Nicholas Mirzoeff's The Right to Look: a Counterhistory of Visuality (2011) interrogates the boundaries of visuality in colonial history and the postcolonial present, and he explores instances of countervisuality in three arenas: the plantation complex, the imperial complex, and the military-industrial complex. For Mirzoeff, visuality is a discursive practice based not merely on what/how entities see but how they are seen as autonomous (or not).
Mirzoeff points out that the visualization of history is an "imaginary" process, one that creates a lifeworld that, for the visualizer, "manifests [an] authority" (2). This way of visualizing history must be constantly renewed in order to become naturalized. Visuality is not just “visual perceptions” but consists of a "set of relations combining information, imagination, and insight into a rendition of physical and psychic space" (3).
In my reading, I found myself focused on representations of the Hero as they morphed through these various complexes of visuality/countervisuality, from the individual Hero of the plantation complex, to the "abstracted and intensified means of ordering biopower" in imperial visuality (196). Today, as Mirzoeff notes, the chaos that the Hero was supposed to hold at bay has now become a necessity in legitimating counterinsurgency (282). Yet, representations of the Hero still exist, though very much abstract in some sense. From a US point of view, the abstracted (and typically racialized) image of "the terrorist" or "the insurgent" is contrasted with the image of the American Soldier as the moral personification of citizens' continued liberty (to consume, if nothing else). Abstraction of the American Soldier relies on an absence of relationship, in some sense, through what is seen – mainstream media outlets generally don't show much war action or "counterinsurgency efforts," though the rhetoric of heroism can still be "heard" or "seen" through propaganda and thanks to citizens themselves (obviously this has the potential to get seriously complicated, and I'm trying not to go too far down the rabbit hole). Yet, this image of the American Soldier/Hero is also made concrete in various ways (e.g. special television episodes of families reacting to the return home of a soldier). It seems to me that despite the high level of abstraction, on some level, of a "global insurgency" that demands a permanent state of war, the continued management of domestic populations depends on the continued concretization of the representation of a Hero of counterinsurgency. This helps to inspire the "love" (again, on a domestic, national level) required for the military-industrial complex to continue even as the visuality itself, as Mirzoeff notes, "can no longer fully contain that which it seeks to visualize" (282).
I too found it interesting the Mirzoeff mentions Orwell since, in addition to the discussion of war as a permanent state (leading to the Party slogan "War is Peace") and the quasi-acceptance of a heightened state of surveillance ("Big Brother is watching"), I started thinking about doublethink, the concept of being able to believe in two contradictory ideas at once. I am still processing this, but on a domestic level, some kind of doublethink needs to happen in order to have an awareness of the tactics that the "counterinsurgency" is taking to maintain its authority while at the same time still venerating not only individual heroes but also the Soldier as abstract Hero figure. (I realize I'm in a very US-centric train of thought, but I'm going with what I know.)
1) Not sure if this will actually form a coherent question, but I'm interested in the relationships between counterinsurgency, counter-counterinsurgency (does that exist?) and available imagery. Mirzoeff says, "The sovereignty of the visualizer shifted ground so that authority was now derived from the ability to ignore the constant swirl of imagery and persist with a 'vision' above and beyond mere data" (292). We've talked about the ability to create counterpublics (Coombe) using various kinds of imagery, but I can only imagine how those counterpublics can be not seen (can something be "unseen" if we consider the ability of a large amount of "data" to overwhelm a "system" on an organic level?) in particular spaces like the Internet.
2) How is Mirzoeff defining "modernity" throughout this book? Perhaps I missed the part where he is explicit in his meaning. Is modernity a constant? What are its parameters?
As a final comment, my thinking about heroes led me to thinking about representations of the Hero in today's popular culture (a place I often go), and so I'm posting a clip that shows, I think, the sort of contrasting beliefs about heroes that we yet maintain. The clip is from a show called Firefly (created by Joss Whedon, lasted less than a season but now has a pretty large cult following).
