Power and Resistance: conference introduction ... 03 Reflections on agony of power - Alen Toplisek ... 06
Reflections on theory and practice - Sofa Gradin ... 07 Reflections on technopolitics - Matheus Lock ... 08 Fragments from ‘Disobedient theory and Interventions into normality’ - Kelvin Mason ... 10 Organization for a free society (OFS): An introduction ... 14 A drawing from the field: anthropological reflections on violence and conflict in Syria - Mia Sung Kjaergaard ...24 Challenges to political expression in a changing academic landscape: a personal view - Anna Alekseyeva, Elodie Negar Behzadi, Anna Davidson, Kelsi Nagy, Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria ...28 Contemporary and nineteen sixties activism compared: the limits of protest - Mike O’Donnell ... 36 Warning! Your brain is being hacked - Mark R. Leiser ... 42
POWER AND RESISTANCE Conference Introduction
This open source magazine is the result of many different thoughts and efforts on how to intervene creatively into our daily basis political reality and also on how to break down and surpass old dichotomies and binaries. All the papers published here were presented in the conference ‘Power and resistance: theory and imaginative activism’. This event was a two-day conference in May 2014 at Queen Mary, University of London. The idea for this conference came out of thinking about alleged divisions between political ‘thought’ and ‘action’. If academics and students sit in ivory towers while activists are caught in strategic battles with the police and other enemies, how can political thought and action best learn from each other? Power & Resistance has a strong inter-disciplinary and open character, inviting thinking and acting minds from both the academic sphere and its ‘surroundings’. One of our main aims is to think about the oppositional binary that we usually put conceptually between theory and practice, and how theorising can aid us in understanding the changing world, consequently even affecting the way we ‘normally’ conduct ourselves. We have invited theorists and activists to think about questions that arise when we want our research or activism to have an important/signiﬁcant social impact. The conference asks what (theoretical) interventions are effective in today’s society, if any, and whether they can contribute to the changing of the landscape of the status quo. In this way, we wanted to encourage the participants to think about their own projects or research and how it is situated within the complex network of social and power relations. The conference tapped into both theoretical/methodological questions as well as more practical/experiential insights of engaging in society. Thinking for a while about all of these issues, we came up with some different clusters of questions which later turned into conference panel topics:
• The ﬁrst one relates to the nature of the power or hegemony we would seek to intervene into. Is hegemonic power all-consuming, rendering all attempts at intervening/disobeying/counter-conducting ultimately hopeless? How are then power and resistance related as actualities or potentialisations of the two concepts: is resistance merely one form in which power relations are reproduced? Or can we on the contrary interpret certain resistant practices as beyond the reach of (hegemonic) power? Can we evade the traps of hegemony and imaginatively practice activisms that ‘genuinely’ resist hegemony/domination? And what does make good interventions/disobedience/activism? What kinds of practices are powerful and compelling interventions today in this regard? • The second one relates to the boundaries of fruitful intervention. If the aim is to pursue some form of political change, at what point do interventions become powerful? Do theoretical interventions need to relate to lived experiences to be fruitful? If the self is inherently tied to the production of theory, is intervention something we can implement in seminar rooms and ofﬁces, then leave on our desk as we switch off the lights and go home? • The third one is perhaps more self-reﬂexive for us as academics: how do radical academics ensure their work is politically worth while? Is academia really a safe and tucked away ivory tower? There are many debates in academia on the position of the researcher in their own research, the role they play and whether or not they should abide by the strict and (today increasingly contentious) “rules” of neutrality and objectivity. What are some obstacles researchers encounter and how do we see our own research with relation to our dissenting spirit? • The fourth one is about the infrastructure in which political knowledge and communications takes place. How is the digitization trend affecting the way politics are being made and how can it be used in favour of resistance? How do we subvert digital materiality for more diversity, freedom and escape from the incessant informational control imposed by the governments and companies? How do we make the digital realm a common space, radically democratic and inclusive? How do we render this collective production a common good without it being co-opted by the hegemonic logic?
These issues led us to create the conference and this resulting magazine of contributions. The sections of this magazine relate directly to the panel’s topics: Disobedient Theory: Interventions into Normality: This section invited participants to reﬂect on the border-territories of activism and theory. Instead of attempting to come up with bland or overgeneralising rules of thumb, we focused on speaking through speciﬁc examples, movements and organisations, drawing out what they can tell us about such admittedly generalising questions. Kelvin Mason's contribution discusses 'academics' who use 'activist' strategies to place academic practices and resources outside of academia. (But as we have seen, there is little substance to these labels anymore.) The Organization for a Free Society discusses 'activists' who use and make 'theory' and who let the process of understanding how the world works be a central part of changing it for the better. Mia Sung Kjaergaard's contribution reﬂects on the tensions that arise when one tries to make theory out of activism, especially when that activism surrounds sensitive personal and political catastrophes. Activism in Academia: this part the contributors debated about activism within academia. Michael O’Donnell approaches the topic attempting to close the gap between what is necessary at the macro level. And what is possible in radical activism at the micro-level. He suggests that the creation of a link between both levels made by an academic activist group. Anna Alekseyeva, Elodie Negar Behzadi, Anna Davidson, Kelsi Negar, Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria went to a more empirical contribution. Departing from a feminist theoretical perspective, they interviewed academics and PhD students to understand how the academic’s experience has been changing with the growing of neo-liberalism within academic institutions, and also how theses academics experience activism in such environment. Technopolitics: Activism and Subversion in the Digital Age: this section sought to address the issues in the fourth series. Mark Leiser, in his paper ‘Political Deception in the Online Environment’, debates forms of on-line persuasion and how individuals use digital platforms to express and spread political ideologies. We hope that, with this magazine, we all can start to critically think on how to creatively intervene in our world to make it a better and fair place to all, overcoming obstacles, uniting forces and ﬁghting together; because we all know and desire it: another world is possible.
REFLECTIONS ON AGONY OF POWER ALEN TOPLISEK
When we listen to radical political theorists, the word power resonates with negative percussions, most often summoning images of violence, force and compulsion. A similar view is given by Jean Baudrillard in his book The Agony of Power where power is seen as an all-dominating hegemonic force, the meaning of which is evidently pejorative. The pervasiveness of this attitude pushed the alternative conceptions of power to the margin or into inhibition until at least Hannah Arendt wrote the Human Condition and later Michel Foucault started uncovering the before-unwritten-about dimensions of the notion of power. Power shouldn’t be a dirty word in the vocabulary of a theorist or an activist. Power also underlines key components of emancipation when it comes to individual or collective empowerment, or resistance. The paradox arises when we throw into discussion another troublesome word, that is, politics. As Max Weber already noted, notions, such as power and resistance, need to transition into routinization due to their ephemerality. Without going into that next step of institutionalization and formalization, movements and resistance groups are threatened by the inevitability of diminishing power and effectiveness. It was Foucault who noted that “/p/olitics is nothing more and nothing less than that which is born with resistance to governmentality, the ﬁrst revolt, the ﬁrst confrontation”*. Politics and resistance therefore are not worlds apart in the conceptual and ontological sense, as it might seem at a ﬁrst glance. This conceptual debate becomes even more difﬁcult when it is situated within the context of today’s post-austerity neoliberal governmentality. It has become increasingly clear in the Western capitalist societies that resistance to the prevailing governing order is (or so it seems, at least) futile. Anti-establishment protest movements are ﬁnding it hard to spread their message across the barricades of the periphery and the parties of the left (centre). The latter, even when they resist the pro-business or other antipopular policies, they quickly fall into the hegemonic lure of compromise and reappropriability. If the moment for a revolution still hasn’t arrived and the gradualist approach to change hasn’t done much to avert the expanding social inequalities, what then there is left to do? * Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1978–79. Ed. Michel Senellart. Trans. Graham Burchell. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. Page 217.
Reflections on theory and practice Sofa GRADIN Whenever we take action to improve the world, we are already drawing on our knowledge of what the world is like. The protester on the street waving a banner telling the government to change a law has already made an analysis of the political situation, of whom to direct the message towards and why. The preﬁgurativist stirring a pot of vegan stew in a social centre, creating an alternative space where activists can think and interact beyond capitalism, is already drawing on theory and ideas of how and why this can be done. We are all using political theory and ideas all the time – sometimes we know and say so explicitly, and sometimes we don't. Similarly, to think, speak and discuss is already to do. Theory, analysis and ideology are so central to our existence in the world that rethinking cannot be separated from redoing. As J.K. Gibson-Graham put it, 'Successful theory "performs" a world; categories, concepts, theorems, and other technologies of theory are inscribed in worlds they presuppose and help to bring into being'*. It is curious, then, that political theory and activism have come to be seen by many as somehow separate from each other. The stereotype of theorists is that they lock themselves into exclusive ivory towers, rubbing tweed-patched elbows with other nerds and writing obscure books that bear no relation to the real world outside. When I run a skillshare or give a talk about political theory in activist groups I'm involved in, I sometimes get told that academia has nothing to offer activists, that political theory is middle class wankery, that academics are dinosaurs. With horror I remember a documentary I watched a few years ago about a nun in one of Sweden's few remaining fully functioning convents. This deeply devout young woman spoke of her passionate feelings about global poverty. She learned of the famine and poverty that so many experience, she had learned the atrocious statistics of global inequality; and decided to devote her life to eradicating them. Her course of action: to go into the convent for the rest of her life, spending her days inside the walls of this small building in rural Sweden, praying about it. As a PhD student, I fear I may end up in some respects like her, sitting in a room somewhere trying to think away the world's problems. I'm sure the neoliberals and neoconservatives would love it if all the lefties did that. On the other hand, the respective stereotype about activists is that they are running round on the streets caught up in petty quarrels with the police or government ofﬁcials, without a comprehensive or critical understanding of what they are doing. How can you seriously attempt to change the world if you do not understand the intricacies of power?
There is certainly a grain of truth at either extreme of the theorist/activist binary – but the problem does not arise from any inherent separation between thinking and acting. The problem with the nerdy scholar whose writing never sees the sun rise outside the university library basement, is not the nerdiness, but the failure to reach beyond a small academic bubble. What makes theory potentially irrelevant for activists is not its focus on political thought or its pausing to follow through and critically analyse ideas – rather, it is the limited access that is problematic. That academic education costs money. That literature is copyrighted and commodiﬁed. That all schools are not equally resourced and able to give students good foundations for further critical study. That university is something you are either fully in (as a fee-paying registered student) or outside of (as a member of public barred from campus buildings and academic libraries). As for activists who get caught in strategic battles with the police or politicians, perhaps we would be even more successful if we saw thinking and critical analysis as something integral to what we do. Thankfully, the extreme stereotypes of the theorist/activist binary do not bear much relation to real life. As we have seen, activists are already theorising, and theorists are already being active. The contributions in this magazine are only some empirical examples of that. * Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2006) The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), New Edition Ten Years On. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Pages xx-xix.
Reflections on technopolitics Matheus Lock* One of the many issues that arises in my mind when I think about theory and activism is, ﬁrst of all, regarding the old fashioned binary that divides both to extreme poles. In relation to this initial issue, I can only reason that both concepts can no longer be separated; they are two sides of the same existence, and are merged as expression and content of the same assemblage. Following this idea of non-separation of theory and practice another important issue arises, this time related to the materiality that surrounds us and mediates our exchange of information and communication, both in our daily lives and in political activities. Once we realise that theory and activism are part of the same social process, based on interaction and communication, then the importance of the medium where this process takes place also becomes clear. The importance of the material circumstances and platforms for discursive practices is not new in politics. In 1917, Lenin stated that the close relationship between material circumstances and the condition of possibility of a certain statement to take place, and the potentiality of a given statement to exert effect in the material assemblage. Nowadays, maybe more than ever before, the medium and materiality of communication, information exchange and power relations are again in the spotlight of political debate and activism. From the late 1940s, with the emergence of the ﬁrst digital and micro-electronics technologies, until the ﬁrst two decades of this century, we have seen an explosion and expansion of digital technologies for communication and information. Of course we have to contextualise this technological expansion and understand it within the very apogee of capitalism. The world has been through constant changes not only with regard to the technique itself, but also in its forms of production and reproduction of capital, in the management and development of knowledge and discourses of truth, in the forms of relationship and sociability, in the political struggles, and in policy making.
Another important transformation of our contemporary era is that immaterial capitalism and new digital technologies have become mutually interdependent. It means digital technology is not only a network structure that serves as a productive base to capitalism, but capitalists also invest in it with all their strength to extract as much value as possible. In this sense, there is a movement of expansion of digital technology propelled by capitalism in every area of society, which increases its reach. Such a materiality presents an ambiguous potentiality. On one hand, digital technology allows people to communicate, exchange information and knowledge, in order to create and share their own symbolic content, in a much faster, more accessible and dynamic way than previous communication technologies. This kind of technology enables people to engage in social interaction and in the production of their own opinions and narratives. In fact, digital technologies have been used not only as a platform for communication, entertainment or consumption, but also as a highly strategic tool for political struggles and the articulation and diffusion of alternative political opinions that are not necessarily presented in the traditional channels of political information. Good examples of such use can be seen in movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy and Indignados (but we could also name many other initiatives like Wikileaks, Open Democracy etc.). With the expansion of digital technology, the sources of information and political narratives have increased, making political disputes more complex, implying changes of various orders, especially in the relationship between the political ﬁeld, the media sphere, the market in general, and civil society. This in turn introduces new processes, practices, forms of sociability, political actors, groups, etc. There is a pluralisation of voices, collective production and political action.
