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10. Freedom technologists series: a first recap (part 2)

November 20, 2014

mapamhttp://autoconsulta.org/mutaciones.php

This post completes the first recap of the ongoing freedom technologists series through a brief theoretical exercise, namely applying field theory to the empirical materials gathered so far. I do this via a new concept: ‘fields of civic action’. The intention is not to impose a rigid theoretical framework on the series but rather to try out some conceptual ideas in an open-ended, exploratory spirit, with the field concepts marked in bold.  

In this entry I wish to suggest that freedom technologists – those geeks, hackers, tech lawyers, bloggers, online journalists and other tech-minded specialists who actively use digital media to pursue democratic freedoms – are major contributors to the making of contemporary fields of civic action around the world. The discussion takes off from my previous anthropological work on internet activism and field theory (Postill 2011, in press) as well as Fligstein and McAdam’s (2011, 2012) sociological concept of ‘strategic action fields’:

We hold the view that strategic action fields (hereafter, SAFs) are the fundamental units of collective action in society. A strategic action field is a meso-level social order where actors (who can be individual or collective) interact with knowledge of one another under a set of common understandings about the purposes of the field, the relationships in the field (including who has power and why), and the field’s rules (Fligstein and McAdam 2011: 3).

By contrast, I will provisionally define field of civic action as:

A dynamic domain of social action entangled in a web of other domains and resembling a game in which differently positioned citizens and civic initiatives compete and cooperate over the same rewards, prizes and issue(s), often via digital media.

My working assumption is that freedom technologists’ intimate knowledge of digital media gives them an advantage over other ‘players’ in such fields. But is that really the case? Before we can begin to answer this question, let us break this statement down into its constituent elements.

A dynamic domain of social action…

Fields of civic action tend to be much more dynamic, unpredictable and short-lived than the more institutionalised fields we associate today with the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1993, 1996), e.g. the fields of art, sociology or journalism. This lack of institutionalisation means that field agents (both individual and collective) must work a lot harder at anticipating and interpreting other agents’ actions, seeking and maintaining alliances, finding useful ways of exploiting the field affordances of new technologies (i.e. their field potentialities and limitations), and so forth.

entangled in a web of other domains…

Social fields are never insulated from their environment. They are always part of much larger webs of fields – some proximate, others more distant. The following observation about the shifting boundaries of strategic action fields (SAFs) applies equally well to fields of civic action:

The boundaries of SAFs are not fixed, but shift depending on the definition of the situation and the issues at stake. So, for instance, imagine if [the US] Congress were to take up a sweeping reform bill that threatened to change the tax status of all institutions of higher education. [This] conflict would define a new field, comprised of all 2,500 colleges and universities [in the United States], which would probably unite and oppose such legislation. So fields are constructed on a situational basis, as shifting collections of actors come to define new issues and concerns as salient (Fligstein and McAdam 2011: 4, my emphases).

and resembling a game…

Although fields of civic action clearly are not games like chess, tennis or Minecraft, they nonetheless resemble games. For Prior (2008: 305) ‘the field is also a space of competition, the analogy being a game of chess where players enter the game and position themselves according to the powers and moves available to them’. Yet in contrast to a game of chess with its well-defined, unchanging rules, powerful field ‘players’ will also struggle over the definition of what counts as ‘the stakes in the field’ (Prior 2008: 305, quoted in Postill in press: 9). However, not all field players will be equally invested in the game. Some will play for the sake of playing, others out of obligation, or by mistake, or for any number of reasons. In other words, not all actions within a field are strategic. This means that Fligstein and McAdam’s (2011) concept of ‘field of strategic action’, for all its virtues, is problematic. My proposed alternative term, field of civic action, is intended to avoid this problem whilst being more pertinent to the question at hand, namely the contribution of freedom technologists to the new protest movements.

Virtually all social and political games played today go by clock-and-calendar time (Postill 2002, 2006, forthcoming). A crucial distinction to make in this regard is whether or not the fields of civic action being analysed come with an end date. We shall see shortly the significance of this seemingly banal distinction in the context of Spain’s indignados (15M) movement.

in which differently positioned citizens and civic initiatives…

Individuals and groups bring to a field of civic action uneven amounts of social, technical and political capital. They also join the field at different times through different entry points. This strongly influences – but never entirely determines – their position within the field. As a result, a broad division between incumbents and challengers emerges (Fligstein and McAdam 2011: 5-7). Incumbents have an obvious interest in retaining their position of strength vis-a-vis challengers, and will seek alliances with other individual and group players to this end.

