Communication and Civil Society (VI). The incidence of the new social movements. Exploring new fields for political action

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

The incidence of the new social movements. Exploring new fields for political action
Joana Conill (UOC-IN3, chair), Mònica Oltra (Coalició Compromís), Joan Subirats (IGOP), Raúl Sanchez Cedillo (Nomad University)

Mònica Oltra

Increasingly, governments and political parties lie as if their citizens were uninformed idiots. The political discourse has reached astonishing levels of misery that thus keeps the citizen away from politics. And it is very difficult to articulate a political discourse out of the party system, out of partidism.

Added to that, we live in an information blackout, as mass media have been taken over by political parties and lobbies.

Did the 15M Spanish Indignants movement had any impact on political parties and governments? Partly yes, as minority parties were just making the very same demands on the democratic process that were made on the 15M protests. Thus, these minority parties have somewhat been legitimated in their demands by the movements and, vice-versa, the social movements have also somewhat been legitimated by a part of the formal political institutions that are represented by the minority political parties.

But social movements should not be capitalized and appropriated by political parties, even minority ones. Parties should take part and participate in the movements — preferably at an individual or personal level —, but not appropriate them.

What parties can do is to represent the rhetoric of the invisible ones, the ones that are not represented by anyone, any political party, the ones that do not appear in the political agenda.

And the way to make (new) politics should be reporting accompanied by making proposals: “destroying” accompanied by “building”.

Participation is not freedom of choice amongst some given options, but freedom to decide what has to be chosen.

Joan Subirats

Democracy has been emptied out of values, and only the rules, the procedures remain:

  • Representation: citizens do not believe that political parties represent them anymore.
  • Intermediation: political parties do not seem to be channelling the needs of the citizens to the places where decision-taking happens.
  • Function: political parties do not represent the citizens because they are no more their equals. Politicians are privileged ones and thus cannot understand nor share the needs of “normal” citizens.
  • Insiders: political parties have evolved from citizen tools to influence the institutions to tools of the institutions to influence on the citizens.

The 15M movement is stating that politics can happen outside of institutions; that the public sphere is not the monopoly of the public powers; and that representation do not compulsory has to take place by means of institutions.

We need not to improve, but to transform. And this transformation might be a shift back to the commons:

  Polity Policy
Improve Reform of the voting system e-Government
Open Government
Transform Commons

Raúl Sánchez

It is difficult to tell where the thresholds of a movement are when it is based on network architecture and collective intelligence.

The 15M movement is an open, autopoietic system that is constantly creating and reshaping itself. The 15M is a movement based on Spinozan affections and the estigmergies amongst its members.

The 15M movement proved that it is possible to take decisions without anyone taking them. The 15M is a actor in a non-place, a neuronal network without a central subject, challenging the current scenario of politics, contesting the statement that things cannot be different.


Q: does the 15M need to move from movement, and embody itself in an organization? Sánchez: most probably the network that the 15M is definitely in need of a “body”, a formal way to present itself before the others. And this can happen formalizing its members in an organization, or achieving some milestones that define the movement through specific actions.

Mayo Fuster: I sometimes have the feeling to be watching a 15M ad, in the sense that few people acknowledge that many things just happened, without much planning, and most of them difficult to foresee. How do you see the 15M in a 10 year horizon? Oltra: got plenty of hope with people camping on the streets, hope that the movement won’t be absorbed by other movements or institutions, that it will achieve something. Subirats: don’t think that the 15M is not a movement, but the expression of a change of era. Thus, in a 10 years future, what is likely to happen is that some structural changes if have not happen they will certainly be slowly happening. Sánchez: most probably there will be the very same sense of transition that we are now living in, only deeper.

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Communication and Civil Society (VI). The incidence of the new social movements. Exploring new fields for political action” In ICTlogy, #97, October 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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  1. Pingback: (Español) Mesa IV. La incidencia de los nuevos movimientos sociales y la investigación de nuevos escenarios para la acción política | Ricard Espelt

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