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The revolution was digitised: an imaginary conversation

November 4, 2011

What do you make of the new global movement?

What movement?

You know, the Occupy movement in New York, London, Frankfurt, etc.

Not sure yet. It’s still early days, but I see a strong family resemblance between these occupations and earlier ones in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities across Spain from May 2011 onwards, which later became known as the #15M or indignados movement, aka the Spanish Revolution.

Such as?

The slogans, the participants, the encampments, the assemblies, the digital media used (Twitter, YouTube, blogs, smartphones, online news sites…), mainstream reactions to the occupations, the idea that ‘This is only the beginning’, and many others besides. I’m surprised that some commentators have missed the Spanish connection altogether – although others have indeed stressed it.

Are you suggesting the movement was exported from Spain to the US and from there to the rest of the world?

Possibly. Perhaps a better term would be ‘inspired’. I haven’t researched this properly yet, but I see a great deal of borrowing and inspiration being drawn from Spain by the early New York campers. Of course, nothing comes from nothing, and the Madrid pioneers in turn borrowed from Cairo, Iceland and other earlier sites of protest and mobilisation.

Where are we going with all this? A new political and economic order, more of the same, or somewhere in between?

No idea, but my hunch is that this is a political revolution with global reach, and that it is part of a broader 21st century cultural revolution. When Chris Kelty wrote in his 2008 book Two Bits about the free software movement signalling a global shift in power/knowledge I thought he exaggerated; I assumed he was falling into the common trap of extrapolating from a small social universe (geekdom) in order to make unwarranted universal claims. Now I think – or sense – that he was right. The indignados/occupy movements are strongly imbued with the ethos and practices of free software, or rather, of free culture more broadly defined.

I’ve heard about free culture, but I’m not quite sure what it is…

As you might expect, there is no agreed definition – and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. As I understand it, the free culture movement fights for the free (as in libre, not gratis) production, modification and sharing of culture by citizens and for citizens, with special emphasis on protecting the Internet from the predatory practices of large states and corporations. I’m not suggesting that Spain’s indignados and their foreign counterparts are only influenced by free culture, but I see a strong input from this field of practice in the movement.

Apart from free culture, what are the other influences or factors contributing to the indignados movement worldwide?

Again, I’m still working on this, but tentatively I would include the anti-corporate globalisation movement that blossomed in the late 1990s (see Juris 2008, Networking Futures); the widely publicised examples set by Tunisia and Egypt; the rise of Wikileaks, Anonymous and other information freedom fighters (Brooke 2011, The Revolution Will be Digitised); the role of leading bloggers-cum-Twitterers (Estalella 2011, Ensamblajes de Esperanza), and more generally the worsening economic crisis which in Spain and other countries is affecting millions of young, qualified people and leaving them with little hope for the future.

Why should we care about this international (it’s not quite global, is it?) protest movement?

No, it’s not global in its participation, see for instance Venezuela or Afghanistan, but the repercussions certainly are, for governments and corporations everywhere and taking good note. This is a sophisticated, emerging field of political practice and collective action. There are some really talented people involved with it from a range of backgrounds, as well as many neophytes recently awakened to political life learning and sharing as they go along. There is a great of experimentation with techno-political tools (e.g. face-to-face as well as online deliberation and voting, free platforms, Twitter hashtags – ‘hashtivism’ -, live streaming, citizen journalism…), many of which were not around even a few months or years ago.

To be continued…

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