*Scholarship from CAPES Foundation, Ministry of Education of Brazil, Brasília - DF 70040-020, Brazil
On the other hand, there is a double movement made both by capitalism itself and by government towards complete control over digital technologies. It is well known that corporations such as Google and Amazon track people’s consumer behaviour online to extract proﬁt from it. These companies identify social patterns, trends and forms of collective production and try to co-opt and capture them into capitalism’s dynamic. They also try to limit collective creation of knowledge and sharing of information, controlling such production by restricting the ﬂux of discourses and practices, and by lobbying for the privatisation and patenting of intellectual property. The second movement, the one made by governments, is as invasive and brutal as the one made by corporations. Nonetheless, as governments hold the monopoly of law creation and legal violence, their movement to control the ﬂux of information and surveillance data is much more complex and deceiving than those put in practice by companies, which, in most cases have to respect some limitations imposed by sovereign states. Moreover, government practices can always be legitimized by discourses of fear and security. So it goes without saying all the perils and constraints to freedom of speech and political action are imposed by surveillance programs (such as the one run by the NSA) or censorship of the internet (as occurs in countries like China and Iran). The contemporary paradox presented by digital media shows all the potentialities and fragilities that this medium offers directly or indirectly to anyone. It is not hard to notice an intensiﬁcation of political struggles that render both online and ofﬂine worlds one and the same battle ﬁeld. It is also noticeable the importance to engage in this struggle, both producing content and expressions, making theory our political practice, and our political practice, the theory that will guide us. * Lenin, Vladmir. Collected Works, available on Lenin Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jul/15.htm
‘DISOBEDIENT THEORY AND INTERVENTIONS INTO NORMALITY’ Summary for readers in a rush Provoked by the notion of disobedient theory and interventions into normality, the fragments (of a longer article) presented here explore what constitutes fruitful’ and compelling political action for radical academics. In the context of the domination of global capitalism and the neoliberalising university, they challenge the double binary opposition between theory and practice and domination and resistance. Conceptually, I draw on Soja’s notion of ‘critical thirding’ to analyse imaginative activism. I conduct participatory action research (PAR) with academic activists who are engaging collectively with radical social movements. Offering an account of ‘fuller geographies’, I present it as a shared ethic and project circulating in academia, a space-relational ‘militant particularism’ being elaborated among human geographers especially. One key strand of fuller geographies is schole as a revolutionary educational project that seeks to develop our full human potential beyond the capitalist political-economy. Via the stories of the ‘communifesto for fuller geographies’, academic seminar blockades, and radical reading groups, I illustrate how academics themselves can put theory into compelling practice, how theory can be active while practice is continually rethought as it is enacted. Research ﬁndings support the idea of a continuum of theory-practice along which ideas and actions can slide, overlap, and engage fruitfully without the binary being wholly dismissed. Public Geographies: slower, more engaged and passionate In The Discomﬁting Rise of Public Geographies Fuller and Askins identify an academic competitiveness which undermines collective engagement with public scholarship (Fuller & Askins, 2007). The individual competitiveness which Fuller and Askins identify seems to dictate that ‘a turn’ to public geographies shifts ridiculously quickly to ‘beyond public geographies’ as the institutional spur for the burgeoning career academic to say something new and ﬁll ‘the theory gap’ supersedes the need to fully unpack and develop practically a notion with potential social beneﬁt.
Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool Kelvin.Mason@liverpool.ac.uk
Moreover, the authors are critical of a culture of patronising academic expertise (us) which frames public scholarship as handing knowledge down to society (them), god-like: ‘who the fuck do we think we are?’ Doing public geographies ‘should challenge the binary of ‘lay’ and ‘expert’’. They highlight that academics and universities are not isolated from publics and public arenas but rather are embedded parts thereof, affected by the same processes that must be resisted by critical scholarship - neoliberalisation with its attendant privatisation, corporatisation and managerialism being their prime case in point: Emancipation means ‘for everyone in the groups, communities, publics that we engage with (and are not divorced from) but also emancipatory for us as academics…. central to critical public geographies analyzing the academy, I see a need to decolonise the Self’ (p.588). Ultimately, Fuller and Askins issue a call to action: Geographers must participate in resistance both inside the academy and in the public domain; they must: ‘Act out SLOWER, MORE ENGAGED AND PASSIONATE GEOGRAPHIES’. Fuller and Askins ask ‘wouldn’t it be great to be asked to review a research project whose outcome is a community event? (p.600) Grounding fuller geographies: ‘critical thirding’ My approach to binaries such as domination/resistance and is best summed up by Ed Soja, referring to theory/practice, as aiming to: ‘open up our spatial imaginaries to ways of thinking and acting politically that respond to all binarisms, to any attempt to confine thought and political action to only two alternatives, by interjecting an-Other set of choices. In this critical thirding, the original binary choice is not dismissed entirely but is subjected to a creative process of restructuring that draws selectively and strategically from the two opposing categories to open new alternatives’ (Soja, 1996, p. 5).
So, confronted by binaries of theory/practice and domination/resistance, I propose that the aim of fuller geographies is to open up alternatives, spaces of hope, entangled ‘becomings’. Links to case studies of fuller geographies The communifesto for fuller geographies PyGyRG 2012 communifesto for fuller geographies Antipode Foundation Participatory Geographies Research Group (http://antipodefoundation.org/2013/01/23/symposium-on-p ygyrgs-communifesto-for-fuller-geographies-authors-reply-to-c ritical-responses-2/) Accessed 27 February 2014 Antipode Foundation 2012 Symposium on the Participatory Geographies Research Group’s ‘communifesto for fuller geographies: towards mutual security’ http://antipodefoundation.org/2012/10/15/symposium-on-th e-participatory-geographies-research-groups-communifesto-fo r-fuller-geographies-towards-mutual-security/ PyGyRG 2012a Connectivity, Creativity, Hope, and Fuller Subjectivities: Appreciating the Responses to the Communifesto for Fuller Geographies Antipode Foundation Participatory Geographies Research Group (http://radicalantipode.ﬁles.wordpress.com/2012/12/pygyrg-r eply.pdf) Accessed 24 April 2014 Doing Schole Purcell M 2012) Schools of our own, Antipode Foundation (http://radicalantipode.ﬁles.wordpress.com/2012/10/purcell-r esponse.pdf) Accessed 22 March 2014 Mason K & Purcell M 2014 forthcoming Beyond the defence of public education: Building a new schole IN The Para-Academic Handbook HammerOn Press Academic seminar blockades Mason K 2013 Academics and Social Movements: Knowing our place, making our space ACME Special Issue: The Politics of Climate Change12 1 22-43 Mason K & Askins K 2013 COP15 and beyond: Politics, protest and climate justice ACME Special Issue: The Politics of Climate Change 12 1 9-22 Mason K & Askins K 2012 Us and us: Faslane 30 and Academic Direct Action Medicine, Conﬂict and Survival 28 4 282-288
Askins K. & Mason K forthcoming 2014 Us and Us: Agonism, non-violence and the relational spaces of civic activism ACME Mason K 2012 Academia beyond 365 and the blockades IN Vinthagen S, Kenrick J & Mason K eds Tackling Trident Irene Publishing, Sweden Vinthagen S, Kenrick J & Mason K eds 2012 Tackling Trident: Academics in Action through ‘Academic Conference Blockades Irene Publishing, Sweden Kenrick J & Vinthagen S 2012 Critique in Action – Academic Conference Blockades IN Vinthagen S, Kenrick J & Mason K eds Tackling Trident: Academics in action through Academic Conference Blockades Resistance Studies Series Irene Publishing, Sweden 14-39 Zelter A 2008 Faslane 365: A year of anti-nuclear blockades Luath Press, Edinburgh Radical reading groups Halvorsen S, Burton K & Mason K 2014 forthcoming Radical Reading Groups: The co-production of critical public spaces AREA Reflections on fuller geographies and schole What is that makes a political intervention compelling? This question deﬁes any prescriptive answer. For some participants in academic seminar blockades, for example, I would claim that what serves to make taking action with others irresistible is the creative and joyful collective manifestation of the deﬁant hope articulated by Solnit (2005). However, I know that for many people the risk associated with such a transgression of normality is off-putting rather than attractive. In discussion in and around the seminar blockade, participants considered the role of ‘entry level’ actions, state-approved and stewarded marches, for example, in calming participants’ fears and allowing them to ‘taste’ resistance. Our tactics need to be constantly rethought to make political intervention compelling for different publics. Moreover, we must strive to incorporate some appropriate measure of resistance that challenges subjection and domination: Interventions must be transgressions, however small, they must be deﬁantly hopeful.
But at what point do interventions gain meaning or become powerful? Here, Solnit’s claim might be that empowerment happens in the moment where subjection, domination and/or exploitation are challenged and that in these moments we lay the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of deﬁance that ultimately lead to emancipation. This contention demands unpacking. How can those moments of empowerment be sustained to become the normal passage of time? How can they become cumulative, adding up to bring an end to oppression? Do we even dare hope for such an end, or rather can we theoretically even conceive it? Solnit’s claim is seductive but Foucauldian analysis, in particular, conﬁrms Soja’s notion which we have deployed in this paper: subjection, domination and exploitation cannot be made to disappear; they cannot wholly give way to a critical thirding with resistance (you cannot have synthesis without thesis and antithesis, becoming without being and non-being). I believe our task is to grow us and us, what Hannah Arendt terms ‘power-with’, while diminishing but appreciating ‘us’ and ‘them’ as necessary and enduring constituents of our becoming, that radical democracy which must be antagonistic (Mouffe, 1993, 2000, 2005). For Arendt, power (i.e. power-with) arises when people communicate and act together in concert: ‘Power is what keeps the public realm, the potential space of appearance between acting and speaking men (sic), in existence’ (Arendt, 1958, p. 200 in Goehler, 2000, p. 41). Institutions are signiﬁcant sites where power sediments and so are where our task may prove most fruitful, as well as most arduous. For academics, acting against domination in our universities – making them truly ‘ours’ - is where we might most productively intervene. Political thought and action best learn from each other when thought is put into action and each is inﬂuenced by the encounter. Theoretical interventions need to relate to lived experience to be fruitful. And perhaps the most fruitful interventions relate to our own lived experiences, given that these are surely what we know best and should be able to intervene in most readily. I do not want to argue, though, that intellectuals should not make theoretical interventions that relate to the lives of oppressed others of whom we have no lived experience. On the contrary, we should of course intervene where we have resistant knowledge, but we should also question the most fruitful way of intervening with oppressed others, wary of our own ‘expertise’. My main point, however, is that while intervening on behalf of oppressed others we should not neglect ourselves or indeed proximate others, for example our colleagues working – or not working – in all aspects of reproducing the university (c.f. Fuller and Askins, 2007): We must intervene not only as individuals but, more
fruitfully, construct place-based and spatial militant particularisms. We should also strive to link our militant particularisms with wider struggles via networks and social movements, especially in convergence spaces, thereby building solidarities (C.f. Routledge, 2003; Routledge et al, 2007; Cumbers et al, 2008; Featherstone, 2012). The most fruitful political interventions involve putting theory into practice, instigating newly creative action, and thence producing new theory from/with practice. The abstract and the practical do not – cannot – wholly disappear in ‘thirdspace’, the space of critical thirding: There must be room for abstract theory just as there must for, say, actions founded in emotional responses to injustice: There must be governmentality (Foucault, 2006) just as there must be ‘the scream’ (Holloway, 2002). This does not contradict my claim that the most fruitful political interventions will include syntheses of theory and practice. Developing more disobedient theory Following Fuller and Askins, developing disobedient theory means practicing slower, more engaged and passionate scholarship. Radical academics must reject the competitiveness which atomises our solidarities and blocks the emergence of militant particularisms as theory/practices. We must reject too competiveness as a spur that moves us too quickly beyond exposing theories to practice and so re-theorising practice and re-practicing theory… There must be a place in academia for long-term, participatory and committed scholarship as itself a valid path to new, more empowering theory. In the spirit and practice of radical democracy, we should also claim a new space in the public realm wherein we welcome and engage in contestation of the knowledges we contribute to emancipatory struggles, neither privileged nor abashed by our scholarship. I sense breathtaking radical potential for wider academia practices of fuller scholarship and doing schole, potential that should be developed as it is practiced as it is rethought… Conference Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYjxZp8i7rk
BIBLIOGRAPHY Allen J 2003 Lost Geographies of Power Blackwell, Oxford Allen J 2004 The Whereabouts of Power: Politics, government and space Geografiska Annaler B: Human Geography 86 19-32 Anderson C 2012 Life and time(s) in the neoliberal university: Tell me about it (seriously, do) (http://antipodefoundation.org/2012/05/21/life-and-times-in-the-neoliberal-university-tell-meabout-it-seriously-do/#comments) Accessed 20 July 2012
Harvey D1995 Militant Particualrism and Global ambition: The conceptual politics of place, space and environment in the work of Raymond Williams Social Text 42 Spring 69-98 Harvey D 2000 Spaces of Hope University of California Press, Berkeley Held V 2008) The Ethics of Care: Personal, political, and global OUP, Oxford
Arendt H 1958/1999 The Human Condition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
High C 2013 Video: Academic Seminar Blockade’ ACME Special Issue: The Politics of Climate Change 12 1 180
Aristotle 1998 Politics (Translated by C. Reeve) Indianapolis, Hackett
Holmwood J ed 2011 A Manifesto for the Public University Bloomsbury, London
Autonomous Geographies Collective 2010 ‘Beyond Scholar Activism: Making Strategic Interventions Inside and Outside the Neoliberal University’. ACME 9(2), 245-275.