In the clip, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) says, "Appears we got here just in the nick of time! What's that make us?" His second-in-command, Zoë Washburne (Gina Torres), replies, "Big damn heroes, sir." And Mal then says, "Ain't we just?" The tone is sarcastic, but the imagery is quite heroic (backlit smoke, dramatic entrance, the bringing of the "light" of Mal's ship and Jayne's [Adam Baldwin's] laser rifle scope). Mal and Zoë both do and don't consider themselves heroes, even as they would be considered "insurgents" by the imperial Alliance government. That they used to be rebels against the Alliance does put them in that category, but they serve as heroes to many, and they seem to have some awareness of that, especially as they see themselves rescuing the "innocent" siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau). [Side note that for now must remain a side note: in this scene, Mal also lays claim to the person of the witch, who has the ability to "eat" people, thus also playing into the politics of eating as a way of establishing power/authority.]
Nicholas Mirzoeff’s The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (2011) presents a “decolonial genealogy” of visuality and countervisuality by exploring three “complexes of visuality” and their relationship to modernity (p. 8). Each of the chapters is dedicated to exploring these complexes in their “standard” and “intensified” forms, taking specific historical and geographical moments in each chapter as metonyms for larger social processes. Mirzeoff calls these three major complexes the plantation complex, the imperial complex, and the military-industrial complex.
Central to Mirzoeff’s project, then, is his distinction between visuality and claiming the right to look, or countervisuality. Visuality is the process of making authority “self-evident,” or normalizing hierarchies of power. Mirzoeff speaks of visuality as if it were itself a social agent: “visuality classifies by naming, categorizing, and defining […] visuality separates the groups so classified as a means of social organization […] it makes this separated classification seem right and hence aesthetic” (p. 3). The right to look, on the other hand, “claims autonomy from [the] authority [of visuality], refuses to be segregated, and spontaneously invents new forms” (p. 4). To provide a brief illustration of these terms per chapter five, visuality was at work when English missionaries sought to colonize the Maori of New Zealand. The missionaries sought to legitimize their power over Maori land, resources, and governing systems by claiming they were bringing “Christianity, commerce, and civilization” to the “blank spaces of the map” (p. 198-9). Papahurihia, a Maori religious leader, resisted colonial rule and claimed the right to look by forming an indigenous countervisuality. Paphurihia took the missionaries’ religious texts and used them to claim that the Maori were Jews, a claim that resulted in many Maori coming together in opposition to colonial rule.
As an academic speaking to other academics, Mirzoeff is concerned with the interpretation of authority and how this interpretation serves either neocolonial or decolonial ends. Ultimately, he argues that academics (and the government actors they influence) need to have more faith in countervisuality as a strategy for imagining and thus enacting a decolonial future. The pursuit of the right to look by thinking against visuality will result in the democratization of democracy: “the choice is between continuing to move on and authorizing authority or claiming there is something to see and democratizing democracy” (p. 5).
(A rough draft of my facilitation questions for chapters five and seven.)
1. Chapter five is titled “Imperial Visuality and Countervisuality, Ancient and Modern.” In this chapter, Mirzoeff looks at how the hierarchy that separated the “primitive” from the “civilized” played a central role in the imperial complex of visuality. He explains that imperial visuality
understood history to be arranged within and across time, meaning that the “civilized” were at the leading edge of time, while their “primitive” counterparts, although alive in the same moment, were understood as living in the past. This hierarchy ordered space and set boundaries to the limits of the possible, intending to make commerce the prime activity of humans within a sphere organized by Christianity and under the authority of civilization. Imperial visuality imagined a transhistorical genealogy of authority marked by a caesura of incommensurability between the “indigenous” and the “civilized,” whether that break had taken place in ancient Italy with the rise of the Romans, or was still being experienced, as in the colonial settlement of Pacific Island nations […] The classification of ancient and modern cultures, overlaid with that of the “primitive” and “civilized,” designated a separation in space and time that was aestheticized by European modernism. Despite the seemingly arbitrary nature of such formulae, the result was suturing of authority to the newly centralized modalities of imperial power. (p. 196-7)
What connections do you see in Mirzoeff’s exploration of the “primitive”/”civilized” hierarchy under imperial visuality and Deloria’s analysis of non-Indian expectations of the “modern” and the “indigenous”? What can Mirzoeff’s theories of visuality and countervisuality contribute to Deloria’s project of questioning the unexpected? How can Deloria expand or challenge your reading of Mirzoeff?
