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.

Discussion

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.

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

Communication and Civil Society (V). The transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society

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 transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society
Oscar Mateos (Ramon Llull University, chair), Joan Coscubiela (UOC-IN3), Gemma Galdón (UOC), Ada Colau (Plataforma d’Afectats per la Hipoteca).

Òscar Mateos

What are the big changes that we are facing? It is not an era of change, but a change of era, Joan Subirats. The 15M movement has put the spotlight on many ongoing dynamics that were working for the change. And, arguably, the ones that understand the 15M are part of it, and one can only be part of it if one understands the movement. There are new languages, platforms, ways to communicate, and that is part of the change too. And maybe these processes are the very true outcomes of the movement, and not what it is traditionally asked to a movement: an impact on institutions or the taking of power.

Joan Coscubiela

Our society is in a dire crisis, especially in our social organizations. And this crisis is boosted by technological change.

The relationships between economics and politics, and between corporations and unions have been altered, and the balance of power amongst these institutions has radically changed. Some reasons are that the habitat (the factory) has been radically transformed; the disappearance of the aggregation of interests due to the disaggregation of identities; the difficulty to build a collective identity upon which to leverage a movement.

The dismantlement of the factory, the dismantlement of the national economy, and the dismantlement of the nation-estate. The integrated factory becomes the networked enterprise. There are central workers and workers on the periphery.

There is also a crisis of the communication channels in traditional unions, based on the integrated Fordist factory and the assembly of workers.

All these crises are undoubtedly weakening the strength and even legitimacy of traditional trade unions. But, if this crisis of legitimacy will be especially tough in Anglo-Saxon unions (based on the firm or the factory, or European unions (based on the economic sector), it might be that Mediterranean-type unions (based on the notion of class, or of social equity) will have it more easy to regain legitimacy, even if a deep transformation is notwithstanding required.

The great opportunity for trade unions is how to leverage the power of ICTs to regain legitimacy to refund the forms of participation.

Gemma Galdón

With the coming of the Internet and the intensive use of social networking sites and similar tools make the medium become the message: the fact that the 15M movement is very live on the Internet is part of its very definition, of its DNA, and tells much on the nature and characteristics of the movement.

There is a qualitative leap in the way participation is understood: besides being present on a demonstration, being active on the Internet (gathering information, commenting, creating opinions, broadcasting messges, etc.) can be as much important as physical presence. Notwithstanding, either on the street or on the Internet, legitimacy comes not from the diffusion of information, but from being committed with the movement. Only commitment leads to legitimacy and reputation, and not only mere participation by being active on social networking sites.

The logic of expansion of social movements is no more centralized, but rhizomatic: it obeys to no traditional logics, especially cultural logics or logics of power.

Indeed, social movements of the past five years have detached themselves from the international political and economic agenda. Nowadays movements no more follow international leaders to their international meetings of the World Bank or the G8. Social movements increasing have their own agenda, and an agenda that is created and updated ad-hoc.

This change is partly due because information and the communication tools have been democratized to the limit. What is difficult now is opacity and non-transparency. Diffusion of information and ideas and calls to action are now cheap and fast. On the other hand, this is a double-edged sword: repression is now more easy than ever for the ones in power, as identification of individuals and collectives is immediate.

The problem is: are we making any impact? When the whole world protested against the second invasion of Irak, nothing happened. And, worst indeed, there does not seem to exist an alternative to the broken representative democracy.

The challenge is how to leverage the common sense we reconquered and turn it into a driver of change, based on new forms of political transformation.

Ada Colau

The new forms of participation not only surprised the traditional social movements, but also the newer ones, that became “obsolete” even if they were recent. These newer social movements were based on platforms that (a) focused on a specific issue and (b) acted as a helping collective so you could reach out (instead of a vertical organization where the individual helps the organization to reach out). These platforms had to transform into networks and the new ways to organized that the Internet and, especially, social networking sites made possible.

That was the case of V de Vivienda [H stands for Housing] in Spain, on of the seeds that afterwards would nourish the 15M Spanish Indignants movement. V de Vivienda was auto-convened and auto-organized, by means of SMSs and e-mails.