Katz C 2001 Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction Antipode 33 709–728
Bailey M & Freedman D eds 2011 The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance Pluto Press, London
Katz C 2001 On the Grounds of Globalization: A Topography for Feminist Political Engagement SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26 4 1213-1234
Bloch E 1995 The Principle of Hope MIT Press, Cambridge MA
Klocker N & Drozdzewski D 2012 Career progress relative to opportunity: how many papers is a baby ‘worth’? Environment and Planning A 44 1271–1277
Brahinsky R 2012 Thoughts on transition: Public education, social justice, and geography (http://antipodefoundation.org/2012/07/05/thoughts-on-transition-public-education-social-just ice-and-geography/) Accessed 17 July 2012 Canally C 2012 Intervention – Where’s our agency? The role of grading in the neoliberalization of public universities (http://antipodefoundation.org/2012/03/30/intervention-wheres-our-agency-the-role-of-gradin g-in-the-neoliberalization-of-public-universities/) Accessed 17 July 2012
Marx K 1994/1932 Selected Writings (edited by L. Simon) Hackett, Indianapolis Mason K & Whitehead M 2012 Transition Urbanism and the Contested Politics of the Spatial Practice Antipode 44 2 493 -516 M’Gonigle M & J Starke 2006 Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island
Cixous H 1991 Coming to Writing and Other Essays (trans. S. Cornell) Harvard University Press, London
mrs kinpaisby 2008 Taking stock of participatory geographies: envisioning the communiversity Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33 3 292-299
Cumbers A, Routledge P & Nativel C 2008) The Entangled Geography of Global Justice Networks Progress in Human Geography 32 2 183-201
Mouffe C 1993 The return of the political Verso, London
Eagleton T 2008) Death of the intellectual Red Pepper, October (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/death-of-the-intellectual/) Accessed 22 April 2014
Mouffe C 2000 The democratic paradox Verso, London Mouffe C 2005 On the political (Thinking in action ) Routledge, Abingdon
Featherstone D 1998 Some Versions of Militant Particularism: A Review Article of David Harvey’s Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference Antipode, 30 1 19-25
Pain R, Kesby M & Askins K 2010 Geographies of Impact: Power, participation and potential Area 1 1 1-6
Featherstone D 2005 Towards the Relational Construction of Militant Particularisms: Or Why the Geographies of Past Struggles Matter for Resistance to Neoliberal Globalisation Antipode 37 2 250-271
Rancière J 1991 The Nights Of Labor: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth Century France Temple University Press, Philadelphia
Featherstone D 2012) Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism Zed Books, London Foucault M 1994a Power The New Press, New York Foucault M 1994b The Subject and Power IN Faubion J D ed Power The New Press, New York Foucault M 1995 Power / Knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-77 Longman, New York Foucault M 2006 Governmentality IN Sharma A & Gupta A eds The Anthropology of the State Blackwell, Oxford Fuller D & Askins K 2007 The Discomforting Rise of ‘Public Geographies’: A “Public” Conversation Antipode 39 4 579-601 Goehler, G 2000 Constitutions and Use of Power IN Goverde H, Cerny P G, Haugaard M & Lentner H eds Power in Contemporary Politics: Theories, Practices, Globalizations Sage, London Hardt, M & Negri A 2001 Empire Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA Harvie D & Philp B 2006 Learning and Assessment in a Reading Group Format International Review of Economic Education (Economics Network, University of Bristol) 5 2 98-110 Harvey D 1996 Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester
Routledge P 2003 Convergence Space: Process geographies and grassroots globalization networks Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28 1 333-349 Routledge P, Cumbers A & Nativel C 2007 Grassrooting Network Imaginaries: Relationality, power and mutual solidarity in global justice networks Environment and Planning A 39 11 2575 – 2592 Sharp J, Routledge P, Philo C & Paddison, R 2000 Entanglements of Power Routledge, Oxford Shukaitis S & Graeber D eds 2007 Constituent Imagination: Militant investigations, collective theorisation AK Press, Oakland Smith N 2004 American Empire, University of California Press, Berkeley Solnit R 2005 Hope In The Dark: The untold history of people power Canongate, Edinburgh Soja E 1996 Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real and imagined places Blackwell, London Szerszynski B 2007 The Post-Ecologist Condition: Irony as Symptom and Cure Environmental Politics 16 2 337-355 Williams R 1989 Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism Verso, London Wills J 2014 forthcoming Engaging The Sage Handbook of Human Geography, (Chapter 16) Sage, London
Our Work I. The Basics Organizing for a Free Society Our Work II. Our Politics Methods for Understanding the World Around Us Totality of Oppressions The Story We Are Told Visions of the World We Want A Strategy From Here to There III. Here and Now The Political Moment Today and Tomorrow Moving Forward with OFS This Introduction to Organization for a Free Society was collectively written by our members. Its purpose is to give a broad overview of what we stand for and how we carry that out. I. The Basics Organizing for a Free Society Organization for a Free Society (OFS) is a participatory socialist organization(i) made up of activists and organizers immersed in different grassroots movements, struggling collectively toward a free society. OFS is a home for revolutionaries working both to develop holistic politics, vision, and strategy and to strengthen the broader movement.(ii) We study together to deepen our politics, but OFS is not a study group. We hit the streets and organize together, but OFS is not a direct action afﬁnity group, either. We are a united group of committed revolutionaries growing and struggling together, connecting theory and practice, and attempting to embody the seeds of the future in the present. We have political connections to movements in different parts of the world, but our organization is primarily based in the United States, and our analysis and strategy reﬂect our country and its role in the world. OFS is committed to a fundamental transformation of the social, political, economic, and environmental values and institutions of society and we draw from a rich history of social movements that came before us.
Internally, we practice an intentional and ﬂexible form of participatory democracy with structures for active decision making and shared leadership. Our organization strives to provide space for the individual growth of our members and for collective action. In our grassroots work(iii) we have fought budget cuts and tuition hikes at universities, mobilized against war, organized in restaurants, fought “right to work” legislation in the Midwest, fought against the mass incarceration of people of color, and worked with youth from the South Bronx to Palestine to Tibet. We have been active against the foreclosure crisis in New York City as well as the climate crisis in efforts across New York State; we have stood up for reproductive justice and done work to heal the impacts of sexual violence in our own communities. Our members have helped to found political organizations, educational collectives, training institutions and communal living spaces. In addition to our grassroots organizing, we try to popularize our politics and our work through the media to which we have access. We write articles and pamphlets, produce ﬁlms and radio shows, perform music and spoken word poetry, and create visual art. Following the lead of oppressed communities and drawing on the experience of movement elders, our goal is to work with others to grow and deepen the movement and to develop a revolutionary, participatory socialist tendency within it. In the service of these goals, we carry out internal study and public education to deepen our theory and analysis and we strategize to use our collective energy to support movements and hone our ability to rally in moments of crisis. Working together, we have played an important role in the Occupy movement and served vital relief, recovery and rebuilding functions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We are proud of our work on the ground and we understand that we are one small part of building a movement that is capable of transforming our world into something just, beautiful and sustainable.
II. Our Politics Methods for Understanding the World Around Us As people we are shaped and limited by the institutions around us, and at the same time we are the ones who create and perpetuate these institutions. In order to create a free society, we must use theory to help us overcome both systemic oppression and our own internalized oppression. First, we must understand the various faces of the system that oppress us in different areas of our lives. In understanding capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy(iv), environmental destruction, and the violent state that enforces them, we see that each system has distinct characteristics but that they all share a common factor – hierarchy and domination are the values at the root of each of these systems. Second, we see that those systems of oppression are interwoven, and are able to recreate, reinforce and defend one another. We have all arrived at this holistic analysis by growing and developing in different tendencies, like feminism, anarchism, national liberation, and Marxism, and we bring these paths with us into our work. We can focus on confronting one form of domination or exploitation in a particular moment – for example, we focus on institutional racism when we take the streets to protest the NYPD’s murder of yet another young Black man. Likewise, there can be broad political moments in which one form of oppression takes precedence and must be confronted ﬁrst, but we always remember that other forms of oppression are present as well. We do not subscribe to a perspective that holds one system as the root of all others. Though we can identify particular aspects of oppression in different areas of social life (our workplaces, relationships, etc.), we see one totality of oppressions. We call this method of analysis complementary holism. It is not enough to understand that one system of oppression is not historically more important than others. We must take all systems of oppression into account in our analysis of society, understanding that different types of oppression can accommodate, deﬁne and reproduce one another. If we were to say that we use concepts of feminism to analyze patriarchy, anarchism to analyze state power, Marxism to analyze economics, and so on, we would still only get a two-dimensional picture of each of these systems. We cannot abstract the economy from the rest of the social fabric, analyze it in a vacuum and think that we can arrive at a sufﬁcient strategy to dismantle capitalism. Ultimately, we must confront the totality of oppressions if we are to build a free society.
Totality of Oppressions The system in which we live is comprised of interwoven methods of oppression that function differently, but work together to maintain what we experience as the status quo. White supremacy in the U.S. exists in many complicated forms, beginning with the arrival of Europeans to this continent, the genocide of and theft of land from Native Americans, and African slave labor. Today, Black and Latino men are under- and unemployed, policed, incarcerated, and murdered, a phenomenon that devastates whole communities. Many communities of color suffer from displacement through gentriﬁcation, policing on the basis of immigration status, lack of health insurance and denial of care, and chronically low wages. Entire groups of people are invisibilized and exploited based on immigration status and are constantly harassed and threatened with incarceration and deportation. All of this exists in a framework that gives better treatment to people with light skin, who comprise a ﬁctional “white race,” created in comparison to other ﬁctional races. The logic of white supremacy bends and twists to accommodate any situation, always with the goal of maintaining a power structure. Within and across communities of color there also exists discrimination on the basis of skin color, from shadeism to outright exclusion of one group by another group, due to notions of superiority among people of different nationalities, regions within countries, and so on. The experience of white communities in rural Appalachia sheds light on the fact that capitalism always requires an oppressed class and remains loyal to no one. In multiracial regions, whiteness is used as a tool of oppression, but in places that are predominantly white, poor white people become the underclass. Capitalism is a proﬁt-driven, market-based economic system premised on a division of society into hostile classes, based on the private ownership of the means of production. In order to maximize proﬁt, the capitalist class must maintain a large, exploitable pool of laborers — the working class — who are relegated to conditions of physical and psychological subjugation in order to keep them dependent on their jobs. As modern capitalism evolved and as a result of the rapid technological developments and increased division of labor, the economy developed a professional-managerial sector, out of which arose a coordinator class(v), which has class antagonisms to both capitalists and workers. Today, this system is exported and enforced through neocolonial international relations and global power structures inherited from imperialism. Former colonial countries are able to exploit the labor and resources of former colonies via capital, international banking systems, and threat of force. Further enriching themselves, wealthier nations can pacify larger portions of their citizenry with materialism and notions of cultural supremacy, and they can use the unrest in the “Global South” that this system produces to justify further intervention.
The Story We Are Told
This system is based on the premise of perpetual material growth, which is depleting the natural wealth of our Mother Earth, making her less and less inhabitable for people and for many other animals and plants. We are living in a time of unprecedented loss of species and habitat diversity, as well as deterioration of vital resources such as clean air, clean water, and healthy soil. As we experience these crises of environment and climate, the wisdom of indigenous peoples that helped to sustain humanity for so long continues to be silenced through the marginalization and destruction of indigenous communities and lands. Through the instruments of patriarchy, we are bound to a rigid gender, sex, and sexual binary(vi). Historically, patriarchy has centered around the policing and control of wombs and reproduction, which has resulted in the policing and controlling of femininity on all bodies, but its effects are felt everywhere. Cisgender(vii) masculinity is afﬁrmed and privileged, while women, queer people, transgender people, and gender non-conforming people are punished by the threat of rape, violence, shame, and social and economic subordination. The state – broadly understood as the institutions of organized coercive power of ruling social groups – enforces authoritarianism in many aspects of our lives, from the family and the school to the government and the courts. Power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of elites (mostly rich, white, straight, Christian men), and most people have little say in the institutions that govern our lives. We experience these systems as part of a whole, a totality of oppressions, woven together both through society’s institutions and in personal interactions. These systems divide us from each other by giving some relative privileges over others, buying us off in order to obscure the systemic implications of the totality of oppressions.
In understanding the U.S. experience today, it is important to study the story we are taught about our society. We are socialized not to name oppression as systemic or interconnected. In what boils down to a gendered and racialized class caste system, we are taught in school that we live in a merit-based society. This means that punishment and rewards are presented as direct results of individuals’ behavior. In this framework, oppressed people are blamed for their oppression. We are told that labels like lazy, stupid, dangerous and crazy are inherent in certain groups of people and are the cause of their poverty, rape, incarceration, pillaging or marginalization. A person’s position in a system of oppression and privilege is erased behind the façade of a meritocracy, in which anyone can achieve anything if they only try hard enough. We are shown individual examples to prove that oppressions are a thing of the past. While President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey are examples of Black individuals who have power and wealth, their existence is used to demonstrate that racism is over. Likewise, liberation movements do not go unrecognized by the system. Rather, the system coopts the language and symbols of revolutionaries and incorporates them. This phenomenon colonizes dissent, maintaining that the system is working – amenable to change but never to revolution. We learn these stories to justify the oppressive treatment that we experience and witness. These stories are delivered to us daily through sitcoms on television, popular songs on the radio, the nightly news, our churches and schools, our parents and friends. Using our analysis, we deconstruct aspects of our system to understand its parts, but these parts all comprise one coherent system of oppression. Race is one of the ways in which class is expressed in the U.S., and the state not only enforces patriarchy but is shaped by it. Ultimately, we won’t win freedom unless we take on the whole system, with all of its manifestations, and the story that protects it. To that end, we need our own vision, our own story, and a strategy for winning.