2. Chapter seven focuses on global counterinsurgency as the intensified form of the military-industrial complex. One tactic used in counterinsurgency efforts is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones. The use of drones ties in to Mirzoeff’s discussion of necropolitics, deciding who should live and who should die. In this last presidential election, I was particularly disturbed by the invisibility—in the debates and in media coverage of the election—of drones and the Pakistan and Afghanistan civilians that the U.S. murdered with this technology. Is it accurate to characterize the use of drones as a colonial act? If so, what does the use of drones reveal about the role of technology in contemporary colonialism?
3. I’m really interested in Mirzoeff’s discussion of maps as tools for visuality or countervisuality. How might maps be used to claim the right to look in the current context of counterinsurgency?
4. In the last two pages of his book (p. 308-9), Mirzoeff asks if it is possible that “we construct a countervisuality to counterinsurgency.” He suggests that yes, academics in higher education can construct a countervisuality if they consider “combining democratization issues with education and sustainability in the institutions of education.” However, Mirzoeff does not provide us with specifics about how this might be accomplished. All of us in class teach in higher education. Assuming that you agree with Mirzoeff’s argument and call to action, in what ways could you participate in forming a collective countervisuality to counterinsurgency? What are some of the obstacles or challenges of reaching this goal? What might countervisuality look like and how do we move in that direction as teachers?
Philip J. Deloria’s Indians In Unexpected Places (2004) challenges non-Native readers in particular to rethink how they conceive of Natives as something dichotomous to "modern" space. He uses various examples from the beginning decades of the twentieth century (focusing on indigenous groups from the northern plains) to show how "a significant cohort of Native people engaged the same forces of modernization that were making non-Indians reevaluate their own expectations of themselves and their society" (6). Delving into the relationships Natives had with cars, sports, movies, and art song, Deloria tries to show how Natives taking part in these so-called modern activities, for whatever reason, went against non-Natives' expectations and thus worked to disrupt those expectations to varying extents.
As I read this text, I found myself speculating not only on the historical content but also on my own relationship to this book. It seems important not only to speculate on how "Indians in unexpected places" shaped non-Native views about Natives during this period in American history, but also to consider how those expectations continue to shape non-Native thought today. For example, the discussion of the singer Tsianina Redfeather in Chapter Five complicates the relationship between Native singers (in the context of "high" art song) and their white audiences. Deloria tells us that Tsianina Redfeather had to be seen as both authentically Indian and racially invisible in order to find a place of value on the stage, as her Indianness was mitigated by her talent as a vocalist. Thus, audiences could choose to focus on her race or deny it in favor of fixating on her talent, and somewhere in the gaps, there stood a Native singer participating in what is perceived of as a traditionally European musical realm. Standing squarely in that gap, these performers could "play…with white expectation, holding out familiar signs that proclaimed ‘Indian’ even as they offered more nuanced musical performances" (212).
My study of folklore has driven home the idea that tradition is dynamic, not static; the perception of the static-ness of tradition, however, gives it its value. In reading this chapter in particular, I found even myself momentarily surprised out of my own expectations of what constitutes traditional art song or opera (for which I, uh, thank a particular academic musical training), and I feel that this is exactly Deloria's point. While non-Native audiences of the time may or may not have been jarred out of their own expectations, the actual goal of this book is to jar us out of ours, either again or for the first time.
Apologies, but I'm having real issue in coming up with questions at the moment. TBD?