Fields of civic action will often have internal governance units distinct from external state governance structures (Fligstein and McAdam 2011: 6), for instance, popular assemblies, working committees, Facebook groups or Twitter accounts. These units are where we can expect to find the field’s core practices, i.e. those essential practices that define a field, without which it would lose its raison d’être and cease to function (see Postill in press for the changing core practices of journalism). It is at these field stations where the field is routinely reproduced that we are likely to observe the field’s incumbents busily holding onto their power, with varying degrees of success (Postill 2011: 7). It is also here that the aim and name of the game are discussed, reinforced, contested, and sometimes altered. During periods of turbulence or crisis within a field, stations can mutate into arenas in which incumbents and challengers have no choice but to take sides on an internal dispute. Arenas are where social dramas pitting field actors against each other are played out in public view (Turner 1974: 132-133) – nowadays usually via digital/viral media platforms (Postill 2011: 8).

compete and cooperate over the same rewards, prizes and issue(s)…

Depending on the specific dynamics of a situation, field agents will sometimes clash and sometimes cooperate with other agents over the same rewards, prizes and issue(s), with conflict being the dominant mode. As the anthropologist Victor Turner perceptively put it forty years ago, political fields are constituted by ‘purposive, goal-directed group action, and though it contains both conflict and coalition, collaborative action is often made to serve the purposes of contentious action’ (1974: 128).

Whilst some rewards will be intrinsic to the field, others will be extrinsic (Warde 2005), e.g. prizes or recognition awarded by the state or an official industry body. Some fields of civic action will be constituted around a single issue (see US higher education example above), whereas in others a set of issues will compete for players’ attention and dedication. It follows that the larger the number of issues at stake, the greater the risk of field fragmentation and dispersal. When a field of civic action ceases to operate effectively, i.e. when there is no single shared game being played, no internal governance units, no busy stations, and so on, the field reverts to a state akin to fallow. To adapt Fligstein and McAdam’s (2011) notion of ‘unorganised social space’ to the case at hand, in the context of freedom technologists and the new protest movements we shall speak of this state as unorganised civic space.

often via digital media.

If twenty years ago there was still a case to be made for the analytical separation between (a) the mainstream media (radio, TV, press, etc.), (b) alternative or ‘indie’ media, (c) special interest or ‘community’ media and (d) interpersonal media (mail, email, landline telephony), with the explosive proliferation of social media and smartphones this separation is increasingly hard to sustain (Lüders 2008, Postill 2011: 70). The internet politics scholar Andrew Chadwick (2013) has developed the notion of hybrid media systems to address this changed environment. Similarly, in my own work I have written about ‘the coming of an era in which political reality is strongly shaped by viral contents ‘shared’ by media professionals and amateurs – an age of viral reality’ (Postill 2014).

Like all social fields – both enduring or transient – fields of civic action are embedded in hybrid media systems that are largely not of their own making. However, freedom technologists and other tech-minded field players will still strive to pursue tactics and strategies that allow them to shape hearts and minds under these new media conditions. Here we can distinguish between civic media actions (i.e. those actions that take place largely or entirely within ‘circuits of civic culture’, Dahlgren 2009, Couldry et al 2014) and hybrid media actions (actions that straddle the increasingly porous media divides).

The 15M field of civic action: “March the streets!”

How does this extended family of field concepts help us understand the part played by freedom technologists in Spain’s 15M (indignados) movement? Is this protest movement a field of civic action? The answer to these questions is surprising: rather than a single ‘movement-field’ (Juris 2008), as I have described it elsewhere (Postill in press), 15M is better understood as a series of distinct fields punctuated by a long period of unorganised civic space.

Let us start with the 15 May 2011 marches, before briefly considering later phases of the movement. The 15 May demonstrations around Spain were not the result of a single exogenous shock (Fligstein and McAdam 2011: 8-9) to Spain’s civil society but rather of several domestic and international shocks, most notably the collapse of the Spanish economy in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.