Visions of the World We Want Vision directs our work and guides what we build; it inspires us to continue working together against all odds. In the words of the Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon, “If the revolutionary lacks the guiding idea of their action, they will not be anything other than a ship without a compass.” Vision is essential and it is something that all participants and organizations in a revolutionary movement should evaluate for themselves and continually revise. A vision is not a blueprint, but rather a thoughtfully articulated aspiration that is based consciously on a set of values. When we imagine a free society, we think of values such as equity, solidarity, and selfmanagement. Based on these values and our vision, we work to build institutions to preﬁgure that society to the greatest extent possible – workplace and neighborhood councils, community boards, participatory socialist planning, democratic decision-making structures, and more. We build these institutions because they can make people’s lives materially better and in order to help us learn how to be productive members of a free society. In addition to the immediate beneﬁts, the goal of preﬁgurative institutions is to build power towards destroying and replacing the oppressive institutions that prevent us from actualizing our vision. We envision a political system in which people have institutions (e.g. assemblies) that allow them to participate in decision making to the extent that they are affected by the outcomes. We envision a classless and participatory economy where workers and consumers use councils to plan the economy democratically and to meet basic needs collectively. In this economy, workers are compensated for effort, sacriﬁce, and need. Jobs are balanced so that empowering and undesirable types of work are distributed fairly. We envision a liberated and egalitarian kinship in which women and transgender people have control over their own bodies, youth have institutions that allow them to practice selfmanagement, and all people have the freedom to deﬁne their genders, sexualities, and family relations in ways that are liberating, consensual and healthy. We envision an intercommunalist(viii) framework in which historically oppressed peoples have the space and resources to achieve self-determination and cultural autonomy. We envision a dynamic in which human civilization and its structures synchronize with nature’s diversity, fertility, and creativity. We believe that humans are entirely capable of utilizing the wealth of the earth in a way that leaves intact more than what is needed for the generations to come. With all this in mind, we envision a society that draws on the wisdom and sensible practices of our ancestors who were the original organic farmers, who invented sustainable ﬁshing, and who used creativity to maximize natural resources. At the same time, we understand that it is crucial to continually integrate useful technology that improves quality of life and reduces undesirable work for all people. We envision sustainably run metropolises that rely on smart design: public transportation, green infrastructure, subsistence gardening, and urban-rural partnership. The vision we put forward is based on our view of history and the needs and potential of human beings. We are committed to an open, participatory, and continual process of discovery and deliberation on the essence of the free society we are struggling to create. Our vision is not dogmatic. We do not know the future and our vision will transform itself through struggle and experimentation.
A Strategy from Here to There Revolution is not a singular event, but a process made up of overlapping stages: movement building, counterpower(ix), confrontation, and transformation. In the movement building stage, the task of revolutionaries is to raise consciousness among large groups of people, challenge the dominant narrative, create channels through which people can join the movement and develop as revolutionaries, and lay the groundwork for collective long-term struggle. To build a movement, we encourage people to grow and transform from allies and supporters to movement leaders and revolutionaries, both through collective action and through participatory educational processes. We ﬁght for concrete victories that meet people’s needs and change the narrative about what is possible, and for long-term victories that demonstrate the power of collective action and put us in the position to achieve even more. We work to build a movement that can eventually become a counterpower. A counterpower is a united bloc of institutions that are popularly regarded as viable, functional and legitimate alternatives to the institutions of the status quo, and which actively ﬁght to replace them. It’s not enough to create our own alternatives within a corrupt world, nor is it enough to ﬁght exclusively within or against the systems of that corrupt world without creating alternatives. We need to simultaneously ﬁght oppressive systems and preﬁgure the free society we envision. We understand that ruling groups do not give up their power without a ﬁght and that revolution also means confrontation. At crucial moments through the course of a struggle, people’s movements must confront elites and take power from them, or defend themselves after they achieve power. Such moments of uprising are not “the revolution” in itself, but part of the enormous project of transformation, which takes lifetimes. While it may be necessary, we do not glorify this stage of struggle any more than any other. At the foundation of our conception of the revolutionary process is a radical transformation of the institutions that govern our lives and of the values that drive them. As we work to build a movement, develop into a counterpower, and topple the institutions of the status quo, we must also work to transform ourselves, so that what we build does not replicate exploitative, oppressive, hierarchical values. Revolutionary communities must engage in the process of healing from the oppressions that we seek to overturn as they inevitably arise in our very own organizer circles, in our friend groups and in our relationships. OFS seeks diverse methods of overcoming internalized oppression and its manifestations within our organization through internal group work. Revolution is a matter of life and death, a struggle for human life on Earth, and for the enormous amounts of human potential still to be actualized.
III. Here and Now The Political Moment We are in a unique period of history, a time of both incredible turmoil and immense possibility. We are in the midst of an ecological crisis that threatens all living things on the planet through climate change, pollution, corporate agriculture, water shortage and the extinction of many species of plants and animals. We are deep in an economic crisis that takes our homes and jobs while forcing working families and students further into debt. Our criminal justice system promotes racist policing that has swelled the U.S. prison population to an unprecedented size; the system strips its subjects – primarily Black and Latino men – of rights to full participation in society, through incarceration and a stigma that affects access to housing, jobs, child care and voting rights. This system further exploits and polices people on the basis of immigration status, and we have seen ever-increasing threats, harassment and deportation in undocumented and immigrant communities. We see a dangerous shift to the right in our dysfunctional political system. We face a rising proto-fascist conservative movement that hypocritically uses the Constitution to promote division and deny rights to immigrants, people of color, women, queer and transgender people, and low- and middle-income workers. The new right uses increasingly nationalist rhetoric, eerily reminiscent of 20th century fascist movements across the globe, to divide poor and working white people from others in order to promote an ultra-conservative agenda. Meanwhile, their liberal counterparts are unwilling or unable to stop the right from moving policy in their direction. While the system of oppression works to keep us down, there are moments of heightened crisis that reveal the core characteristics of that system and open up possibilities for revolution and freedom. We may be entering one of these historic moments. In the past few years, we have seen uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Mexico, India, Greece, Spain, Nepal, and countless other places around the world. In North America in 2011, we saw resistance in Madison, Wisconsin to defend collective bargaining rights, worker and student occupations, and the rise of the Occupy Movement across the U.S. Throughout 2012, we have seen the rise of the First Nation’s Idle No More campaign, we’ve seen workers striking, homeowners resisting foreclosure, communities resisting disaster capitalism, and we’ve seen countless other examples of a movement being born. All over the world, people are declaring that amidst the crisis, another world is possible.
Today and Tomorrow We must confront the acute crises before us and build a movement united in a common analysis, vision and strategy – one that can overcome these crises and push forward, through the deepest layers of oppression in our society and ourselves, for a free society. Our task is to help build this movement. We must popularize the story of people struggling throughout history and the stories of the people struggling today. We must educate ourselves and those around us, deepen our politics and sharpen our skills. We must engage in collective action so that we can grow from it in order to win tangible, signiﬁcant gains today. We must build institutions that belong to us, enable us to struggle over the long term, and embody the world we are ﬁghting for. Moving Forward with OFS Members of OFS are required to participate in the life and direction of the organization, be involved in grassroots work, attend meetings, and pay monthly dues on a sliding scale. Our organization values the needs of the movement over growing our own numbers, and we do not recruit “paper members.” We are in touch with prospective members through our work alongside others in the movement and in shared discussion spaces. Because we expect a high degree of unity around values, vision and strategy, and commitment to the organization, when we recruit we ask people to ﬁll out an interest form so that we can know them better, work with them, and make collective decisions about bringing them on. Organizers we bring on are then invited to a three-month trial membership, during which they have a chance to ask questions about our politics and participate in and explore the organization from the inside. This period also gives the rest of the organization time to get to know trial members as we work and learn together. We bring people in as part of a group, or “class,” which offers trial members a support system inside the organization, allows us to balance the class and prioritize oppressed peoples in our internal makeup, and helps us carry out orientation and internal education for new members in a collective process. We want to continue building branches and forming partnerships with other revolutionaries around the country and the world, and we are committed to building sustainably. We are committed to building an organization that reﬂects the realities of the society around us and which is led by oppressed groups, so we actively prioritize people of color, women, queer people, and working-class people in our recruitment. We think it is important to grow, so that more and more of us have this type of framework to build movements, organizations, and political unity. We want to work with you, whether you are someone new to the struggle and looking for guidance, an experienced organizer looking for partners to work with, a revolutionary looking for an organization to join, another organization seeking to collaborate, or a movement veteran with wisdom to share.
Footnotes i We use the term participatory socialism to describe our political orientation. We do not mean it economistically, but as a way to describe liberation in all areas of social life. The concept is discussed further in Section II. ii When we use the term “the movement,” we mean the collection of movements of the oppressed (workers, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, etc.), preﬁgurative institutions (cooperatives, communes, schools, etc.), third-party electoral campaigns and progressive institutions, and organizations of revolutionaries, all pushing together towards a free society. We could also call this “a movement of movements.” iii We use the term grassroots struggle to refer to bottom-up struggles that impact oppressed groups and include the participation and leadership of oppressed people. iv While racism is the oppressive concept that one racial or ethnic group is superior (or inferior) to others, white supremacy is the type of racism that, due to Western European colonialism, is most prominent in the world. White supremacy is also the dominant form of community oppression in the U.S., from where we are writing. v By coordinator class, we mean an economic class – a group of people with a deﬁned collective relationship to the means of production – whose responsibility it is to manage and coordinate work on behalf of the capitalist class and at the expense of the working class. The coordinator class is made up of professionals who play key decision-making roles in the economy, proﬁt materially, manage themselves and large sectors of the working class, and engage in empowering work. Understanding the role of the coordinator class is essential to our analysis of capitalism, our rejection of central planning as a desirable alternative, and our vision for a participatory socialist economy. vi The gender/sex/sexual binary is an institutionalized ideology that creates a strict binary of woman/man, female/male, gay/straight, and which is enforced through “common-sense” assumptions about nature and biology. This system treats gender and sexuality as ﬁxed and inﬂicts shame and violence onto those whose bodies and gender performance escape this binary. It restricts their access to resources as well as social recognition and afﬁrmation. In turn, it upholds heterosexual, cisgender, monogamous identities and relationships as natural, legitimate, and the only viable option. We consider this binary to be one of the fundamental building blocks of patriarchy. vii The term cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth, someone who isn’t transgender. viii We use the term intercommunalism to describe our vision for relations within and across communities, nations, and cultural/religious groups. Intercommunalism pushes past multiculturalism or separatism toward a vision of society in which people have the right to communal self-determination and autonomy (as well as the institutional foundations necessary to carry out those various identities and cultures), but in solidarity with one another as part of a whole based on shared principles such as equity, freedom of movement, diversity, and active consent. ix The term counterpower can be used to describe both a vehicle of popular power – a new power emerging to embody an alternative and threaten the institutions of the status quo – as well as a situation in which a counterpower confronts the status quo. The term is often used interchangeably with the term dual power. As revolutionaries, we seek to transform grassroots organizations and institutions into a network of counterpowers to undermine the hegemony of the oppressors’ system, and to topple the institutional power of the old order on the path to revolution and social transformation.
A DRAWING FROM THE FIELD: ANTHROPOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS ON VIOLENCE AND CONFLICT IN SYRIA Mia Sung Kjaergaard
We can’t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes. Can’t understand, can’t imagine. - Susan Sontag 2003 Destabilizing concepts of violence
Death tolls and news reports from Syria remind us that the conﬂict tragically continues to unfold. Brutal and graphic photos often accompany headlines like these: ‘Dozens die in explosion in Homs’, or ‘Deadly car bomb strikes north of Damascus’. The absence of an effective international response to the Syrian crisis suggests we might have become numb to these depictions of violence. The ‘image fatigue’ poses difﬁcult questions for researchers, aid workers, friends and outsiders alike, who come in touch with people who are directly affected by the war: Should we attempt to represent Syrian people’s horrifying experiences? And if so, how? After all, we have the privilege and choice to leave when we want with our notepads, cameras and NGO projects. I reﬂect on these questions based on my recent experience working with Syrian refugees in Istanbul. My response is embedded in an epistemological project including personal, ethical, theoretical and methodological considerations.
In 2014 UNCHR states that there are more than 2,8 million Syrian refugees, while the average rate of refugees registering every month continues to exceed 100.000 (UNHCR June 2014), and since 2011 more than 160.000 people have lost their lives. The devastating numbers are just the ofﬁcial counts, and the United Nation stopped updating the death toll in January because ‘conditions on the ground made it impossible to make accurate estimates’ (Reuters, 1 April 2014). The problem of presenting ‘reliable’ facts highlights the chaotic circumstances of war that statistics and geopolitical analyses ‘from above’ often fail to capture. These factual approaches leave little room for uncertainty, everyday stories ‘from below’, and limits understandings of violence to physical damage and bodily suffering. In contrast, anthropologists have approached violence as a social phenomenal, which enters people’s everyday lives and escapes simple explanations. The danger lies in making definitions of violence appear too polished and finished – for the reality will never be. (Nordstrom and Robben 1995: 4) People’s experiences in war and violence are negotiated, chaotic, social and inconclusive. This in turn affects how war can be studied: lived experience of those studied, those who study and ways of knowing is not separate (ibid: 3). Unpredictable situations and intense emotional experiences are just a few of the special circumstances impacting studies of conﬂict. With this perspective we are invited to rethink how our positions and context impact the data and knowledge we present.