In Indians in Unexpected Places Philip Deloria challenges readers to rethink expectations of Native people and their engagement in modernization. Although he sets out to understand the relationship between Indians and non-Indians in broad terms, the five essays that make up the book’s chapters are focused both historically on the turn of the century and culturally on the Lakota, Dakota, and other Native people of the Northern plains. Deloria’s project to twofold: to expose and question a “history of expectation” and to examine the how these expectations came into being (p. 6-7). His definition of expectations is central to this project and bears repeating here:
When you encounter the word expectation in this book, I want you to read it as shorthand for the dense economies of meaning, representation, and act that have inflected both American culture writ large and individuals, both Indian and non-Indian. I would like for you to think of expectations in terms of the colonial and imperial relations of power and domination existing between Indian people and the United States. You might see in expectation the ways in which popular culture works to produce—and sometimes to compromise—racism and misogyny. And I would, finally, like you to distinguish between the anomalous, which reinforces expectations, and the unexpected, which resists categorization, and thereby, questions expectations itself. (p. 11)
Each of Deloria’s essay-chapters are dedicated to, as the book’s title suggests, exploring how Native people have engaged in modernization in unexpected ways (i.e ways that question expectations) in the early 20th century: through making and acting in films, shaping sports, owning cars, and creating music. Blending history and cultural analysis, Deloria ultimately calls into question the ways in which modernity has been imagined against and in opposition to Native “primitiveness.” At stake is our conception of modernity, and the expectations that carry through that imagined history into the present, expectations that reproduce “social, political, legal, and economic relations that are asymmetrical, sometimes grossly so” (p. 4).
One example of how Native people engaged actively in modernity came in the second essay on “representation.” Red Wing and Young Deer—film writers, directors, and actors—worked together on a series of movies that rejected the conventional depictions of Native peoples in film at the early 20th century (p. 94-103). Deloria compares how cross-racial relationships are represented in The Squaw Man compared to how they are represented in Red Wing and Young Deer’s The Falling Arrow. The plot of The Squaw Man was typical for the time: a white man saves and then marries an Indian woman (echoing the narrative of colonial conquest), who later kills herself so that the white man can be with a white woman (affirming white-on-white romance). The Falling Arrow inverses this conventional plot line: an Indian man saves a white woman from a white man, and then the white woman falls in love with the Indian man. This film’s plot line questioned the expectation that Indians to not have power over whites. Similarly, Red Wing and Young Deer’s status of film creators challenges the expectation that Native people are only represented in films as passive actors. Red Wing and Young Deer’s series of films demonstrates that Native people where actively involved in using the new technology of film to question the dominant representations of Native people at the time.
1. Some of you might have heard about this, but last fall No Doubt put out a music video that portrayed Gwen Stefani as an Indian woman. The band quickly took the video down from YouTube after coming under criticism from Native groups. (You can still find the video online against the band’s wishes, I think). What do you think Deloria would have to say about how the video engages expectations about Native people?
2. I think Deloria is strategically using what Tsing calls (ideological) scaling to make generalizable claims about the relationship between Indians and non-Indians. Since many of you will be using Tsing’s concept of scaling in your projects, do find Deloria’s strategic use of scaling to be effective?
Paige West's From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) uses ethnography to show how coffee (particularly specialty coffee) is produced and consumed (both in a material sense and "virtually") and how the labels assigned to these coffees by the global North have material consequences for not only Papua New Guinean growers and their attendant industries but also for consumers on a global scale.
West's focus on specialty coffees is important because she makes a distinction in terms of their marketing to consumers. This marketing creates an image of the people of Papua New Guinea as both primitive (in a "good" way, the "noble savage" story) and impoverished. This image is highly problematic because it sustains a relationship between global North and South (as West uses these terms) that is unbalanced at best and, at worst, continues to damage Papua New Guineans' ability to have much agency in their coffee industry. Consumers, "by literally buying into a troubling set of fantasy images of Papua New Guinea that are grafted onto the coffee through marketing, work to replicate dangerous ideas about indigenous people and poverty that have drastic material effects" (29).
I found myself particularly interested in how the development of neoliberal capitalism helped to foster a system of "self-regulation" that these specialty coffee companies use to further their own image as socially responsible, ecologically friendly industries. That image is expressed through labels – "fair trade-certified," "organic," "free-range," or "vegetarian" (47) – that serve to sell not only a potentially "better" coffee but also a more "aware" coffee. The industries that engage in this third-party system of self-regulation have, by labeling their products in this way, managed to commodify environmental awareness and social responsibility on a "global" scale, as well as make "ethical consumption…a lifestyle choice that marks status" (51).
