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Social media, activism and the #SpanishRevolution

June 22, 2011

Invited paper by John Postill to the first Ørecomm Festival, Agency in the Mediatized World, 9–13 September 2011, a five-day event taking place on both sides of the Öresund strait that lies between Denmark and Sweden. The event is organised by the transnational research centre Ørecomm, which works to strengthen research in the interdisciplinary field of media, communication and social change. More information


On 15 May 2011 numerous localities across Spain staged protests against the country’s political and financial leadership and in favour of ‘real democracy’. These protests were followed in subsequent days by mass encampments in central squares of Madrid, Barcelona and many other cities, marking the birth of the mass movement known today as 15-M or the #spanishrevolution. This paper draws from almost one year of ethnographic research into social media and activism in Barcelona to reconstruct the main stages of the movement, from its roots in a late 2010 online mobilisation against an anti-digital piracy bill to its morphing into a number of pro-democracy platforms, ending with the dramatic events of May. The analytical approach is inspired by the Manchester School of political anthropology in that it ‘follows the conflict’ through its main stages, revealing the unique constellations of social media and other digital technologies found during each phase at key political arenas – both online and offline. Avoiding false dichotomies (e.g. virtual vs. real life) and media polemics of the ‘Twitter revolution’ variety, the paper calls for historical-processual analyses that track the messy interactions between political agents, digital media and the physical world that characterise political struggles in the present era.

Image by Pata de Perro, 2011

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