Mia Sung Kjaergaard received her MA in Anthropology of Development from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has lived one year in Damascus, and since 2006 regularly visited Syria and neighbouring countries.
Blurred lines and positions For many of us who become involved more long-term with speciﬁc places and people; the lines become increasingly blurred between when we are ‘aid workers’, ‘scholars’ engaged in research or just friends. I have been working on ‘capacity building’ and ‘intercultural dialogue’ NGO projects in the Middle East. As an academic I am interested in narratives, belonging and how identity is formed in politically changing environments. But an important reason why I have stayed involved is the friendships I formed while living in Damascus. The people I used to listen to Fairuz with in the morning, and drinking juice with in Old Damascus, are the people I stay in contact with and worry for. Unlike some of my colleagues and friends, who bravely have been working ‘under ﬁre’ inside Syria, I have not visited Syria since 2011 a few weeks before the uprisings broke out. My work with refugees and Syrians in the diaspora is inﬂuenced by previous experiences, and also my position as a woman, a non-Syrian etc. Not only our intersectional positions, but also practical circumstances impact our work such as whether our next funding or salary will come from a research grant, a NGO etc. The knowledge we produce and the work we do is also inﬂuenced by how well we speak the language, and ﬁnally how much are we willing to risk? Are we prepared to move away from our safe homes and families – and for how long? Often there is a great deal of arbitrariness and coincidences that shape the work we do which is rarely mentioned in research, reports or job descriptions. As this conference has illustrated, our position as researchers are never just ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’, but colored by our previous experiences and social relations – our work is embedded in past times, current engagements and future potential projects. I think we need to be more transparent about how these factors inﬂuence projects and actions, and to dare to engage with the self’s entanglement with knowledge, facts and theory.
Ambiguities of representation
Muhammad’s drawing In March 2014 I stayed in Turkey with Syrian friends of mine who have ﬂed the war and are beginning to rebuild their lives. They are starting projects to help fellow Syrians to ﬁnd work, educational and rehabilitation programmes for families. The stories they told me were about escape, fear and as one woman said to me ‘everyone has lost someone and something in this conﬂict’. But I also saw strength, creativity and relief when loved once were reunited. I spent a lot of time with Syrian children, and as I was jotting down thoughts in my notebook, which I always bring with me, I discovered the children’s interest for drawing. One boy, Muhammad, gave me a drawing of himself and his house. I saw he had printed his name ‘Muhammad’ and below the name ‘Mahmoud’. ‘Who is Mahmoud?’ I asked. Silence followed, and I looked at Muhammad’s father who explained that that not only did Muhammad loose his two legs the day a rocket hit their house, he also lost his brother Mahmoud, his mother and grandmother. When you look at this drawing, we do not see the same. The drawing reminds me of the thick air in Muhammad’s house where I spent hours listening to stories about violence and death, it reminds me of how I felt shaky at the sight of Muhammad’s amputated legs – anthropologists talk about ‘existential shock’ and not just ‘culture shock’ when studying conﬂict. I am also reminded about Muhammad’s strength, when using his arms to navigate through the house, and his laughter while playing with other children. It makes me remember how questions such as ‘where do you come from?’ and ‘how many brothers and sisters do you have?’ suddenly have become sensitive questions in the context of conﬂict.
There are many ways of telling the stories of human suffering that we come in touch with. By using Muhammad’s drawing, I hope to literally shift the focus of our gaze away from media photos, and ask how we can engage more ethically. The drawing is open to interpretation; it does not provide conclusive suggestions to how we should feel about Muhammad’s situation. Is it a drawing about empowerment, willpower, struggle or pain? Is it a smile on his face or is it unease? The most interesting stories are possibly outside the frame, beyond what we can see and instead we have to contemplate, imagine and question . This representation reﬂects that there is no single agreed deﬁnition of violence; instead it is contested, subjective and felt and interpreted individually (Nordstrom 2002). Violence is chaotic and escapes easy deﬁnitions and enters the most fundamental features of people’s lives (Michael Taussig 1987). The way violence enters mundane life and is a subjective experience is captured: a ‘simple’ children’s drawing which does not pretend to give a ‘professional’ or ‘objective’ account, but rather takes us to a particular place and moment in a 7-year-old boy’s life. Methodologically, the use of Muhammad’s drawing enters classical anthropological questions on representation, and the problem of whether we as outsiders have the authority to represent other people’s stories (Clifford and Marcus 1986). In a region where colonialism and hegemony has permeated relations and representations these are particularly important considerations. One of the ways in which anthropologists have experimented with overcoming these challenges of representation, is by including informants’ voices directly in academic publications . By letting the drawing ‘speak for itself’ I hope to provide a context and platform from which not only my, but also Muhammad’s, voice can be heard. Finally, drawings are not only a mode of representation, but also a tool for unraveling and processing ﬁeld experience. As Michael Taussig argues, ﬁeld drawings are linked to the ‘imaginative logic of discovery rather than scientiﬁc proof’ (Taussig 2011). It is between emotion, reasoning and the anthropologist’s motivation for going on the journey in the ﬁrst place that research is produced (ibid: xi). We are reminded that knowledge does not exist a priori or detached from us as researchers. In this process drawings by the anthropologist, or the people we meet, can serve as a method of engaging with ﬁeld experience with a sense of immediacy and openness that edited text is often lacking. Notebooks and drawings are ‘credited with mysterious power no less than with childlike ignorance and vulnerability’ (ibid: 144). Especially in times of conﬂict the boundaries between observation and participation become blurred and might form a closer relation between researcher, events and subjects. Drawings are potentially powerful because they tell the stories from a different perspective refraining from exhibiting simplistic pictures of death and destruction. It challenges absolute facts and one-sided analyses to let a personal account, a child’s perspective, inform our knowledge about conﬂict. With drawings we can paradoxically seek to render visible by obscuring images and thus tell stories outside the usual framework.
Endnotes The risk of simplifying complex realities and ongoing suffering would be far too great by ending with a singular conclusion. Instead I call these reﬂection endnotes, because they are very much in the making – a journey of unraveling. The grave Syrian crisis leaves little time for what anthropologists call ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973), and my contribution is based on ﬁeld notes and sketches that feel almost too fresh to analyse – in short not suitable for the ordinary academic audience or conference setting. Instead, it has been encouraging to be part of project where theory/ method, reﬂection/ action and interdisciplinary approaches come together. Returning to the question of whether we should represent other people’s suffering and how this can be attempted; I think one place to start is by being more open about the circumstances under which knowledge is produced in the periphery of war zones. Especially in settings of conﬂict our positions, personal experiences, relations and practical circumstances shape our interventions and research. In times of war I strongly believe we must continue to insist on engaging with diverse understandings of violence. This should also inﬂuence how we choose to represent our knowledge and data. Muhammad’s drawing is an attempt to offer a partial ethnographic perspective from below that does not provide a single answer or view on the conﬂict. Hopefully, by daring to engage with ambiguities and uncertainty we might discover new paths for action. Conference Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gPh1zwiruU
References Biehl, J. 2005. Vita: life in a zone of social abandonment. Berkeley: University of California Press. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G. 1986. Writing culture: the poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Geertz, C. 1973. The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books. Nordstrom, C. and Robben, A. C. G. M. ed. 1995. Fieldwork under ﬁre: contemporary studies of violence and survival. Berkeley: University of California Press. Nordstrom, C. 2002. Four ways to tell a story on violence. Reviews in Anthropology. Vol. 31 pp. 1 -19. Sontag, S. 2003. Regarding the pain of others. London: Penguin books. Taussig. (1987). Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Taussig, M. 2011. I swear I saw this drawings in ﬁeldwork notebooks, namely my own. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Websites Alfredo Jaar http://www.blog.art21.org/texts/alfredo-jaar/interview-alfredo-jaar -the-rwanda-project Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/01/us-syria-crisis-toll-idU SBREA300YX20140401 UNHCR http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php
Challenges to Political Expression in a Changing Academic Landscape: A Personal View Anna Alekseyeva, Elodie Negar Behzadi, Anna Davidson, Kelsi Nagy, Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria This article is a collaboration of ﬁve different voices from Geography Ph.D. students at Oxford who form part of a “voices from the margins” reading group. We are women from diverse backgrounds and have different research interests, but are all interested in giving voice to people and more-than-human entities that could be considered marginalized in academia and in dominant culture and media. The Power and Resistance conference call for papers sparked conversations within our group about the powers and precarities of our own voices. While being acutely aware of speaking from a platform of relative privilege, we had a growing awareness of how the pursuit of knowledge in academia is constrained by neoliberal agendas and complicated relationships of power. In this paper we explore this theme by interviewing a range of academics in three Geography departments in the UK. Recent public discourse about academia has increasingly highlighted the growing neoliberal nature of the university in many western countries. This neoliberalism has manifested in everything from the ‘publish or perish’ mentality and rising university fees, to the difﬁculties that many young academics face in ﬁnding and maintaining stable academic jobs. We want to explore how academics’ experiences at universities have been transformed by their institutions’ myopic focus on output-oriented metrics of success, such as research output and proﬁt margins. Speciﬁcally, how do academics experience political activism in this context, and how do they negotiate these multiple changes to ﬁnd spaces of expression and commitment? In posing this question, we wish to interrogate the conventional dichotomy between the ‘real world’ and the academic world. Leaving the deﬁnition of political activism open, we draw on Foucault’s work on knowledge and power as well as theories that discuss types of academic engagement .1 1 Jane Wills, “Engaging” in The SAGE Handbook of Human Geography
(London: Sage, 2014).
It is important to contextualize this discussion within contemporary trends in UK academia. It is commonly acknowledged that universities have been increasingly moving from public to private funding over the last several decades. This has implications for the kind of research that is funded and how it is conducted. Along with this neo-liberal funding trend, some academics have noted the de-politicising trends in the social sciences since the 1970s2 . We were curious to interrogate to what extent this trend played out in the lives and careers of Geographers we spoke to. At the same time, we are aware that geography researchers in the UK represent greater gender and racial diversity and might, therefore, speak for more marginalized voices than they did forty years ago. We were curious to explore, however, if these shifts only give the appearance of change, or if they are allowing the voices of marginalized groups to really inﬂuence institutions and paradigms in meaningful ways. Certain features of university education may limit the efﬁcacy of researchers to cross the so-called academic/real-world divide and engage with activist efforts. As Ph.D. students in the UK eager to engage in broader forms of activism and unsure about our future roles within academia, we approached this project from a personal standpoint. Employing a feminist methodological framework, we investigated the questions posed above through in-depth, semi-structured interviews of six UK geographers (two men and four women) at different stages of their careers, from post-doctoral level to a chaired professor, across three different universities. Through acknowledging both our personal and academic interests in the project and writing collaboratively, we hoped to subvert some of the dominant assumptions of researchers as individualized ‘outsiders’. We aim also to investigate the shape and trajectory of our own potential career paths. Our paper is divided into three broad sections. We ﬁrst employ the concept of the panopticon (drawing on Foucault) to discuss how the neo-liberalisation of the university might impact academic practices. We then move on to discuss the various tactics of ‘resistance’ that our interviewees employ to navigate the contemporary academic environment. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of reﬂexivity, arguing for the importance of awareness in a context that can sometimes feel disempowering. 2 (Swyngedouw 2002, Baeten 2002).
Neoliberalisation and academia: from ‘ivory tower’ to ‘panopticon’? Our interviews problematized the concept of an ivory tower - used to denounce academics and their work as removed from everyday practicalities. We acknowledge (as did some of our interviewees) that the work of reading, writing and teaching provide relative freedom to follow research interests and a level of protection from some of the risks of ‘front-line’ activism. However, these supposed ‘ivory tower’ pursuits are increasingly impacted by very real-world political changes. Many of the Geographers we interviewed mentioned increasing vulnerabilities due to neo-liberalization of the university. Some of these vulnerabilities, which will be discussed below, were also linked to a loss of possibilities for political expression. First, many of the interviewees indicated that increasing zero hour contracts and the need to be highly mobile in a globalized job market has created a casualised academic labour force. This casualisation has been particularly salient to the experiences of younger academics who frequently voiced a push towards security that meant conceding on political expression in order to secure an academic position. One of the post-docs we interviewed voiced her frustration at an academic context that is increasingly risk-averse. She found this reﬂected in her students’ attitudes: ‘A lot of my students now say: “well I don’t want to do anything political cause it might...it’s hard enough to get a job and I have to work my fees off”, and also I think people seem to be more geared towards professionalisation than taking risks”. Similar feelings of anxiety and discomfort appeared in relation to the “publish or perish” mentality. The incompatibility of publishing in journals and of genuine political expression came out as a particularly strong source of tension in one of our interviews: ‘If I want to write from the speciﬁc standpoint I want to write from, I simply cannot do it in journal articles, it would not get published (…) most people would reject them’ said one of the mid-career academics. According to her, editorial committees and the peer review system hinder opportunities for political expression as values of progressivism disappear from the academic landscape: ‘It is very difﬁcult to ﬁnd people and journals who (in my discipline) I would consider as progressive. (…) Progressive thought has shifted substantially, and with neo-liberalism, I am not sure who is progressive anymore?’. Similarly, funding was described by some as being increasingly geared towards apolitical topics. It is interesting to note that the two physical geographers we interviewed indicated that there is more funding available in their ﬁelds, with one mentioning that there was enough funding available that they could be selective about what they accepted. In stark contrast to this, the human geographers we interviewed noted a dearth of funding and an increasing necessity to self-fund research. This divide echoes the idea that less commoditizable (e.g. theoretical or in-depth qualitative) research tends to receive less funding. Funding pressures were in turn perceived as reducing possibilities of engagement with the ﬁeld, preventing the production of knowledge that stands outside the value framework of neoliberalism, and consequently threatening the political content of research.
