The mainstreaming of nerd politics and other social movement trends
I’m being interviewed over Skype by Anneli Tostar of The Harvard Crimson about social movements. Here are some quick preparatory notes for the record, although I suspect the conversation will move in other directions.
1. What are the sorts of phenomena in relation to social movements that have stood out to you in recent years, either because of their content or method of activism?
A package of four interrelated phenomena, in fact:
- What I call the mainstreaming of nerd/geek politics, with Wikileaks’ State Dept cables, Tunisian revolution and #Nolesvotes (Spain) as 3 apt examples, all happening in late 2010 or early 2011
- This mainstreaming is taking place in an age of viral reality, esp. with success of social and mobile media; by this I mean the growing importance of people’s ability to decide what current affairs items to ‘share’ (or not) with their personal networks; Since when? well, in West and other regions (SE Asia, South America, Middle East) since the joint power of Twitter and Facebook, esp post-2009
- The Tahrir effect in 2011 -> Puerta del Sol -> Zuccotti -> St Paul’s etc
- Precarised students and professionals (see Paul Mason’s latest book, Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere), most markedly post-2008 financial crash
2. How does the use of media (video, song, etc.) in the modern era compare with past methods of attempting to gain social mobility?
I think you mean social mobilisation (not social mobility?). If that’s the case, here I would invoke 1) and 2) above, i.e. the combined effect of geeky activism and social media. For example, one striking ‘game’ that activists play these days is ‘playing the algorithm’ (Postill in press), that is working collectively so that a given hashtag (=keyword) will ‘trend’ on Twitter, thereby achieving greater visibility and mobilising potential for their cause.
3. What are the implications of using primarily global platforms, rather than local or grassroots rallies?
I don’t see such a marked contrast between the global and the local. The platform may be global (or near-global, as China and other countries ban certain web platforms) but it’s still deftly appropriated for national and subnational (regional, local) causes. That said, it *does* make a difference whether or not the whole world can ‘see’ a given campaign at the click of a link. For instance, one thing I find absolutely fascinating about Twitter – compared, say, to a local web forum – is that it is a common platform shared by millions of people from most countries in the world in which their paths cross far more often than if they were using discrete platforms. This allowed Twitter-savvy activists in southern Europe and North America to follow, interact with, learn from, and be inspired by their brethren in North Africa during the 2010-2011 uprisings.
4. What do you see as the most effective way of mobilizing young people today? Is media an integral or even necessary part?