Spain’s domestic restlessness […] was boosted by a chain of international factors. Among them were the Arab Spring mobilizations for political reforms and civil liberties, Iceland’s ‘silent revolution’ against neoliberal adjustment policies, and the mobilizations of the Portuguese ‘Desperate Generation’ […] The disclosure of WikiLeaks documents showing Spanish government officials to be less than forthright, and Stéphane Hessel’s book Time for Outrage! (Indignez-vous!) also collaborated in inflaming Spanish passions. Seemingly, there was not a single or final straw breaking the camel’s back; this conjuncture of uncoordinated domestic and international events worked in a synergic fashion, prompting a collective outburst of indignation. In this combustible context, the call issued by the digital platform Real Democracy Now! (DRY, ¡Democracia Real Ya!) to take to the streets was ‘just’ the spark that ignited the so-called ‘indignado’ mobilizations (Perugorría and Tejerina 2013: 428).

Although this vivid portrayal is helpful as an introduction to the 15M marches, from a field-theoretical perspective we still need to ask questions about the making of this new field/game, about its individual and group players, about its implicit and explicit ‘rules’ and who got to write them, about its end date (if any), and so on. First, let us consider the aim and name of the game. Here we must be aware of an inherent problem with folk (or emic) categories. Whilst these can sometimes be illuminating, at times they can also be obfuscating. For example, if we simply took popular 15M slogans such as ‘Real Democracy Now!’ or ‘Take the street!’ (¡Toma la calle!) at face value, we would be missing out on what the game was actually about, namely getting as many people as possible to peacefully march the streets of Spain on 15 May 2011 and then go home. The aim of the game was not to ‘take’ or to ‘occupy’ the streets – or indeed, any other public space. Occupying Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol, was never part of the game. ‘Take the street!’ is therefore a misnomer. A more apt slogan to sum up this game, admittedly a less compelling one, would be: ‘March the streets!’.

One fundamental component of the ‘March the streets!’ game, yet one easily overlooked given how fully naturalised clock-and-calendar time has become (Postill 2002), is that it came with a firm, undisputed end date. Indeed the very name of the game was the date of both its doing and undoing: 15M! Beyond that date, it was game over. Contrary to much of the visual imagery about this event, this was no spontaneous wave of youthful protest, but rather a carefully choreographed public performance of indignation (Gerbaudo 2012) that followed months of intense preparation by activists and others across a wide age range (in my experience, most people actively involved in the preparations were aged from 20 to 50).

Even though its members made sophisticated use of a rich suite of digital technologies, Real Democracy Now! (DRY) was more than merely a ‘digital platform’, as referred to in the quote above. DRY was physically headquartered in venues long associated with Spain’s thriving free culture movement, such as Patio Maravillas in Madrid and Conservas in Barcelona (Postill 2014b). Free culture activists struggle to liberate digital culture from the tight grip of large governments and corporations. These brick-and-mortar sites (along with online sites such as Facebook, Twitter, n-1, etc.) were the stations where the game was rehearsed in the months and weeks prior to the big day – places of planning and training. They were also the field’s internal governance units. It was here that a broad coalition of civic platforms formed by DRY, Juventud Sin Futuro, No Les Votes, Anonymous, ATTAC, and others, was coordinated and led. Put differently, the 15M field was a DRY-led coalition of peer initiatives, with DRY successfully positioning itself as primus inter pares, a first among equals.

This was a truly civic field of action in that non-civic entities such as trade unions or political parties were barred from entry. Members of such organisations were, however, welcome to participate on a personal capacity as individual citizens. An anecdote from my 2010-2011 fieldwork in Barcelona will illustrate this point about field exclusions. As the preparations for the 15 May demonstrations gathered pace, I joined an ad-hoc group of DRY volunteers who were compiling an online directory of citizens’ groups likely to support the event. In keeping with the free-culture ideals of this civic initiative, we were using the collaborative publishing site Pirate Pad, a free-software tool developed by Sweden’s Pirate Party. When I pasted the name and URL of a local political party from my own directory – published here at media/anthropology – onto the pad, one of the informal leaders pointed out to me that only citizen groups were to be listed, not trade unions or political parties. I quickly erased this entry, which ironically linked to Catalonia’s Pirate Party (see Postill 2012).

In sum, freedom technologists made a fundamental contribution to the 15M field of civic action. For a start, the leading partner in the 15M coalition, DRY, was strongly rooted in the free culture scenes of Madrid and Barcelona. Free culture activists played key roles in the conceptualisation, organisation and dissemination of the new game from their Barcelona home base, as did their counterparts in Madrid and other cities. Other strong free culture partners included No Les Votes (a spin-off from earlier anti-copyright mobilisations) and Anonymous. Freedom technologists also trained less tech-minded citizens – many of them new to activism – in the use of both proprietary and free software tools for campaigning through workshops and other means.

The 17M field of civic action: “Yes we camp!”