One of the most insidious consequences of neoliberalisation was described by one interviewee as the ‘destruction of the academic’. This practice - of separating teaching and research positions – was described as being prevalent in the US for some time. ‘If you are identiﬁed as a research star during your PhD, you get a research position,” explained one of our interviewees, “otherwise, you just teach with a 9-month contract and you are paid peanuts (…). In the States, they call them junk professors’. This practice corroborates a value system where teaching is considered a second-class activity. The creative tensions that result from research that is tried, tested and informed by teaching - and teaching that is led by research - are denied in the drive towards specialisation, efﬁciency and maximum output. This new ‘managerialism’ stands as a key feature of neoliberal ideology, occasionally cited in our interviews as responsible for a loss of space for political expression and action. One of our interviewees in particular unravelled the processes through which academics were silenced. First, economic rewards, central to this managerialist culture, were seen as partly responsible for a loss of incentive in expressing dissatisfaction - ‘Why would older academics protest against (the casualisation of labour for their younger peers)? They are paid so well and beneﬁt so enormously from the system’. The same interviewee also underlined the way administrative positions formerly held by academics were, in the same managerialist fashion, increasingly ﬁlled by non academics coming from the private sector - ‘When I ﬁrst joined the university, we thought we had a common venture, we were involved; now my department is ruled by elected executives who decide on policy and we do not work together anymore’. This transformation, argued the interviewee, has led to fragmentation, individualism, lack of collegiality and has served as an impediment to the formation of a common political voice. Another interviewee said that loyalty to a department or university was more rare, as a lack of collegiality and increasing mobility meant individual academics would simply move if they were discontent.
The panopticon – towards a neo-liberal academia?
Tactics of resistance - navigating, negotiating and conforming
“So, most academics … they don’t care what the other academics in the building do … I don’t particularly mind what the other human geographers do […] In fact, the amount of attention is absolutely minimal, so you have a huge amount of freedom, and you end up policing yourself. So it’s that Foucauldian thing of … so you think you’re being watched or judged, but in fact, you have much more freedom than you may realize, but you only realize this once you get older.”
Yet the academics we interviewed did not simply passively internalise the characteristics of their environment. Interviewees also discussed ways in which they 'resisted' the contexts in which they work. Drawing on the interviews and literatures on power, we see the tactics used in resistance as a product of the disciplinary mechanisms they are aiming to subvert, but also going beyond and outliving them6. The tactics of resistance varied amongst those we interviewed, but there were common themes that aligned well with a distinction Jane Wills7 has made between three types of academic engagement: Didactic engagement – or an application of ideas to the world; epistemological –or producing ideas through their engagement with ﬁeldwork, policy-makers and activists; and ontological engagement – based on the assumption that the way we engage with the world (e.g. through research) shapes the world itself.
The use of the Foucauldian image of the panopticon3 goes further to reveal the more subtle ways through which neo-liberalism operates. In most of our interviews, neo-liberal values and norms appeared or were described as internalized, creating academics with self-disciplined neo-liberal subjectivities. Neo-liberalism in that sense governs behaviours and reaches, as Foucault has written: “into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives"4 Speciﬁc examples of this self-disciplining were given throughout our interviews. The Research Assessment 5 Exercise, and the new Research Excellence Framework were explicitly described as ‘control mechanisms’, a form of surveillance system which supervises and regulates ‘It is a way to sort of monitor academics and keep them in line’ said one of our interviewees. The result of this threat of discipline is normalization and internalization – ‘You do not want to rock the boat… you do not want to say anything that would rock the boat’. A similar point was raised with regards to unions - ‘ If you join, you are a rebel, and most people do not want to be rebels. You are an outcast almost! Unionists are seen as troublemakers. And people do not like being seen as troublemakers’. Such internalized assumptions of the “good academic” were particularly present in the younger academics’ narratives. The image of an academic being innovative, competitive, dynamic, productive, and individualistic -all of which are characteristics conventionally valued in the neo-liberal ideological framework -- appeared as an ideal to conform to. Some of our interviewees’ sense of failure vis a vis this idealized perception of the “successful academic” reveals the strength of neo-liberal power in constructing a reality it assumes should already exist.
Almost everyone we interviewed mentioned how teaching and publishing practices were a way for their research to have an impact. For one interviewee, for example, teaching students to think critically was the main reason he went into academia, and another considered teaching their main form of activism. A further interviewee explained how her teaching was intrinsically political: “I am teaching white British students. There is no way I am going to do it in an apolitical way. It is about me, as a migrant, my family and my history. I talk to you as a migrant. I could not do it in a scientiﬁc, neutral way. My objective is to bring different perspectives and objectives when I teach”. Further, a postdoc interviewed described her sustained commitment to her students long after she left that teaching post. For her this was a way to maintain networks of care and subvert the individualized and competitive nature of academia. 3 The panoptic syle of prisons designed by Bentham in the late 18th century was used in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1977) as a metaphor to describe power relations. This style of prison allows a single guard placed in the centre to observe all prisoners. Because the prisoners never know if they are watched or not, they however control and self-disciplines their behaviour. 4 Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Trans. Colin Gordon et al. New York: Pantheon.(p. 30) 5The RAE is a process, in the UK that assesses the quality of research to enable the higher education funding bodies to distribute public funds on the basis of research quality ratings / The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and will be completed in 2014. 6Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley 1984. 7Jane Wills, “Engaging” in The SAGE Handbook of Human Geography (London: Sage, 2014).
For some, publishing and talks were seen as a “communication of results” – which aligns with what Wills calls a didactic mode of engagement. However, this engagement was done in strategic ways in order to, as one interviewee put it; “make a difference in the context”. As the same interviewee said “[I’ve] put things where I’ve wanted to put them, and where I feel they will be read by those who need, or would ﬁnd it useful to read them”. Similarly others purposefully published non-academic outputs like video, newspapers, magazines, policy forums and books. Rather than only publishing in academic journals, they saw this as a way of being accessible to a wider public. One interviewee particularly highlighted how writing and language itself was, “ (…) political activism. And it might take different forms. (…) Some people will refuse to write in a more complex manner so that their material will be read by people whose life they want to shape, help shape, or change. The other thing that you can do is to give voice to those who do not have a voice in the public domain. To give voice to the oppressed.” Beyond making their research more accessible outside academia, for some of the academics we interviewed, engagement also meant including those outside academic institutions into the production of knowledge itself. One postdoc, for instance, described how herself and other academics forged links and opportunities for students from non-traditional backgrounds to enter into academia. Another interviewee felt that the very purpose of research and knowledge production should be to engage with activities that enhance social justice: ‘(…) we have a duty as academics, as researchers to promote activities, support activities, and write about activities that will enhance the quality of life of human beings, so social justice activities.” These last few quotes, express well what, according to Wills’ schema, would be a form of ontological engagement. By acknowledging that practices of engagement go beyond simply disseminating research with political content, or engaging with ‘the outside world’ to produce knowledge – they acknowledge that the very ways in which academia is practiced ‘remakes the world’ in various ways. This allows for a more fundamental blurring of the false distinction between ‘academia’ and ‘the real world’. This can be seen in the varying ways in which academics teach, publish and engage with their local communities, but also in the ways in which they engage with theory. As one interviewee said: “it’s partly how you frame things as an academic – there are certain theories that lend themselves more to having the politics taken out (…) there is a certain type of political thinking that is really harmless”.
Attempting to ‘do political work’, however, was also associated with a level of risk-taking and an additional burden of work: “… academic ideas can translate and be meaningful to those working in activism in the non-academic world. But it requires extra work if you are willing to do that to reach out to those people and put the energy into writing for a lay audience”. Another interviewee described how publishing in policy-related avenues was met with some disdain: “...some people in geography were relatively unhappy, and thought people should be pulling your weight, you are seen as slightly second class [if you don’t publish peer reviewed papers], but on the other hand (…) I know I’ve made a difference, I know my work has been looked at”. For others these risks were revealed in tales of failed interviews and papers unpublished because – as candidates or as manuscripts – they were deemed interesting but too risky for the institutions. Even once hired, they could still be passed over for further commendations if they did not ﬁt into the mold that was deemed appropriate. This sense of risk was by no means evenly distributed across our interviews (from a post-doc, to a full professor) and it begs the question of who is in a position to afford to take these risks. The costs of resisting and the comforts of conforming seemed to accrue differently in different career stages and institutional settings. Of course these views are also only a reﬂection of the six individuals we spoke to, all of whom had ‘made it’ in some capacity within a university context. What perspectives would we hear from those who ultimately had to sacriﬁce their careers to follow their politics?
Positionality and diversity In this respect, the speciﬁc positionalities of those we interviewed is key to unpacking the diversity of perspectives we heard. While a variety of different factors shape the lens through which any academic views the world, there was a noticeable difference in perspectives between the early career and later career academics we spoke to. Two of the later career academics pointed to positive developments that have opened the ﬁeld of academia to an increasing variety of individuals. When asked about how academia has changed over time, one of the full professors who had been teaching for about 25 years, argued that “there may never have been a golden age of academia,” and that “it was actually worse in the past to be female, young, black, left, gay.” Another female full professor pointed to greater gender equality in the academic hiring process today compared to when she was hired over 20 years ago. But, of course, just being on the inside of academia is not enough if one cannot freely express their voice. While neoliberal sentimentality fetishizes diversity and multiculturalism, we must question the depth and meaning of this diversity. It is not sufﬁcient, we would argue, to be of a marginal identity if one does not have the ability to express a marginal point of view. Several of the interviewees, particularly those in more precarious and early career positions, indicated that it was not easy for them to express their ‘marginal’ views, which were either radical or fell outside of their disciplinary norm. One of the post-docs spoke of being rejected from certain academic positions and receiving emails stating: “we needed someone that is more boring and less controversial.” In some departments, she said, many “political” people are not hired or promoted. Another early career lecturer, whose academic work focuses on more-than-human geographies, explained that funding is limited and tends to be available “only for issues that are considered big problems.” Animals, which are the focus of her academic work, are not high up on funders’ priorities: exploring the moral dimensions of human-animal relationships subverts the dominant paradigms of their commodiﬁcation. In this sense, it could be argued that the diversity that has proliferated in academia over the last several decades is in some ways superﬁcial. At the same time, however, we do not wish to denigrate the value that increased diversity adds to the institutional and intellectual academic milieu. Having a wider array of individuals and identities opens up a space of potentiality to enact cultural change within academia. Furthermore, while a number of interviewees conveyed frustration at not being able to express themselves fully within the dominant academic paradigms and channels, at least one of the interviewees talked about valuable collaborations that she had formed with like-minded academics when she ﬁnally “found [her] people”.
Reflexivity: what can come out of this? ‘Who you are matters in the way you teach and I think young academics should think about these things’ While the institutional forces of academia can seem overwhelmingly discouraging for young academics – as they certainly sometimes seem to us – we don’t want to build a picture of academics as victims, rising up (if they dare!) in heroic ways. Rather, we hope to show that despite ﬁnding ourselves in increasingly neoliberal universities, we still have signiﬁcant agency in the academic system. This agency can at times be positive, as with the ability to pursue the tactics of resistance described above, but it can also have negative consequences. One of the full professors we interviewed stressed the role that all academics -- particularly young academics -- have in disenfranchising undergraduate students; today’s undergraduates are not only compelled to go to university because of the structure of the contemporary job market, but must also now pay student fees and potentially go into signiﬁcant debt. The interviewee compared the education bubble to the housing bubble, which led to the 2008 ﬁnancial crisis: “just like an estate agent would do very well in the years up to the bubble’s crash, you’re coming into this at just the right time […] You’re going to be surﬁng the wave of rising necessity for people to go to university.” We must recognise our own complicity in a system that can disenfranchise others, and we must recognise the potential beneﬁts that we accrue from this disenfranchisement. We come away from this project with the recognition that our positions as young academics are complex: both difﬁcult and empowering, compromising and compromised. We must reﬂexively consider our own roles as academics through collaboration, collective discussion and dialogue, recognising that we can use the spaces and platforms we have to engage with the world and help remake and reimagine it in less violent ways. Conference Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfvK01VffyI
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Westminster University.
The purpose of this article is a practical one. It seeks to establish how activists can best use what power they have to achieve substantial change. The focus is collective and political; on protest and party politics and the relationship between the two. The underlying theme is how the exercise and extension of democratic power can open up the way to greater equality. There is an acutely generational dimension to this issue, however to pose it in exclusively generational terms is problematic. Granted that many young people, perhaps the majority, face particular difďŹ culties in relation to work, housing and social mobility, other generations are also confronted with similar problems and the main causes may not be exclusively or even predominantly generational. The fundamental underlying social division globally and in Britain, the emerging shape of inequality, is between the elite and the rest. There are three aspects to the argument in this article. First, I analyse key features of the New Left in the United States of the nineteen sixties focusing particularly on the most inďŹ‚uential student organisation, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Second, I make some comparisons between that movement and current activism in contemporary Britain. Third, I will argue that activists and sympathisers in Britain are currently faced with a crucial choice about the extent and nature of their involvement in party politics.