V de Vivienda succeeded in putting on the political agenda the housing bubble and the social and economic problems derived from it.

The answer from the political institutions to the movement was very shy and myopic. So, after all the energies poured into the movement, it does not seem be having much impact. What to do about it? How to keep on without being discouraged? The new strategy is increasingly being civil disobedience, so that a change in the Law is forced. But civil disobedience is individual, not collective, so the collective has to find ways to support the individuals that will enter civil disobedience (i.e. in the present case debated here, resistance to eviction and the movement helping people to resist evictions and, at last, stop them).

The network helped in building a critical mass around the issue of mortgages and evictions, as this is not a geographically concentrated problem, but quite a spread one.

Discussion

Manuel Castells: one of the reasons of the crisis of trade unions is that they are part of the power, they come from a paternalistic way to understand society. And social movements are fighting just against that.

Manuel Castells: changes, real and structural changes need their time and own pace, and that that change begins with a change in the processes.

Ismael Peña-López: acknowledging the truth of the aforementioned statement, the problem is that people’s lives happen in the short run (evictions, unemployment subsidies have limited time spans in the range of months), and thus some milestones have to be achieved in the short run. This is especially true not only to protect the victims of economic crisis, but also to avoid the draining of energy of social movements, that can fade away and dissolve if anything tangible and concrete can be achieved (and this should be achieved without violence).

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

Communication and Civil Society (IV). Net neutrality struggle and new movements in the digital era (II)

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.

Net neutrality struggle and new movements in the digital era
Ismael Peña-López (chair), Txarlie (Hacktivistas.net), Carlos Sánchez Almeida (Bufet Almeida), Gala Pin (X.net)

Txarlie

Hacktivism works as a free software project: it collects information, documents the processes and implements actions. The idea is avoiding reinventing the wheel but implementing the same ideas and processes in other social projects — in this specific case, the Spanish Ley Sinde.

Each revolution has its tool. The Protestant Reformation cannot be understood without the printing press, the soviet revolution without fliers and posters, and the 1960s protests without the television.

The Internet is thus the tool of the 15M movement, and not only the Internet as a device, but also as a philosophy, as an architecture, with distributed power, policentric. Indeed, the 15M movement is not a protest without leadership, but, on the contrary, it is a protest with multiple leaders, more leaders than ever.

When it comes to Net Neutrality, the idea is do not wait until the Net is not neutral, but to actually prevent its enclosure. And there is indeed an urgent need to digitally empower people, so that there is no need to prevent the stealing of liberties, freedom instead of having to recover it.

Facebook is becoming less of a social networking site, of a democracy site, and more of a shopping mall. That is why activists are constantly moving from one platform to another one. This is not happening, though, with Twitter, that is keeping its horizontal, totally flat essence.

It is interesting to stress the fact that often people use some applications for their own purposes, and purposes that were not foreseen by the owners. And sometimes these new usages do confront the current law and thus the owner of the tool either takes sides with the activists or against them, but can no more remain neutral.

It is not a crisis, it is the system. The only difference is that we are now better informed on what is happening. Let us, so, take the chance to make an informed change.

Carlos Sanchez Almeida

Sometimes it is possible to define common rules for a collective, but sometimes it is not. And sometimes it is the very design of a system the one that has its own rules embedded in its architecture. That is happening on the Internet, that was designed in a way that included its functioning rules.

When a new territory is conquered, the first thing is imposing one’s will, the second one is to try and justify it morally, and last comes the making of rules to accommodate the new reality. The conquest of (or attempt to conquer) the Internet is no different in its aims… even if we have not yet gone through the first stage.

But as the Internet is resisting the siege, the power is trying to come through the back door and impose new rules. But the way these rules are legitimated is through media and by changing people’s minds. Thus, the centre of the power are media. What tools do we have to achieve that?

The problem with the Internet is that there are as many tools as initiatives, and as much initiatives as people.

What happened with the Spanish Ley Sinde is that it indirectly and unwillingly contributed in clustering all the different initiatives fighting for different liberties, ending up in a unique voice that colluded against the attack to social rights.