The way specialty coffees are labeled is also part of a (neoliberal, according to West) process called "disembedding." This process occurs
when economic activities, like buying coffee, bec[o]me increasingly removed from the social relationships in which they had historically occurred and when the objects circulating in the economy c[o]me to be seen as fetishes seen as emerging in and of themselves and not from labor (56).
The problem with specialty coffees as West sees it is that they seem to be re-embedding consumers in a social network when, in fact, they are doing the opposite because consumers are buying from a "virtual" producer, one that has been constructed for them. Buying from a fantasy producer (the poor, primitive Papua New Guinean coffee grower) has the effect of separating the consumer from the material coffee world.
1) I know this is super general, but since I missed last week's discussion (stupid bronchitis), I'm really hoping we can connect West to Tsing. I'm still working through Tsing's concept of scale-making, and I'm wondering how we can tie in West's ethnography, especially as she talks about embedding/disembedding and how the world becomes bigger for Papua New Guineans but smaller for consumers of these coffees.
2) If the "virtual" producer is a creation of a specialty coffee company, is that image/label (however untrue or unethical) safeguarded by copyright? (Am hoping to expand this question further as I continue to think about it.)
In From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) Paige West offers an ethnography of the social connections that coffee creates between Papua New Guineans and coffee consumers of the global West. In particular, the author focuses on the production, distribution, and circulation of coffee as a commodity as well as its relationships to neolibralization, marketing images, third party regulatory systems (organic and fair trade certification), labor, value, and political ecology.
In chapter one on “Neoliberal Coffee,” West argues that the images used to market coffee produced in Papua New Guinea are not representative of the situation for coffee farmers and others tied to the industry. These narratives conflate poverty with the primitive and perpetuate damaging narratives about indigenous people, pristine culture, and linear development from privative to modern. West points to the Dean’s Beans blog entry, where the employee recounts his experiences traveling to Papua New Guinea to set up fair trade agreements with the coffee farmers there. She asserts that,
These marketing narratives engage a set of representational practices that seem to show clear connections between “alternative forms of consumption in the North” and social and environmental justice in the South (345). However, they shoe a fictitious version of political ecology. In addition, they craft producers and consumers in ways that are equally fictitious,. These moments, the moment of consumer production, the moment of producer production, and the moment of fictitious political ecology, would not be possible were it not for the neoliberal changes in the global economy that have taken place over the last fifty years. Nor would they be possible without the growth of the specialty coffee industry. (p. 41)
As someone who not long ago regularly patronized coffee shops in Western Mass that proudly used Dean’s Beans coffee products, it was easy for me to relate to this example. West goes on to show how fair trade and organic certification “refetishize” rather than “defetishize” the labor of Papua New Guineans (p. 50). In other words, privileged western consumers are fooling themselves when they assume that their consumer choices motivated by ethical and political commitments are causing positive political action. In fact, as West demonstrates, these marketing and consumer patterns have negative material effects on the coffee producers.
I have to say that this was the most interesting book I have read in the last year, maybe longer. I thoroughly enjoyed the way West defined her meaning of neoliberalism (p. 26), unpacked how the ideological values behind coffee marketing campaigns, and made her discussion of these complex issues and her arguments accessible for a non-anthropologist like me while still situating her project in the existing scholarship. Most importantly, her book challenged me to rethink my conception of fair trade and organic certification, as well as the limits of consumerist activism.
1. Like Tsing’s, West’s book is engaged with theories of globalization and seeks to offer an ethnography of global connections. What are some of the differences and similarities between their approaches to documenting these global connections?
