective politics: it’s not going to start any revolutions.

Next Dan Mercea (co-authoring with Paul Nixon) looked at the use of Twitter and Facebook in attempts to recruit participants to the Occupy movement in the Netherlands. Whereas most participants in our research on Occupy Oakland saw Twitter as the primary online platform for communicating about the movement (even if this was often problematic), participants in Netherlands Occupy sites relied far more on Facebook. Mercea and Nixon also found that both Facebook and Twitter played a role in helping participants to initially learn about the Occupy movement, but wasn’t actively used to try to recruit participants. Participants’ use of both Facebook and Twitter also tended to taper off over time, and lost importance as a source of information or engagement with Occupy.

GWEI screenshot

GWEI’s site is eye-bleedingly bright, and the background flashes constantly. You have been warned.

The talks which followed were a little less relevant to my own research (and, sadly, my note-taking seems to drop off significantly towards the end of the day, especially at conferences that involve international travel): Constance Elizabeth Kampf looked at ‘The past, present and future of online activism towards business’, drawing on some great case studies. I particularly liked the Google Will Eat Itself project, which claims it will use revenue generated from Google ads to buy Google shares, and eventually turn Google into a public trust. (GWEI currently owns 819 shares, totalling USD 405.413,19, meaning it will be 202.345.117 years until GWEI fully owns Google.)  Zeena Feldman‘s ‘Beyond freedom and oppression’ looked at practices of resistance to the commodification of the Couchsurfing website, as users tried to continue their engagement without fully capitulating to the site’s shift to for-profit status.

Upcoming: #oo activism

September 13, 2012 § 3 Comments

In October, Dr. Tim Highfield and I will be presenting some of our Occupy Oakland research at the Internet Research 13.0 Conference. We’ve started putting together the paper over the last few weeks (which means that my Tumblr is currently full of useful quotations I’ve found along the way), and have been enjoying the process tremendously. In coming weeks I’ll be sending drafts to interviewees who said they were interested in seeing the project develop to get their feedback, and hopefully within a few months Tim and I will have the full article to share. The abstract for the presentation (co-written with Tim) is here:

#oo activism: Uses of Twitter within the Occupy Oakland movement

Social media have become crucial tools for political activists and protest movements, providing another channel for promoting messages and garnering support. Twitter, in particular, has been identified as a noteworthy medium for protests in countries including Iran and Egypt to receive global attention (Gaffney, 2010; Lotan, Ananny, Gaffney, & boyd, 2011). The Occupy movement, originating with protests in, and the physical occupation of, Wall Street and inspiring similar demonstrations in other U.S. cities and around the world, has been intrinsically linked with social media through location-specific hashtags: #ows for Occupy Wall Street, #occupysf for San Francisco, and so on. While the individual protests have a specific geographical focus – highlighted by the physical occupation of parks, buildings, and other urban areas – Twitter provides a means for these different movements to be linked and promoted through tweets containing multiple hashtags. It also serves as a channel for tactical communications during actions and as a space in which movement debates take place.

In this paper, we undertake a preliminary study of Twitter’s use within the Occupy Oakland movement. We analyse a dataset of public tweets published between 29 January and 15 February 2012 containing the #oo hashtag to identify the ways in which social media are employed within the movement, from promoting events to broadcasting live from marches and meetings. This timeframe is particularly noteworthy because it covers the aftermath of the Move In Day action, an attempt to take over a disused building and turn it into a social centre. The failure of this action in the face of police repression led to intense debate within the movement about strategies and tactics, as well as between participants and observers in Oakland and elsewhere. There were also a number of follow-up actions organised, including solidarity actions for the 409 people arrested at Move In Day. Much of this debate and organising took place on Twitter and was tagged with the #oo hashtag. While this is not the only hashtag used for this specific movement (#occupyoakland is also featured in tweets), #oo’s length makes it a popular choice for protesters faced with only 140 characters with which to write their tweets.

Our analysis of the content of #oo tweets examines how Twitter is used within the movement; as, variably, a means of organisation, communication, broadcasting, or debate, for example. As part of this study, we evaluate how Twitter activity corresponds with events such as rallies, arrests, and meetings, and determine the presence of any sub-groups of Twitter users within the movement focused on particular activities, such as livestreaming and the controversial weekly anti-police rallies. Using methods developed specifically for processing Twitter datasets (Bruns, 2011), we also examine the hashtags, @replies and mentions, and retweets included in the gathered tweets to identify any links with other #occupy movements and movements around the world (including those in Egypt and Syria), and the relationship between Occupy Oakland and local institutions and places. This step allows us to study the connections between a geographically-focused movement such as Occupy Oakland and related, but physically distant, protests taking place concurrently in other cities.

This preliminary study forms part of a wider project exploring the politics of place, investigating how social movements are composed and sustained. In addition to movement-specific data collected from sites such as Twitter, the project also draws on ethnographic research through interviews with activists, and participant observation of the movements’ activities. This research methodology allows us to develop a more accurate and nuanced understanding of how movement activists use Twitter by cross-checking trends in the online data with observations and activists’ own reported use of Twitter.

References

 Bruns, A. (2011). How Long Is a Tweet? Mapping Dynamic Conversation Networks on Twitter Using Gawk and Gephi. Information, Communication & Society, (January 2012), 1-29. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2011.635214

Gaffney, D. (2010). # iranElection : Quantifying Online Activism. Paper presented at WebSci10. 26 April 2010, Raleigh, NC. Retrieved from http://journal.webscience.org/295

Lotan, G., Ananny, M., Gaffney, D., & boyd, d. (2011). The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. International Journal of Communication, 5, 1375-1405.

Mapping Movements

January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Over the next few weeks I’ll be in San Francisco working on the ‘Mapping Movements’ project that Tim Highfield and I are putting together. This project explores the role of the politics of place in shaping how social movements are composed and sustained, and movement participants’ links with other movements, with specific reference to two San Francisco-based movements. The first, the digital liberties movement, is necessarily international and decentralised because of the nature of Internet infrastructure and governance and the transnational scope of ICT development and dissemination. The second, the Occupy movement, is defined by its relationship to specific spaces, including the occupied public spaces and occupations of foreclosed homes. At the same time, however, it is connected to Occupy movements throughout the world.

A map showing Twitter connections related to Occupy Oakland

Preliminary hashtag map for #oo by Tim Highfield

In developing this research, we’ve aimed to create a project that will be relevant to activists as well as being interesting from an academic point of view, and that will contribute to activist attempts to create effective and inclusive networks. All of our research will be published in open access journals, as well as being shared in more informal spaces (like this blog). The project will draw on Tim Highfield’s maps of Twitter and other online networks, which will be complemented by in-depth qualitative interviews.

If you’re interested in participating in the project or would like to find out more, please feel free to contact me through the comments or on Twitter.

This study has been approved by the Curtin University Human Research Ethics Committee: the approval number is MCCA-17-11. If needed, verification of approval can be obtained either by writing to the Curtin University Human Research Ethics Committee, C/- Office of Research and Development, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth, 6845, or by telephoning (+618) 9266 2784 or hrec@curtin.edu.au.

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