Once out of the narrowness of Internet-focussed fights, it is now the time for the assault to the very fundamentals of power: money and the media.

Gala Pin

The attacks against the Internet are not attacks against a technology, but against civil liberties like the freedom of expression, the freedom of thought, etc.

On the other hand, promoting the changes that the new technologies now enable does not necessarily goes against some private interests (e.g. the artists’). On the contrary, it quite often defends those interests, although most times requires a redefinition of how things are made.

Hacking is another type of civil disobedience, and especially effective one in this new territory that is the Internet. Hacking plus collective intelligence is certainly a very powerful combination to resist the attacks to the Net.

Discussion

Carlos Sánchez Almeida: there is a high probability that cybercrime will increasingly be on the papers, as it will be the alibi that the power will use to be able to be “legitimate” in attacking the Internet. The first aggression will be against the place where we met to prepare our revolutions.

Q: on the one hand we picture the power as a very smart institution and, on the other hand, we also picture the power as completely clueless. Isn’t that a contradiction? Txarlie: it’s probably both. It is true that the power understands the Internet as a whole, looking at its possibilities and the powers it challenges; but it is also true that its forms are mostly unknown, partly because the Net is so flexible that it is very difficult to predict in its next action. The collective intelligence moves in the boundaries and thus circumvents the power. The power understands its potential, but not its boundaries. Carlos Sánchez Almeida: one of the reasons the governments have attacked P2P networks — when they kept people quite and numb at home — is because they are not the ones in power: the power is financial and the corporations (who own what is exchanged in P2P networks).

Q: so, what’s the next step? Carlos Sánchez Almeida: we need a democracy; a new and reformed one, but a democracy. And this new democracy must be more transparent and, over all, more accountable. In the case of Spain, bipartidism should be broken by voting the smaller parties.

Mayo Fuster: why has not the 15M and other activisms taken more into account the tradition of the commons, of cooperatives, etc.? Txarlie: partly this has been due to the fact that it was preferable to begin from scratch, to avoid predefined mindsets, to promote trial and error, to experiment. The idea was that any solution had to come from the debate within the 15M itself to be legitimate.

Mayo Fuster: what is going to happen after the 15M with the Internet? will it become a 11S of the Internet? Gala Pin: We are living a dire crisis while which there has been poor or any proposal at all to improve people’s lives. The 15M has been, in many ways, the only thing that has happened to directly address the crisis. Thus, it is not a only movement of protest, but the expression of a general feeling of a real need of change.

Mayo Fuster: how does power works inside the 15M? Carlos Sánchez Almeida: there is no power in the 15M movement, the power is outside. The 15M is a network of networks, with their own programme, working autonomously. Thus, there is no such thing as power in the 15M movement, which is but a mere platform. The Indignants Movement cannot be defined in terms of power, of structure, of hierarchy. The movement must not provide answers, but communication channels, build agorae where debate can take place.

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

Communication and Civil Society (III). John Perry Barlow: Net neutrality struggle and new movements in the digital era (I)

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.

Net neutrality struggle and new movements in the digital era.
John Perry Barlow (Electronic Frontier Foundation).

The opposite of a trivial truth is false; the opposite of a great truth is also truth, Niels Bohr.

We are living in an era where we are both able of greatest advances in human technology and, at the same time, able to destroy ourselves or endanger the lives of all of us. The corporation is supposed to be made of humans, but as a construct they are more than that. Corporations used to mediate between people, and because of the instantaneous network of global communications all those processes have been increasingly accelerated. And they corporations are now in the process of swallowing the Earth, for the benefit of all of us, but at the same time against our survival.

While it is true that huge corporations are like a cancer, it is also true that each individual is like a cell that is part of that tumour. And, thus, the question is: as a cell from a tumour, what do you do?

Once there is a possibility to communicate your thoughts instantly across the world, the you as a container of thought, or knowledge, is challenged. And this is related with the crisis of monotheism, which is based on thoughts not easily spread and shared, about the monopoly of thought. Monotheism is opposed to pantheism, as the unity of thought is opposed to the multiplicity of thought.