2. In what ways, if any, has West’s book challenged you to rethink the limits of consumerist activism? I think of all the purchasing choices that I made that are politically or ethically motivated and that I consider part of my identity (shopping at an employee-owned store like Winco, avoiding Walmart, choosing Zoe’s over Starbucks, not owning a car, buying second hand items, buying dry food products in bulk, limiting my consumption of plastics, paper goods, and meat) and wonder how delusional I actually am. Is my faith in my “political” choices as a consumer keeping me participating in “real” political action? (Yes, I know we critiqued the concept of “authentic” change, but I still think that the concept is useful in this context.)
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005) explores the notion of "friction" as it can be applied to what has previously been considered "frictionless" by many scholars – particularly, the progress of globalization. Tsing makes several points about the global connections that have and continue to be made: 1) that these connections are not linear, as from central nodes of power outward, but instead are chaotic; 2) and that these connections are not simply top-down constructions from North to South, but that the global South is an active agent in constructing global scenes; and 3) that friction is not just present but necessary, as when she says, "Friction is not just about slowing things down. Friction is required to keep global power in motion" (6). For Tsing, it is important to study not only how the global North operates in a contested area but also to analyze how indigenous peoples contribute to the instability of these contested areas and create new cultures that speak not only to specificity but also to so-called universal notions.
Tsing uses ethnography to look not simply at the specific locations in which she is active, but to engage universals, ultimately making the point that it makes little sense to study universals and particulars as discrete entities but to analyze how the interplay between particular and universal "moves" global concepts and goals. She notes that her own projects with environmental activism in Indonesia "deploy the rhetoric of the universal even as they shape its meanings to their particular processes of proliferation, scale-making, generalization, cosmopolitanism, or collaboration. They require us to follow calls to the universal without assuming these calls will foster the same conditions everywhere" (267). That rhetoric of the universal, she says, is necessary on some level, even when (or, rather, especially when) the subjects in a particular location do not exactly agree on what that universal entails. For Tsing, it is important to see how different agencies – local, national, international – use universals and how those uses shape local politics of difference.
One aspect of Tsing’s work that intrigues me (or, to use the vernacular, "blows my mind") is her discussion of scale-making. Scale-making, she argues, is not neutral; rather, "scale must be brought into being: proposed, practiced, and evaded, as well as taken for granted. Scales are claimed and contested in cultural and political projects" (58). Rather than one globalism, there are overlapping "globalisms," and the same is true for the regional and the local. As I understand it, the rhetoric of the universal as used by one group (North, for example) attempts to set the scale in a particular way, but in doing so, it ignores or dismisses or neglects contesting or collaborative rhetorics that would make the global seem less "frictionless." But, as Tsing says, that interplay between different ideas about universal concepts is what can make social movements more successful.
In her analysis of the various ways that people interpret "conservation" in Indonesia, she shows that while different groups may have very different definitions and goals for a particular location, they are collaborative agents in creating a global measure that contradicts (but still improves upon) the supposedly seamless process of globalization that would otherwise not take into account local particularities. Thinking about how scale is produced (rather than taking it for granted) helped me to understand better, I think, the politics of friction in a global community.
1) In discussion commodification, Tsing uses the example of a lump of coal that is, at each stage of its commercial journey, "appraised for different properties" and, in order to remain a sellable object, "it must be ready to meet these varied demands" (51). How does this process change in order to work for intangible commodities? Who does the appraising, and how is the "worth" of particular intangible commodities established?
2) Tsing talks about friction as a useful element in collaboration. "Parties who work together may or may not be similar and may or may not have common understandings of the problem and the product. The more different they are, the more they must reach for barely overlapping understandings of the situation" (247). I wonder if there is a line that must, at some point, be drawn in order to achieve any kind of progress? I realize that other social justice or activist movements have different elements that change the nature of the question, but if Tsing is speaking generally on this point that collaboration should contain an element of friction in order to be truly progressive (if not successful in the way that some activists consider the term), then I question, generally, whether large amounts of friction are truly beneficial. (I do so the point, though, that some friction can be productive.)
In An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing explores power struggles over Indonesian rain forests as sites of friction, which she defines as “the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (p. 3). Tsing’s methodology is ethnographic and her analysis is grounded in the narratives gathered while doing field research in rural Kalimantan. Specifically, Tsing focuses on Indonesia’s national environmental movement of the 1980s and early 1990s.