The american new left of the nineteen sixties New social movements began in the post second world war period in parallel decline to the power of organised labour. Socialist and Marxist ideas were a powerful inﬂuence on the nineteen sixties New Left, particularly in France, but other strands of thought and sentiment were emerging. Given that the United States was by far the most economically advanced society, it is unsurprising that some of the most forward looking radical thinking and action occurred there. Activists in the United States were required to confront more fully the issues of post-industrial, information-led society because the United States was already the prime case of that form of society. Of course things have since moved on, particularly due to the rise of the Web but this has made more possible the kind of widespread participation the American radicals of the sixties aspired to. In the context of the United States, the concept of participatory democracy is more resonant with populism than Marxism. The inﬂuence of populism ideas is apparent in the writings of ‘the big daddy’ of the New Left, Charles Wright Mills, and in the movement itself. Populism can partly be understood as discontent and protest at lack of power. It is invariably anti-elitist. The logic of populism is to seek more participation, more ‘power to the people’. A weakness of populism is that it is often oriented to a single issue or cluster of related issues, failing adequately to address the structural source of inequality. An important current development in the United States and Britain is the engagement of populist parties of the right, respectively the Tea Party and UKIP, with party politics. To borrow a phrase: ‘this could be a real game-changer’, on the left as well as the right. The American New Left emerged out of the civil rights activities of black people, students and others in the southern states in the late nineteen ﬁfties and early sixties and gathered momentum from opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft. It helps to distinguish between the New Left and the Counterculture, the former referring to political orientation and the latter to cultural. The capitalised term ‘Movement’ is inclusive of both the new political and cultural radicalism of the period.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded in this climate of political idealism and cultural experimentation. It’s founding document. The Port Huron Statement reﬂects this mood. We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit … As we grew … our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss … First … racial bigotry … Second the enclosing fact of the Cold War … (Various Authors, The Port Huron Statement (orig. 1962), reprinted in M. Teodori, The New Left: A Documentary History (Jonathan Cape, 1970): 163-4). Increasingly a third issue was tabled – one that resonates today – poverty and inequality. More than ﬁfty years later, many young people again appear to be looking uncomfortably to the world they inherit. A commitment to participatory democracy is the most notable feature of The Port Huron Statement. This was not merely a positional statement but indicates necessary organisational change (in the sexist language of the time – for which apologies). As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in the quality and direction of his life; that society encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation … politics has the function of bringing people out of isolation and into community. (In Teodori: 167). Activists were successful in establishing as a norm, student participation on university committees. This has been substantially rolled back, particularly since the imposition of a neo-liberal form of the corporate model for managing higher education.
SDS carried the concept of participation beyond higher education into society. In the summer of 1963 SDS established twelve community action projects under the general heading of Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP). The principle and method underlying the projects was participatory: poor people in the project areas were encouraged to locate and respond to the social and political issues that affected their everyday lives. The process was enabling rather than didactic. The typical achievements of the projects may seem minor – the winning of a play area, successfully pressuring for trafﬁc lights to be set up in a dangerous zone. However, the more realistic activists saw the projects as a learning process for all involved. While the concept of community remained a recurrent New Left theme the limitations of the projects added to the emerging sense that inequality could not be effectively dealt with solely at the level of local community. As the student movement gathered momentum a more general critique of the university system and of its relationship to the rest of society developed. The Free Speech Movement (F.S.M.) at Berkeley involving hundreds of students. The initial issue arose as a result of an attempt by the university to stop student political societies from organising and raising funds on campus. However, the debate between the student activists and administration soon took on a wider dimension focusing particularly on the purpose of higher education. As it happened Berkeley was the perfect instance for this debate. Its president, Clark Kerr, was a leading exponent of what he termed the ‘multiversity’ which he envisaged as providing expertise for government and business, in his words ‘to respond to the expanding claims of national service: to merge its activity with industry as never before’ (Quoted in Teodori: 153). In an article titled A Deeper Disenchantment, Sol Stern, a postgraduate activist, commented as follows: The “Managerial Revolution” has come to the campus; now the most important stratum of the university is not the faculty, nor the students, nor any single education Idea but rather the manager and the administrator. The “multiversity” is a “mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money”. (In Teodori: 153) (Note: from reading the text the words in quotation marks appear to be those of Clark Kerr). FSM activists believed that a functionalist view of the universities was crushing an educational view, a debate that remains in play today. From 1964 onwards SDS and the New Left as a whole increasingly grappled with the problem of deﬁning the wider system of inequality. In a speech in 1965 titled ‘Trapped in a System’, Carl Oglesby, then the president of SDS gave it a name, ‘corporate liberalism’ (Teodori: 187). He identiﬁed corporate liberalism as the interlocking system of government, business and the military that had routinely exploited less powerful societies. Oglesby’s appeal was to an alternative liberal tradition, humanistic liberalism. Oglesby’s plea ‘to shape the future’ in a more humanistic way, was only one voice from the New Left and not the loudest. From the mid-sixties the Movement began to splinter into separate and sometimes conﬂicting groups. The escalation of the Vietnam War persuaded some to adopt more confrontational ideologies and practices. The following were among the various strands; a grouping favouring a coalitionist approach, supportive of the Democratic Party; an urban guerrilla group – the Weather People; a hippie/ﬂower power strand, and the Jesus movement. I will address what can be learned from this debacle later.
Nineteen sixties and contemporary activism compared To echo The Port Huron Statement, many young people today also ‘look uncomfortably‘ to the world they inherit. Some, though not all, the issues they face are different from those of the nineteen sixties. Today, major festering issues for students are crippling fees and widespread closure or limitation of opportunity. Activist groups such as 38 Degrees tend to respond iteratively to issues as they arise. In neither period has a widely accepted meta-narrative developed that convincingly knits together analysis and action. Nevertheless, in both periods activists were motivated by a sense of lack of power - of elites acting in their own interests rather than that of wider constituencies or the people as a whole. Participatory democracy or, more radically, democratic institutional control, is likely to be a central part of a new or reworked ideology of the left. A revolution in the means of communication will have fundamental effects, including on protest and politics in general. The term ‘participatory democracy’ may now be less often used nevertheless the Web offers huge potential for participation. In Britain 38 Degrees is one among many activist groups that has ﬂourished through use of the Web. It claims 2.5 million members and has campaigned on issues ranging from the hospital closure clause to registering new voters (the current target is 100,000). Recently 38 Degrees has been able to appoint ﬁve paid interns on the back of voluntary contributions. According to one intern a group of MPs recently asked David Babbs, the Executive Director of 38 Degrees: ‘Do you recognise how much inﬂuence you as an organisation have on the way people think about politics and politicians’ (Source, email to the author). It remains to be seen whether 38 Degrees and other activist groups will seek or be able to bridge the gap between issue oriented politics and the politics of systemic change: a challenge that ultimately nineteen sixties radicalism failed to meet. The above examples indicate the potential of the Web to extend democratic protest. There are caveats. The Web is as open to others as it is to activists and more so to certain government agencies. That makes it even more crucial that the left effectively represents itself. A second cautionary point is that protest on the Web may be easily ignored if not linked to action in public spaces.
Web-linked action extends from physical protest of the kind UK-Uncut has used and meetings with politicians that are a regular part of 38 Degrees activities. Marx argued that a change in the means of production leads to a change in social relations. In an information-led society a revolution in the means of communication is an instance of Marx’s point. Among the global and national power elites there has been a shift in power to the techno-ﬁnancial sub-elite in relation to the political and military sub-elites. This shift is perhaps indicative of the terrain on which the struggle for reform will take place. The Web is an important tool in that struggle but no more than that. Although nineteen sixties and contemporary activism were conceived in broadly the same historical period, one major difference is notable. The radicals of the early sixties were more inclined to optimism. In fact they were frequently criticised as ‘utopian’, a term many were glad to accept although they were inclined to deﬁne utopia in what they saw as achievable, realistic terms. Their optimism was based on the conﬁdent belief that the problem of scarcity was solvable and could provide an adequate material base for human liberation. As contemporary young people are aware, it has not quite turned out that way. Across the globe states are in hoc to neo-liberal wealth and power. The world is much richer than in the nineteen sixties but the struggle for greater democracy and equality is as pressing as ever. Utopia will have to wait.
Short and long term strategies for change The current challenge is to translate the pervasive mood of discontent into action. To an extent this has already happened in the protest and campaigns indicated above. Long may this continue! Protest is an essential part of democracy. In Britain the existing level of democracy would not have been achieved or would have been much delayed without protest. However, protest alone is not sufﬁcient to achieve systemic change. At some point the state is required. In the debate about among activists about whether change is best pursued through a long-term grass roots strategy or requires a more formalised combination of grassroots activity with action targeted at the state level, speciﬁcally with the support of a political party, I take the latter view. The choice then becomes whether to form a new party or to negotiate with an existing one. These options need to be assessed pragmatically and either may be the better choice at a given time. The option of forming a new political party has powerful appeal. There is widespread disillusionment on the left with the record of recent Labour governments. As yet there are only tentative indications that a new Labour government would be substantially different. A poll taken in May 2014 shows a signiﬁcant drop in voter identiﬁcation with Labour as well as with the Conservatives (www.ipsos-mori.com, May 14 2014). This suggests that an opportunity might have been missed. Much of the discontent that Labour has failed adequately to articulate might have been tapped by a new party of the left. However, while the Labour Party itself was founded as the representative of a clear constituency, the industrial working class, today there is no sharply deﬁned constituency that a new party of the left can target. Yet, terms such as ‘the rest’, ‘the dispossessed’ and ‘the 99%’ illustrate the potential for a bold political initiative. Ironically it is the radical right in the form of UKIP that has demonstrated that a party other than the established ones can gain mass support and inﬂuence government policy on major issues. Whether UKIP can establish a foothold in the British Parliament as well as the European remains to be seen. This may be an instance of ‘who dares wins’ with UKIP stealing a march over the left. However a new party of the left, ‘Left Unity’ was formed in November 2013. It is currently establishing its core support (almost 2,000 in March 2014) and ideology and it is early to comment on its prospects. The issue of timing is important. Arguably, Left Unity was founded too late for the general election of 2015 and too early for the election of 2020. If this sounds contradictory the point is simply that if Left Unity merely ends up taking votes from Labour in 2015 it will be counterproductive. However, if a Labour government of 2015-20 fails the test of radical reform in its ﬁrst year or two in power, then a new party of the left might have the time to make an impact in 2020. Left Unity could be that party but it needs to square its principles with electoral realities.
Those who ﬁnd no signiﬁcant difference between the two major parties are forgetting 1979, among other instances. Had the Labour party succeeded in negotiating a progressive ‘social contract’ with the unions and been elected in 1979 the future of Britain might have been that of a genuinely social democratic society, optimistically along the lines of the Nordic model. Instead neo-liberalism became so embedded that it engulfed the Labour governments of Blair and Brown. In contrast, Miliband appears to see the state as a countervailing force to corporate power. It is a question of judgement whether he will deliver or should be given the opportunity to do so. We are familiar with the alternatives. I now return to what can be derived from the nineteen sixties of current relevance. The fragmentation and factionalism of the New Left from the mid-late sixties resulted in its demise as a constructive force in American politics. In particular, the violent tactics of the Weather People repelled public opinion. In the context of a stable liberal democracy violent tactics have little or no chance of playing a major role in bringing about large-scale change. That is as true in contemporary Britain as it was in 1968 America although, of course, this does not constitute a general argument against protest and activism, including non-violent civil disobedience. In the late nineteen sixties many activists did support left-leaning anti-war candidates, ﬁrst Robert Kennedy and then Eugene McCarthy. In particular had Kennedy not been assassinated he might have negotiated an end to the war and introduced a second period of reform following Johnson’s of the mid-sixties – tragically losing momentum as his administration and the country got bogged down in the Vietnam War. Despite underlying similarities the challenge for activists now is somewhat different than in the nineteen sixties. The elites are more ﬁrmly and more globally embedded. Ultimately the only way to counter their power may be through a democratically constituted global government. That may be decades away assuming that the struggle to achieve it is successful. More immediately it is realistic to seek to extend democratic institutional participation and the redistribution of wealth at the national level. If ‘another world is possible’ so is another Britain.
Warning! Your brain is being hacked. Mark R. Leiser1
There are been several parliamentary responses by the European Union to the revelations made by former National Security Agency Edward Snowden that reveal the level of surveillance citizens may be under at any given moment. Furthermore, the European Court of Justice recently ruled that the Data Retention Directive was incompatible with our fundamental rights, stating that the accumulation and retention of data by telecoms and Internet Service Providers amounted to personal data and disproportionate to what was necessary in a “free and democratic society”. Regardless of one’s propensity to view Snowden as a hero or turncoat, the NSA and GCHQ ﬁles he turned over to the mainstream press have kindled a discourse on how to restrain the surveillance state and have led to a renewed dialogue on privacy. In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the EU made it policy to create a market for safe and secure data storage away from the prying eyes of the security services, and the Courts have mandated some restraints on the surveillance state.
1Mark Leiser is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. His PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics.
Most journalists and commentators have focussed their attention on aspects relating to surveillance and its ever creeping encroachment on our civil liberties; however, within the ﬁles made available by Edward Snowden, was evidence that our security and intelligence services are attempting, with success, to use “Information Ops” to bring about outcomes that could not have come about without some sort of inﬁltration and deception.2 GCHQ describes the purpose of the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) in starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (inﬂuence or disruption).” 3 Thus, the balance of this article focuses on a different element: the Persuasion State. Recent discourse has focused on the traditional relationships between the user (netizens) and the state in cyberspace, painting (incorrectly) a picture of united citizens circumventing authoritarian controls in the name of “Internet freedom”. For example, Han argues that the Chinese state approach is dedicated to fabricating grassroots support for a pro-government agenda by “establishing an army of state-paid online commentators that would engage online discussions anonymously to promote a pro-government discourse”. 4 The “Fifty Cents Army” is arguably successful in “increasing the State’s PR effectiveness on certain issues” but at the same time it, “increases netizens distrust of the state.” This process, known as AstroTurﬁng, is employed by numerous public and private actors in China, ranging from “online crises management companies (weiji gongguan gongsi), water armies (shuijun) and internet pushers (wangluo tuishou)”.5 AstroTurﬁng is normally used as part of a larger, mixed propaganda/commercial model usually with the backing of the Chinese state. In the West, AstroTurﬁng is a largely regulated activity and is normally considered deceptive in commercial contexts.6 It can be deﬁned as a grassroots movement appearing to grow through “word-of-mouth” public support, but which in fact is run by a puppet master behind the scenes who ultimately reaps the beneﬁt of the movement. The Chinese and the Western models of AstroTurﬁng can be distinguished by the state’s role in its regulation, with agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency both emphasising the need for transparency in commercial campaigns.