On the night of 15 May, the practical totality of demonstrators, myself included, went home (Postill 2014a). Yet as retold by the free software activist Dani Vazquez earlier in this blog series, some forty demonstrators decided to stay on at Puerta del Sol, a large square in the heart of Madrid. The sit-in started slowly but on 17 May, after the shock of being evicted by the police from this public space, it was suddenly transformed into a mass occupation and a global media event. So it makes field-theoretical sense to call this new game not ’15M’ but ‘17M’.

From its very inception, the aim of the game was not to march the streets but to ‘occupy the square’ (¡Toma la Plaza!). This is wittily encapsulated in the slogan: “Yes we camp!”. Readers of this blog may recall how the independent journalist Juanlu Sanchez was moved when the following scene unfolded before his eyes:

Another special moment, now forever etched in my mind, was when people started laying cardboard across Puerta del Sol square to spend the night there. Then came the blue tarpaulins, the formation of commissions, the fire brigade lending a hand – in a word, the building of the Medina! But it was the cardboard lain across the floor that truly defined that moment for me. The cardboard meant that people, a lot of people, were staying put.

In clear contrast to the now abandoned 15M game, this was a game with no end date, as explained by Dani Vazquez when recounting the first few hours of the encampment:

I decided that the first task was to communicate what had already happened, even if nobody read it at first. After all, we had no followers yet. The first tweet said something along the lines of: “We’ve camped at Puerta del Sol and are not leaving until we reach an agreement”. With hindsight, this may look as if it referred to an agreement with the town hall or the government but in fact I was aiming lower. The idea was to agree amongst ourselves whether we should stay or go, as people were saying all sorts of things like “Let’s stay till the elections”, “Let’s stay for good”, “Let’s stay until we win”, “Let’s stay a year if we have to”. So it was more a case of saying: “OK, we’re not going to agree on how long we’re staying, but do we agree that we’re staying? Yes? Well that’s what we’re going to say. We’re staying put until we reach an agreement”.

The encampments soon became ‘cities within cities’ whose internal governance units were commissions, working groups and assemblies. It was here that the field’s core practices and stations were located during the month-long occupations. Although DRY and the other 15M players continued to exist, they were always peripheral to the new incumbents born in Sol and other squares across Spain. The commissions were charged with the everyday running of the camps, concentrating on cooking and cleaning, civil disobedience actions, artistic productions and communication. Meanwhile the working groups busied themselves with thematic issues such as the environment, the economy, and politics. There were also assemblies for campers as well as general assemblies that brought together campers and non-campers (Perugorría and Tejerina 2013: 428, Postill 2014).

The media landscape, too, had changed beyond recognition. Although the 15M marches became a global trending topic on Twitter (Postill 2014), they attracted scant attention from TV networks and other mainstream media. By contrast, 17M was a phenomenal success both in its mainstream and social media output. This boom included ‘web forums, blogs, collaborative documents, pedagogical materials (e.g. on Spain’s electoral system), analogic versions of digital forms (e.g. post-it tweets displayed publicly), print and online cartoons, citizen photography, radio phone-ins, live streaming from mobile phones, videoclips, and a huge range of social media texts, visual and audiovisual materials’ (Monterde and Postill 2014). Unlike their 15M predecessors, 17M players exploited to great effect Spain’s hybrid media system, with a virtuous circle of mainstream and alternative viral ‘sharing’ of protest-related digital contents co-shaping the news cycle – an exemplary case of viral reality. If 15M was all about civic media actions, 17M excelled at hybrid media actions (for a Tunisian parallel, see Lim 2013).

Once again, freedom technologists played a crucial role in this field game, albeit under radically altered circumstances. These political actors were very well represented among the first forty occupiers of Puerta del Sol. They included the aforementioned free software specialist and activist Dani Vazquez who created the camp’s highly influential Twitter handle (@acampadasol) and main portal (Take The Square), a prominent copyleft lawyer, a member of Anonymous who had previously broken into the Goya awards ceremony, and the hacktivist group Isaac Hacksimov for whom the occupation was ‘a gesture that broke the collective mental block’ (Sanchez, 2011, quoted in Postill 2014). Crucially, freedom technologists from across the mainstream-alternative media divide were also highly active – something which did not happen during the 15M marches. These include some of the people we have already encountered in this series, such as Stephane Grueso, Juanlu Sanchez, Julio Alonso and Leila Nachawati, and many others like El Pais journalist Joseba Elola, the lawyer and El Mundo contributor Carlos Sanchez Almeida, the sociologist and La Vanguardia columnist Manuel Castells, TV presenters such as Jordi Evole, and many more. These tech-minded actors worked across fields such as journalism, documentary film-making, law, academia and entertainment, creating multiple bridges between the campers and other publics in Spain and abroad.

