Public protest in a digitised world: reflections on the Indignados and Occupy movements
Paper to the Anthropology Department, Oslo University
21 November 2012
RMIT University, Melbourne
The wave of protests that struck the world in 2011 has generated a great deal of polarised debate, particularly in connection with the historical novelty (or otherwise) of the protests and with the role played by social media such as Facebook or Twitter. In this paper I put aside such controversies and critically review the existing evidence on a range of digital media. Drawing from anthropological fieldwork in Barcelona (Spain) and from secondary research, I explore the digital dimensions of the Indignados and Occupy movements. First I argue that these movements exhibit four main characteristics, namely: they (a) propagated through viralised media ecologies in which political reality is now routinely ‘shared’ by media professionals, amateurs and ordinary citizens via social media (an age of ‘viral reality’, Postill forthcoming), (b) recruited widely from a middle-class precariat that includes students, teachers, artists, social workers and other
knowledge ‘cultural workers’ (Teknokultura 2012) eking out a living in post-2008 neoliberal democracies, (c) were informed by the recent mainstreaming of ‘nerd politics’ (pace Doctorow 2012, e.g. Wikileaks, Anonymous, #NoLesVotes) and (d) were inspired and sustained in their occupation of digitised public spaces by Tahrir Square which revived vernacular ideals of horizontalism and communitarianism (Frank 2012). I then suggest that despite their similarities and common global ambitions, the new protest movements are strongly shaped by the distinct techno-political cultures of the nation-states where they have taken hold. This is revealed by a field-theoretical comparison of Spain and the United States in which I show that the movements are best characterised as both culturally-specific ‘protest fields’ (Crossley 2002) and as fields of cultural production in their own right that expanded and contracted and migrate far more dramatically than the fields of cultural production studied in France by Bourdieu and his associates (Postill 2011).
Crossley, N. 2002. `Global Anti-Corporate Struggle: A Preliminary Analysis’, British Journal of Sociology 53(4): 667—91.
Doctorow, C. 2012 The problem with nerd politics, The Guardian, 14 May 2012.
Frank, T. 2012. To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice …and drove it absolutely crazy, The Baffler No. 21, October 2012.
Postill, J. 2011. Localizing the Internet: An Anthropological Account. Oxford and New York: Berghahn. See draft Introduction.
Postill, J. forthcoming 2012. Democracy in the age of viral reality: a media epidemiography of Spain’s indignados movement Ethnography journal, Special Issue on Media Ethnography and the Public Sphere, revised version submitted July 2012.
Teknokultura 2012. Call for Papers: Trabajadores culturales: mediaciones y movimientos socioculturales Vol.9 N.2. (December 2012)