The same tools that are so useful for sharing your thoughts and acts are, at the very same time, the best surveillance tools ever. And not only in the real time, but also in past times, as your actions can be traced back because of the breadcrumbs you left behind.

And there is almost no way to avoid the visibility. Privacy is thus arguably not defensible — even sometimes not desirable either — but this does not mean that we have to change the way institutions look down on people, or to change the way that institutions present themselves before the public. But until this change happens, there have to be ways to balance the powers of institutions and citizens.

There is a will to control expression and its spread. And copyright has become one of the main barriers to expression, despite the fact that it was designed to protect the freedom of expression. Sharing is hardcoded in human beings, and the fact that sharing can be prevented because somebody owns them is, basically, against the future.

An incredible gift to the future is the ability to be able to discover everything that one needs to know.

There is a problem that we must address: the growing concentration of wealth, energy and power. And a concentration that still wants more, as stated in Barlow’s Law of Economic insufficiency: the more you have, the shorter it feels. We have to collectively stand up and find ways that they do not get more, of that the more they get the more it gets redistributed. We have to find ways to make the world work the same way that we found ways to make the Internet work, taking into consideration the ecology of the resources.

Discussion

Manuel Castells: the world is run by “ungrateful dead”, the institutions that rule the world are dead and it is impossible to expect from them any kind of change, or even reflection. And, as some demonstrators said, it’s not about the crisis, is that I don’t love you anymore. So, dead institutions on one side, people willing to love something else on the other side. The way of reconstruct this world is through a long process, so we need patience and a road map for the long run. But something quick must be done also in the short term to avoid the total collapse of the system. Surely the networks of solidarity will work to avoid collapse.

Q: We have to try help people understand that the nature of authority has changed. John Perry Barlow: If you change consciousness, politics will change itself. The problem is that some issues are like a religious view that might not be able to change. Maybe half the population has to die first before a change is acknowledged.

Ismael Peña-López: will the death of half the population really make a change? Won’t we hit a glass ceiling that will prevent any kind of change? JP Barlow: the cyberspace is, in may ways, a feminine movement, made of sharing, of collaboration. And even if women are still struggling with their own glass ceiling, they are actually changing the mentality of many, substituting a monotheism (male) with a new pantheism (feminine).

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

Communication and Civil Society (II). Politics in the Internet age (II)

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.

Panel: Politics in the Internet age (II)
Arnau Monterde (chair), Marta G. Franco (Acampada Sol participant), Javier Toret (Democracia Real Ya Barcelona participant), Mayo Fuster (Berkman center for Internet & Society)

Arnau Monterde

The different movements that have been born on the Internet (especially) during 2011 have many things in common, and not only about the form, but also in what are their goals, their purposes, the reasons and causes behind their protests, etc.

On the other hand, forms also matter. There is, beyond the organization of the protests, a sort of metaorganization linking and binding together the sprawl of local movements at a global level, thus contributing in the emergence of a global movement and its organization.

The globalization of the movement, or the collectivization of the movement, have also meant that despair due to lack of a clear horizon has turned out into hope due to the openness of the movement itself.

Javier Toret

Technopolitics and the 15M: flow, power, hack, translate, sensibility.

Nowadays, communication and organization are increasingly tied together: most communications actually invite people to engage in a specific action, and do not only give a piece of information or news to a passive receiver.

Our literacies are determined by new technologies that require new literacies. Indeed, these new literacies determine our habits, the way we interact, the way we consume… the way we live.

In this framework, how were the 15m protests in Spain organized?

In February 2011, a group of people meets on Face book and creates a platform to coordinate their actions and to call the citizenry to action. The reaction of people fed back the project and, in many senses, helped in defining what was acceptable in a society and what was bearable (or unbearable, as a matter of fact). The definition of what was unbearable became the actual message to spread and driver for further mobilizations.

Especially, the first big success was building a communicative ball that succeeded in going through the communication wall of mass media.