As we discussed last week in class, although Tsing studies very specific global connections that relate to deforestation in Indonesia, her book is also a study of globalism, global capitalism, and liberalism. Tsing offers a theory of globalization that challenges previous scholars’ understandings of economic and cultural change (i.e. globalization) as spreading from global “centers” outwards. Rather, Tsing demonstrates how capitalist systems and ideologies of liberalism emerge locally in peripheral places out of the frictions of global connections.
Although Tsing’s analysis really came together in part three on “Freedom,” I found her study of the nature lovers in part two particularly interesting. Tsing describes how the nature lovers, or pencita alam, and the networks they formed take international ideologies of nature and make them local – redeploying that knowledge to formulate an historically-situated cosmopolitan nationalism. The chapter describes the nature lovers’ complex relationships with student resistance movements and the military, their cultural distinctions between the rural and the urban, and their identity as consumers of outdoor equipment and – my personal favorite – Philip Morris cigarettes (p. 141 -146). This part of the book was noteworthy because it provides a detailed illustration of Tsing’s argument that “we know and use nature through engaged universals" (p. 270) and more broadly that globalization always manifests itself through local, fragmentary frictions.
1. Like Castells, Tsing states that her research is motivated by a desire to know what kinds of social justice (or social movements) make sense in the 21st century. Also like Castells, she investigates global connections and social movements that attract the participation of social actors with diverse goals and ideological motivations. What are some connections that you made between these two texts as you were reading this week?
2. I like the idea of a project that would combine Castells’ focus on networked social movements and Tsing’s careful analysis of global frictions. What might such a project produce?
Manuel Castells' Networks of Outrage and Hope (2012) details the process of creating networked social movements that are born of outrage over an "unbearable tragedy" and fueled by hope for change. These movements make use of what Castells calls "autonomous communication" to develop social power via individuals that counters institutional power monopolies. The movement is a hybrid of online social media networks and public space through which protesters make themselves heard. Castells uses various recent social movements – Tunisia, Island, Egypt, Spain, and the United States – to highlight the similarities in the formations of these movements as well as how some of them have served as partial catalysts (or at least inspirations) for later ones.
One aspect of this study that draws my attention is the hybridization of these movements, their simultaneous online/offline presence. Castells argues, speaking specifically about OWS, that the movement built "a new form of space, a mixture of space of places, in a given territory, and a space of flows, on the Internet." Also, occupied spaces create "a new form of time" which is characterized by a feeling of "'forever'" due to the disruption of protesters' daily lives (168-169). I would add that the new temporality also comes from the connection to the occupied public space: the participant may feel stuck in time while staying in a camp, but time still moves when one is following tweets, Facebook status updates, and YouTube videos. The colliding of Internet space and time and public space and time may be one factor in the eventual "success" or "failure" of particular movements (depending on how one defines those terms).
I am also intrigued by the demographics of the movements that Castells charts. A pattern seems to emerge where those most active in each movement are the educated youth, sometimes seen as those who have the worst job prospects as well as those most aware of and familiar with digital technologies and online social media. I am still processing this information, and perhaps I do not have enough in-depth knowledge of the formation and progress of social movements historically, but it does seem as if the heavy use of online social media to fuel these particular uprisings (as well as the results of said movements) could benefit from a detailed discussion of how digital technologies have affected the ways people process information and use that processing to act upon the offline world.
1) Regarding autonomous communication, Castells says, "The autonomy of communication is the essence of social movements because it is what allows the movement to be formed, and what enables the movement to relate to society at large beyond the control of the power holders over communication power" (11). My brain is getting stuck on the word "autonomy." After reading about the massive failure of the Egyptian government to disable the uprising against Mubarak by attempting to shut down the Internet, I am not arguing against the physical inability to completely disrupt an Internet-based movement. But since the Internet functions on a corporate model (ISPs providing service for fees, corporate control over individual use of bandwidth, images, sound, etc.), Castells seems a bit idealistic regarding this concept.