In addition, freedom technologists worked at the top of the field’s hierarchy of practices, for example, through digital practices that ‘mapped’ the new movement’s conceptual genealogy, as we saw in the Sol story of the hacktivist Marga Padilla (see also Perugorría and Tejerina 2013: 429):

In my job as an IT specialist I sometimes draw maps to conceptualise a website or a product. So I thought I would do something visual, something that people could actually see. I soon got working on a conceptual map of the Sol encampment with some of the digital tools at my disposal. I put the map on the blog and soon other contributions started to stream in. We accepted them all. There was no point in arguing over whether this or that event was a 15M precursor. If somebody said it was, then it was.

Reverting to unorganised civic space

One of the more intriguing questions arising from a field-theoretical retelling of the indignados story is what to make of the long interval that took place between the end of the square occupations in mid-June 2011 and the irruption of new ‘citizen parties’ onto the public scene in early 2014, in preparation for the European elections of May 2014. How do we account for these two-and-a-half years given that they can hardly be conceptualised as ‘a field of civic action’?

After the square occupiers decided to vacate the squares following arduous deliberations on the matter, the movement devolved to myriad physical and online sites. This was a period of great experimentation with old and new initiatives or civic prototypes (Postill 2014, see also illustration above), some of which attained a great deal of media visibility and popular support, notably the anti-eviction platform PAH (Romanos 2014), the crowdfunded law suit against a corrupt banker 15MPaRato (led by former DRY participants) and the various ‘citizen tides’ (mareas ciudadanas) that challenged Spain’s ruling Popular Party’s ‘austerocracy’. This was ‘prototypical Spain’ at its best, yet there was no shared game among the countless civic initiatives, no internal governance units, no regular stations or field arenas. That is to say, there was no field of civic action.

According to Fligstein and McAdam (2011: 12):

[Strategic action fields] are stable when they have role structures that are based on either hierarchical incumbent/challenger structures or political coalitions. Unorganized social space, on the contrary, is characterized by the frequent entry and exit of organizations, no stable social relationships, and no agreement on means and ends. This kind of drift or conflict can go on for long periods of time.

To coin a more specific variant of this concept, I would suggest that unorganised civic space is a phase in the life course of a social movement in which a wide range of civic agents and agencies, including freedom technologists, experiment with new civic prototypes (and their constituent practices, actions and technologies), yet without coalescing into a web of socio-technical relationships, i.e. into a shared field of civic action built around a common issue or set of issues. This can be a period of confusion and disorientation, but it can also yield techno-political innovations and provide a training ground for new political actors who may go on to play active roles in a future field of civic action.

The 25M subfield of civic action: “Yes we can!”

This was precisely what happened in early 2014 when a number of new political parties in Spain announced their intention to campaign in the European elections of 25 May 2014. The pioneer among them was Partido X,  a ‘citizen network’ (red ciudadana) created in early 2013 by the same Barcelona freedom technologists behind DRY and 15MPaRato. Partido X is no ordinary party, for it draws on hacker/free culture principles and practices and regards itself as a ‘methodology’ for political change that be freely borrowed and remixed by other parties – so long as the borrowing is publicly acknowledged.

PODEMOS-Pablo-Iglesias-en-a-presentación-d’a-iniciativa-en-Madrit

Indeed, soon after the new political party Podemos (“We Can”) was founded in early 2014, its leaders announced that they would borrow some of Partido X’s techno-political methods. Podemos was one the biggest surprises in the European elections, obtaining 8% of the vote in Spain and five seats in the European Parliament. Podemos is a leftist formation rooted in the indignados (15M) movement and led by the charismatic political scientist Pablo Iglesias, 35 (in photo). The following passage (my rough translation) is from a thoughtful analysis of the elections published by Partido X. It contains an intriguing reference to Podemos’ successful ‘transmedia’ approach worthy of further research and reflection within a field-theoretical framework:

[…] Podemos have done a masterful, strategic job and have doubtless carried out the most intelligent and effective electoral campaign amongst all of us [new] contenders. They have managed to anticipate and lay the groundwork thanks to the efforts of Pablo Iglesias and his colleagues with whom he created La Tuerka [a successful TV programme shown via YouTube] with great self-reliance and skill.