The movement took the plazas partly because there was an actual list of social demands, but more importantly because it succeeded in creating a collective frame of mind about specific issues and its broad context.

There was a collective building of a Twitter strategy, where many different Twitter users swarmed together to globally broadcast a few, direct, clear messages and a huge debate around them. The openness and simplicity of the process (Twitter + camp) helped the movement to be replicated all around the world. And the fact that most information could be geolocalized also contributed in making the different local initiatives be part of a global movement.

An interesting outcome of the movements has been the reflection about the process of organization and the proliferation of free software tools to empower and boost the optimization of such processes and its cheap and fast replication.

Marta G. Franco

Acampada Sol started as a way to reflect together and settle things down after the demonstration of 15m. The idea behind the acampada was not to stay or not, but to stay together and try to overcome everyone’s fears.

This sense of collective spreads beyond the geographical bounds of the acampadas, as they begin to link and talk one to another one, share fears, ideas, doubts, feelings.

The challenge was how to have a single voice without centralizing the thousand of voices of the movement. That became particularly evident when it came to registering the Internet domain(s) where to publish a website. In the end, there were as many domains/pages as camps or initiatives that joined the movement implicitly.

Another challenge was how to put together the online and offline worlds, each one with their one procedures and processes and ways of acting. A certain degree of success came whenever it was possible to take the best of both worlds, but that was not always an easy thing to do.

In general, mass media missed the way the Indignants were organized, what they were claiming, etc. In fact, most of them ended up taking Acampada Sol (the Madrid Camp of the Indignants) as their unique source of news and information, thus forgetting that Acampada Sol did not represent anyone (any other acampada) but themselves. On the other hand, though, many journalists would be more confident reporting from the sources of user generated media rather than form “official” communicates, even citing verbatim non-official declaration by particular individuals taking part in the protests. Twitter was used to hack the mass media system.

Alternative tools, like the social networking site N-1, were used to stand free from the potential control of third parties, in a sort of techno-political strategies of activism.

Mayo Fuster

Most of social movements are thought as ways to challenge the political agenda and the conventional political organization. Another dimension is challenging the established productive model and the cultural codes.

Besides the usual ways to manage the resources by either the State or the market, a third way is a model of management and provision of resources by the civil society: the commons.

The origin of the new digital commons can be tracked back until the 1950s with the hacker culture and the hippy contraculture, the free software ideology and communities, the Creative Commons, etc. The logic of the commons is opposite to the corporate logic, the former one based on openness, freedom and autonomy. In this sense, the system becomes an open one with a governance that enables participation. The conflict between both logics is the reason behind the free culture (and knowledge) movement.

If we link the 15M movement with the free culture movement, it is easy to find out that beyond the specific demands, there is a very important — arguably the most important one — goal that aims at changing the productive model, and it is a goal that goes implicit in the way the protests and the organization if performed: freely, openly, heavily relying on the idea of the public commons.

Some examples of these are Lawrence Lessig’s move from Creative Commons to Change Congress, or, in the case of Spain, the move from the campaign against the “Ley Sinde” to the “No les votes” campaign. In both cases, especially the latter, the free culture movement merges itself with the Indignants movement. There is somewhat the acknowledgement that there will be no “free culture” unless the whole system is transformed, thus why the change of target from culture itself (the “what”) to the political institutions (the “why”).

It is important to note that this change of the system is non-partisan, and being non-partisan is an explicit tactic so that the movement can be comprehensive and inclusive.

Discussion

Òscar Mateos: in a certain way, the 15M movements have witnessed the coexistence of the traditional civic movements with a more post-modern ones. How has this happened or been made possible? Toret: Democracia Real Ya was more a platform than an institution, and this implied that as there was no central message to be imposed over the members, anyone felt free to contribute with their own voice, either at the individual level or organized in traditional movements. Notwithstanding, there have been clashes between a more chaotic or networked way of working and the vertical and traditional ways to organize civil movements. Franco: the crisis of media and political parties — and their dependence from ideological and economic lobbies — definitely helped the movement to be something plural, a window open to fresh and unfiltered information, which was something that every citizen, despite their origin (traditional or post-modern) was in very much need of.

