Swarms need hives: Paolo Gerbaudo on the 2011 wave of protests
Extracts from Paolo Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism. London and New York: Pluto Books, 2012.
p. 27-28 ‘If Castells… was the [late 1990s] social theorist of the rise of the World Wide Web, Hardt’s and Negri’s joint work, which came at a later stage, bears the stamp of the era of mobile media and the new forms of collective action their diffusion inspired. Compared to Castells’ discussion of networks, Hardt and Negri do recuperate an appreciation of the role of the body and its mobility… Yet they too fail to take into account the emplaced character of collective action, the fact that it requires physical locations as stages of its performance’.
p. 28 ‘The place of the multitude, Hardt and Negri suggest, is a ‘non-place’ (Hardt and Negri 2000: 40)’.
p. 27 Hardt and Negri (2004) notion of ‘swarm intelligence’ similar idea to Wasik’s flash mobs and Rheingold’s (2003) smart mobs.
p. 26-27 ‘The concept of the swarm comes to represent… nomadic corporeality, this ‘body without organs’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 40), a multitude which can act together without being reduced to one identity or one place’. For these authors, today’s ‘complex technical linkages’ allow for the emergence of collective action out of heterogeneity and multiplicity, without the need for centralisation. Swarms without hives.
p. 28 Yet ‘We know from biology that while honey-bees fly across great distances they also need a fixed place to return to, and some comrade bees to remain there to keep the hive in place.’
p. 29 In common with Castells, Hardt and Negri reject the ‘imaginary of the crowd or the mass’. This ‘brings about a disregard for the importance of places as sites for the display of collective action – which clearly leaves little room for an understanding of the ‘take the square movements’ of 2011, and the importance of the occupation of public spaces has acquired in their unfolding’.
p. 29 That said, both Castells and Hardt and Negri ‘correctly identify a situation of radical heterogeneity and multiplicity at the root of contemporary society’.