2) For each of these social movements, the resistance used a horizontal (aka "leaderless") model rather than a vertical hierarchy of power, thus demonstrating that social organization and social change are both possible using said model. However, when the goals were achieved (or in the case of OWS, when the moral statement seemed to have been sufficiently disseminated), the resistance seemed to fade and hierarchical structures of power resumed dominance (even if certain dictators were deposed). Can a leaderless, non-violent society exist on a national, international, global scale? How might the Internet serve as its own example of a longer-term functioning model, especially as it continues to affect how people think and respond to the world around them? (I totally have Marshal McLuhan running through my head – "The medium is the message.")
In Networks of Outrage and Hope (2012) Manuel Castells presents an “inquiry into the social movements of the network society” motivated by the “hope of identifying new paths of social change in our time” (p. 4). His analysis of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the Arab Uprisings, the Indignadas in Spain, and Occupy Wall Street leads him to locate several common characteristics of networked social movements (p. 221-228). For instance, he concludes that networked social movements have horizontal rather than vertical organizational power structures, are non-violent in principal, are simultaneously local and global, and become movements through the occupation of urban space. An important aspect of his project is to challenge the “meaningless discussion in the media and in academic circles denying that communications technologies are at the roots of social movements” by showing how networked social movements are fundamentally different than those that came before (p. 228). In order to demonstrate these differences, he turns to the theory of power that he presented in Communication Power (2009) to show how “communication networks are decisive sources of power-making” (p. 9). Optimistic about the potential outcomes of networked social movements, Castells insists that “the Internet provides the organizational communication platform to translate the culture of freedom into the practice of autonomy” (p. 231). In other words, social networking and digital multimedia have the potential to support movements that make “real democracy” a reality.
I was particularly interested in one of Castell’s common characteristics of networked social movements: his observation that they are rarely programmatic movements (p. 227). He explores this idea at length in his chapter on Occupy Wall Street (p. 287-297). The OWS protestors often did not have a shared list of demands or policy changes that they were able to mobilize around. Since the groups were leaderless and represented desperate interests brought together through a loose horizontal power structure, they did not come to a consensus about concrete outcomes and plans for strategic, focused policy changes. Nevertheless, Castells points to some important achievements of the OWS, namely, a greater awareness among people both in and out of the movement of class struggle and a more widespread distrust of financial capitalism. Indeed, I think that George Lakoff’s characterization of OWS as primarily a “moral movement” is quite apt. Castells explains that the non-programmatic nature of networked social movements are both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. On the one hand, a lack of specific demands makes a movement more open to mass participation and more difficult for political parties to co-opt. On the other hand, there is the question of how much concrete change can happen if the movement is unable to focus on any one particular goal or project.
This same question about networked social movement’s ability to enact meaningful change was taken up by Malcolm Gladwell in “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” (2010). Unlike Castells, Gladwell is convinced that networked social movements cannot make the same concrete impact that earlier movements – such as the civil rights movements in the US – were able to because of their vertical power hierarchies and the “close tie” relationships of the pre-internet era.
Personally, I am not sure where I stand on this question. I understand that horizontal power structures of the networked social movements are the only ones that are “truly democratic.” I also think that a movement that promotes critical consciousness of class struggle in a large portion of the population is accomplishing something meaningful. After all, a change in values and assumptions can lead to changes in the political system. However, I feel like Gladwell has a point too. How can a social movement achieve goals if the power structure of the movement does not allow for the official adoption by the group of specific goals?
1. How do you react to Castells’ and Gladwell’s different approaches to the question of meaningful change and networked social movements?
2. Castell offers an interesting analysis of the ways that communication technologies restructure social movements. Castells suggests that part of the reason that power structures in networked social movements are horizontal is because of a distrust of political parties. However, he recognizes that the majority of OWS protestors identified with the democratic party and that the democratic party consciously presented Obama as representing the interests of the 99%. In a way, it did seem to me that the OWS movement was co-opted by a political party. Is it possible for a networked social movement in the US to forward a radical critique of the political system if it is still dominantly situated within the mainstream bipartisan system? Where are the implications of networked social movements for the future of the far left?