With this independent, original programme – a labour of love – they first carved out a sizeable niche audience, and then a space sustained by more resource- and infrastructure-rich media organisations such as HispanTV or [the online newspaper] Público. It was the latter media outlet that eventually became their headquarters, an outlet whose information flow they were able to directly shape, practically turning it into their campaign’s main communication media. Pablo Iglesias then participated as a skilful counterpoint in the political debates broadcast by the [conservative TV channel] Intereconomía, from which he made the leap into the [mainstream channels] Cuatro and la Sexta as a twice-weekly current affairs panelist, thereby creating a highly recognisable persona in his claims and demands.

It was only after all this groundwork was laid that Podemos attacked the electoral front, achieving a highly effective combination of TV work and a “transmedia” use of social media in order to feed back and replicate its message.

How can we conceptualise in field-theoretical terms the irruption of Podemos, Partido X, and other new civic parties onto the electoral scene in early 2014? First of all, we find an interesting contrast with regard to the 15M and 17M ‘games’. Because the 2014 initiatives joined non-citizen parties like Partido Popular (PP) or PSOE in this contest, thereby entering a shared field of civic and non-civic action, it is more appropriate to speak of a subfield of civic action in which Podemos, Partido X and other citizen parties were the challengers and parties like PP or PSOE were the incumbents of another subfield. Like the 15M marches (but not the open-ended square occupations), the 25M field came with a clear end date: 25 May 2014. As I write this post in late November 2014, a new time-bounded subfield, which we could call the 24M subfield, is forming around the forthcoming municipal elections of 24 May 2015, with yet another new citizen party, Guanyem/Ganemos (“Let’s Win”) also derived from a non-political platform (the earlier mentioned PAH) being touted as a favourite in a number of localities, including Barcelona.

What part did freedom technologists play in this new subfield of civic action? Here further research is needed, but the quote above (along with a growing body of evidence) suggests that Podemos carried out a successful hybrid media (or transmedia) strategy right across the mainstream vs. social media divide by banking on its telegenic leader, Pablo Iglesias. It would be very interesting to investigate the part played by Podemos members fluent in both these communicative modes, starting with the media- and internet-savvy Iglesias himself and with his campaign manager Iñigo Errejón. In contrast, Partido X relied heavily on social media and opted for not playing the charismatic leader ‘game’, paying for it at the ballot box, for they did not win any European seats.

We also need to know more about the main stations routinely used by Podemos, Partido X and the other civic contenders during the 25M campaign/game. In the case of Podemos, these included both alternative and mainstream TV studios, with Iglesias becoming a masterful practitioner of Spain’s tertulia genre. Tertulias are popular TV and radio panel shows devoted to discussing current affairs. These media sites would often become arenas in which Iglesias and his more conservative opponents (often seasoned TV personalities) had on occasions no choice but to state baldly their position on a given issue, with Iglesias emerging victorious on many occasions. This privileged position at the heart of the hybrid media system allowed Podemos to shape the system’s viral reality propensities, i.e. through the ‘viral’ sharing and commenting of Iglesias’ memorable TV moments via social media and their subsequent recirculation via mainstream media.

Conclusion

It is a truism that the past is always written in the present. When we look back today, in November 2014, at the protest events of 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Malaysia or the United States, we see linear processes, sequences of events that followed one another in rapid succession to form ‘emergent’ protest movements that eventually peaked and then seemed to fizzle out.

Yet seen through the lens of field theory – or at least through the version of field theory that I am developing here as I grapple with the empirical evidence – a very different pattern appears. Instead of a continuous flow of events we find four distinct (sub)fields of civic action (15M, 17M, 25M and 24M) interrupted by a long period of unorganised civic space. These fields can be regarded as games of a kind. They are not games like chess, tennis or Minecraft, but they are still contests in which civic ‘players’ with unique skills and trajectories enter into relationships with other players (both individual and collective) in pursuit of the same rewards or prizes.

Freedom technologists bring to the streets, squares, TV studios, newsrooms, social media sites, seminar rooms, etc., a unique experience and passion for exploring the limits and possibilities of mixing technology with politics, a capacity for civic experimentation and for freely sharing its fruits, and a growing realisation (which came as a shock to many in late May 2014) that we live in hybrid media systems in which we dismiss ‘old’ media like TV at our own peril.

Back to freedom technologists series

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Picture credits:

1. Autoconsulta.org

2. Equinox Magazine

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