2 Glenn Greenwald, “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations” https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/ Accessed 07/05/2014 3The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations https://firstlook.org/theintercept/document/2014/02/24/art-deception-training-new-generation-online-covert-operations/ Accessed 07/05/2014 4Han, Rongbin, "Adaptive Persuasion in Cyberspace: Fifty Cents Army" (2013). 5Ibid 6In the United Kingdom, AstroTurfing is outlawed under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. In practice, the authorities may direct the complainant to the Advertising Standards Authority (‘ASA’). After 1 March 2011, the ASA’s remit extended to include marketing communications on companies’ or traders’ own websites or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply of goods or services. If an organisation posts a positive promotional review about its products (pretending to be a consumer) this will amount to a marketing communication. For example, research assessing the influence of online reviews on the number of hotel room bookings shows a significant relationship between online consumer reviews and business performance of hotels. Travel operators often use deception to “promote their reputation or tarnish that of competitors” taking advantage of two features of the Internet’s architecture – anonymity and its ease of use. This practice is also contrary to the UK Code of non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code). AstroTurfing breaches the CAP Code because this type of marketing is not fair, legal, decent, honest and truthful - the key principles of the self-regulatory nature of the CAP Code.
AstroTurﬁng tends to be successful in inﬂuencing our decision making process as it plays to certain cognitive techniques (or heuristics) which have been recently discovered. The latter part of the 20th Century saw a signiﬁcant amount of research dedicated to the way our mind operates. We are both intuitive and impulsive at the same time. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who is one of the pioneers of this new ﬁeld, our minds use two systems of processing information; Kahneman unimaginatively calls them, System 1 and System 2.7 Kahneman’s Dual Process Theory splits our decision-making processes into two systems: System One is our impulse, routine, and reactionary part of the brain. If I ask you to calculate 11 + 11, you probably will have answered 22 long before reading the end of this sentence. System Two is the slow, methodical, and calculating part of the brain. Both systems operate fairly well relative to the different environments they are asked to perform a task, but are subject to biases and errors. A learner driver will uneasily be forced to use System 2 during the ﬁrst few driving lessons as a lack of experience means that for them every movement will have to be calculated and formulated; while a seasoned driver can almost seamlessly drive from Point A to Point B. Gigerenzer refers to this as our “adaptive toolbox”, that is our ability to make decisions comes from our evolved ability to make judgements called heuristics, types of mental shortcuts on which our mind rely in place of more complicated and time-consuming calculations.8 Some of these heuristics are “fast and frugal”, and are usually quite reliable.9 We can calculate how fast to stop by judging the distance between our car and the trafﬁc light ahead without calculation. We can catch balls thrown toward us by using the “gaze” heuristic, and we rely on the recall heuristic to make judgements about people when we can’t place them immediately. The “fast and frugal” school of heuristics offer a positive interpretation about the ways our minds make judgements.
However, the Heuristics and Biases school of judgements led by the pioneering work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, view heuristics sceptically and argue that relying on heuristics often results in systemic biases and errors in judgement.10 Often the way questions are framed, for example, leads to signiﬁcantly different outcomes. Tell a person that needs surgery to rectify an ailment that they have a 90% chance of living will result in signiﬁcantly different reactions than telling the same person that they have a 10% chance of dying.11 Kahneman and Tversky’s initial work categorised three main types of heuristics: Availability, representativeness, and anchoring and adjustment. All are rooted in the fact that our minds recall information through mental shortcuts and are therefore prone to errors. We tend to judge things as being more frequent based upon how easily it is to come to mind. When asked which is more frequent, people tend to look for examples through illustrations. When asked which causes more deaths, shark attacks or death by horses, people will tend to recall how often they hear media reports about shark attacks and lacking any other information to contradict their “intuition” will come to a conclusion based on how “available” the information was for them to retrieve. Moreover, the “availability” heuristic can cause signiﬁcant mistakes “about the probability of an outcome”, as it often manifests itself in “excessive fear or unjustiﬁed complacency”.12 We use a signiﬁcant number of these mental shortcuts in our day-to-day life, and while they might serve us well in different environments, each is prone to error and biases.
7Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011. 8Girgerenzer & Selten Eds, 2001 Bounded Rationality: the adaptive toolbox. MIT Press; Gigerenzer, Hertwig, and Pachur Eds. 2011. Heuristics: The foundations of
adaptive behaviour, OUP
9Gerd Gigerenzer et al., Simple Heuristics that make us smarter 27-28 (1999). 10Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. "Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases." science 185.4157 (1974): 1124-1131. 11Sunstein, Cass. Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism, Pp.29-30 12Kuran, Timur, and Sunstein, Cass, Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4 (1999)
Normally, these individual errors can be mitigated by the crowd. We use phrases like the “marketplace of ideas” and “collective knowledge”. The assumption for rationalists is that these errors will be pushed down and/or marginalised by better informed decision-making. Rationality assumes that actors will maximise the expected utility in their decision making; however, as the H&B School has posited, our reliance on heuristics often lead to less than optimal decision making – either semi-rational or irrational decision making leads to errors and/or biases. However, the Internet is providing a platform for herd mentality to rule the roost. And when these individual errors use social media to help spread disinformation, an information cascade can help to gather speed spreading the collective “error”. These cascades normally form when four conditions have been met: Research has been shown that we make decisions in order. We also try and make rational decisions based on information available. However, researchers have identiﬁed several instances where users do not conﬁrm to the traditional model. The most formal attempt to integrate these departures into some sort of formal model is usually called “prospect theory”. 13 Because we don’t have access to the private information of others nor their reasons for targeting us with information, we can be said to have limited abilities to respond to a communication: we either adopt or reject the decision. Informational cascades occur when external information obtained from previous participants in an event overrides one’s own private signal, irrespective of the accuracy of the former over the latter. Users forward on messages, “like” posts, and “re-tweet” status updates often without checking the validity of the message. A sort-of reﬂex communication (emanating from System One) comes about in a large part due to a reputational heuristic – a user sees the number of followers a social node has, retweets the communication, without giving any thought or calculation to the validity of the message. The social node is often targeted by propagators (or to use Sunstein’s term availability entrepreneurs) seeking to bring about an outcome that would not have been possible without some sort of deception. This type of “social hacking” comes about by targeting the very heuristics that we rely on to make judgements in the online environment. These types of propagators are not unique to cyberspace, but my argument (discussed further below) is that there are speciﬁc cyber-heuristics that rely on the architecture of the online environment for success. In the alternative, our reliance on heuristics is exacerbated by the architecture found in social media platforms.
“Likes” and “endorsements”, “shares” and “retweets” all intrinsic design features of social media; therefore, our reliance on System One is an intrinsic part of the social network architecture. A propagator targets several social nodes with a deceptive message designed to stimulate a System One response, and if successful hope to start an availability cascade. The social node spreads the message without checking the validity of the message, and the message gains rapid currency in a large part due to its simplicity and insightfulness. The message is “validated” through a reputational heuristic, where people trust the truthfulness of the message because it emanates from an account with a large number of followers, or it has already been “liked” and “retweeted” by numerous other users already. In the online environment, this is a type of community heuristic. The message is validated by the number of retweets and/or likes received. But as Kahneman and Tversky have demonstrated, the mental shortcuts of heuristics and in particular System One processing often lead to the wrong decision. Propagators are relying on a series of heuristics that may make people to alter their normal decision making process. For example, the consensus heuristic is best summed up in the expression, “if other people believe it then it must be true”. Someone interested in promoting a deceptive message wants to establish a false sense of group consensus about a particular idea. This bias is commonly present in a group setting where one thinks the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. Since the members of a group reach a consensus and rarely encounter those who dispute it, they tend to believe that everybody thinks the same way. As an extension, when confronted with evidence that a consensus does not exist, people often assume that the others who do not agree with them are defective in some way. There is no single cause for this cognitive bias; the availability heuristic and self-serving bias has been suggested as at least partial underlying factors. Related to this process is the fact that users are more likely to believe a message that they perceive as coming from several independent sources, or from an acquaintance.14 Individuals who process messages through heuristic processing routes of persuasion, likely formulate decisions based on experts’ opinion and what the consensus believes opposed to fully processing the message in its entirety.
13Consumer Policy Toolkit (OECD) Available at http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/governance/consumer-policy-toolkit_9789264079663-en#page44 Accessed on 15/05/2014 14Eagly, A.H. & Chaiken, S. (1993). Process theories of attitude formation and change: The elaboration likelihood and heuristic-systematic models. In A.H. Eagly & S. Chaiken, (Eds.), The psychology of attitudes. Orlando: Harcourt Brace: pp. 303-350.
A case study in the 2009 special election in Massachusetts describes a concerted, deceitful attempt to cause a speciﬁc URL to rise to prominence on Twitter through the use of a network of nine fake user accounts.15 The initiators sought not just to expose a ﬁnite audience to a speciﬁc URL, but to trigger an information cascade that would lend a sense of credibility and grassroots enthusiasm to a speciﬁc political message. Within hours, a substantial portion of the targeted users retweeted the link, resulting in a rapid spread detected by Google’s real-time search engine. This caused the URL in question to be promoted to the top of the Google results page for a query on the candidate’s name. This strategy has earned the moniker: — a Twitter bomb.16 The success of this strategy relies on targeting users that will likely retweet the message. Research showed that in little over two hours nine separate accounts sent 929 tweets to 573 unique users. After 24 hours thanks to retweeting the audience size amounted to 61,732 Twitter users.17 This led the authors of the study to conclude that using social hacking in this way “makes possible to hijack the trustworthiness of a search engine and propagate their messages to a huge audience for free, with little effort, and without trace.” Rational choice theory has dominated policy design throughout the latter part of the 20th Century.18 Kelam has argued that rational choice theory domination of policy design and evaluation needs to be re-thought and moderated. There are plenty of valid examples: (i) providing more information about the cost-beneﬁts of consequences fails to change behaviour; (ii) where changing direct incentives (consequences) fails to change behaviour; (iii) where self-control, not choice, is the critical determinant of behaviour.19 In recent years, rationality as the primer for legal and economic policy making has been affected by developments in social science research. Law has begun to recognize the limits of human rationality. As Richard Epstein wrote, “there is little doubt that the major new theoretical approach to law and economics in the past two decades does not come from either of those two ﬁelds. Instead it comes from the adjacent discipline of cognitive psychology, which has now morphed into behavioural economics.”20
15These accounts produced 929 tweets over the course of 138 minutes, all of which included a link to a website smearing one of the candidates in the 2009 Massachusetts special election. The tweets injecting this meme mentioned users who had previously expressed interest in the election. 16Mustafaraj, Eni and Metaxas, Panagiotis (2010). "From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search." In: Proceedings of the WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC: US. 17Ibid, Pp. 6 18Baldwin, Cave, and Lodge. Understanding Regulation, Pp. 9. 19Bikhchandani, Sushil. Learning from the behavior of others: Conformity, fads, and informational cascades. Diss. University of Michigan, 1998; Devenow, Andrea, and Ivo Welch. "Rational herding in financial economics." European Economic Review 40.3 (1996): 603-615; Hirshleifer, David. "The blind leading the blind: social influence, fads and informational cascades." (1995): 24-93. 20Richard A. Epstein, The Neoclassical Economics of Consumer Contracts, 92 Minn. L. Rev. 803, 803 (2008).
Moreover, the insight of behavioural economists has provided tools for regulators to consider when developing regulation for various environments. This is an important development as System One biases which emanate from our automatic systems and System Two biases, which stem from our reﬂexive and intuitive processes, should be distinguished. System Two biases and errors are meant to override our automatic responses and there is signiﬁcant evidence that cognitive errors are more readily corrected through policy when sourced in System One biases. However, in the online environment, architecture is often designed to encourage System One responses. This is why we need a “third-way” mode of regulatory intervention – somewhere between command-and-control and deregulation and unique to cyberspace. This regulatory framework should have two features to it: unlike Really Responsive Regulation21, which focuses on the detecting undesirable or non-compliant behaviour and then developing tools and strategies for responding to that behaviour regulators should analyse how the architecture inﬂuences behaviour a priori to the regulatory intervention. If Gigerenzer is correct in stating that fast and frugal heuristics are accurate when they appear in the proper environment, then the regulator should be encouraging more cognitively secure environments to ensure deception is not used to bring about outcomes that could not have otherwise be achieved. This is because, as GCHQ correctly states, “people make decisions as part of groups. People make decisions for emotional reasons, not rational ones.” 22 Conference Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUafRyEUk6E
21Baldwin, Robert, and Julia Black. "Really responsive regulation." The Modern Law Review 71.1 (2008): 59-94. 22Note 3, Supra at Slide 31.
POWER AND RESISTANCE http://powerandresistance2014.wordpress.com
The organisers of Power and Resistance are all PhD students at the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of...
Published on Sep 17, 2014
The organisers of Power and Resistance are all PhD students at the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of...