Gala Pin: how can the digital divide be overcome so that no people is left behind? Toret: the digital divide is addressed on a peer-to-peer basis. Many workshops and training sessions are being organized so that everyone catches up with the state-of-the art skills and technologies.

Q: how was the offline linked with he online? Toret: there was continuous feedback between both worlds. Many documents were printed or distributed in many analogue ways, but also some creations in paper or in speech were digitized (photos, footage, etc.) and spread through social networking sites.

Gala Pin: how can we focus, how can be optimize the energies poured into the movement so that they are more efficient (how can be participation optimized)? Franco: there is an ongoing challenge on how to be able to map, link and somehow organize the zillion platforms where the conversation takes place. Castells: maybe a solution could be to get in touch with research centres that are specialized in just that, so that synergies can be built between activists and people willing to do research on activism.

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

Communication and Civil Society (I). Politics in the Internet age (I)

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.

Presentation by Joan Coscubiela, co-director of the Seminar

The IN3 has made up this year a research seminar called Communication and Civil Society to debate around the new role of communications in politics, especially when the tools to broadcast a message have become of personal use.

In this framework or communication revolution also come political revolutions like the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignants Movement (or 15M movement) and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. To analyse these movements we need not only to approach them from the ivory tower, but from the inside, with an activist and participatory approach.

The goal of the seminar is, thus, to find out what the social impact is of this crossroads between communication and politics.

Panel: Politics in the Internet age (I)
Manuel Castells, Joana Conill, Amalia Cardenas

Manuel Castells

Politics is the exercise of power to accomplish common goals within the established institutions; while social movements aim at changing values of the society, at transforming people’s minds. And the problem comes when common goals and social values are disconnected. Then comes revolution, which is the occupation of the institutions by non-established means to impose the new values and transform or rewrite the rules according to them.

We live in specific communication frameworks, with which we communicate with our peers, build communities… and build our own minds in the process. It is not exactly that technology determines the way we are, but it certainly has a major role on how we build our societies. When the communication framework changes, society changes: we are shifting towards communicative autonomy, that leads towards social autonomy.

When there is oppression, there is resistance. Thus, the new communication tools that provide autonomy have had two consequences: on the one hand, the explosion of resistance; on the other hand, the attempt to control such tools to avoid resistance.

The Tunisian Revolution is a clear case of this increase of resistance to impose, through social activism, the change of a system. In Tunisia, the feeling of humiliation is worst than exploitation, as it is portrayed by the immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi.

Fear is one of the strongest feelings and one of the main barriers for revolutions. Fear is a mechanism of survival of the species. Fear paralyses and stops us from self-destruction. But once fear is overridden, the sense of community provides a feeling of security and then comes enthusiasm. That is what happens after the Tunisian Revolution, that spreads enthusiastically to Egypt, and then to Spain.

But what is the spark that helps overriding fear? In the Tunisian case that is Internet. The first call for a revolution in Egypt comes through the Internet in January 25th, 2011, when Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video of her calling out for a protest.

After that, movements like the April 6 Youth Movement join the call and activate their networks to raise the population up. And the activation is very fast because of the flat structures of the networks.

When the government tries to stop the revolution by cutting down communications, the international community comes to the rescue with several solutions. This international community is partly made up by for-profit firms (e.g. Google, Twitter, Facebook) that are interested in the success of the movement: they are in the business of selling freedom and, thus, that is their business, to provide freedom to communicate. As Lotan, Graeff, Ananny, Gaffney, Pearce and boyd demonstrated, The revolutions were tweeted.

Indeed, the total blackout of communications is nearly impossible. If the international community of hackers — like Anonymous and Telecomix in Egypt — is committed to restablishing a way of being connected, a government can make it more difficult, but not impossible.

When there is communication, a movement is strong. When communication fails, the movement gets waek and normally ends up violently, as it is the ultimate lasting resource.

Main characteristics of these movements

  • Instantly generated, sparked by indignation.
  • Multimodal, images impacting people thanks to distributed by networks.
  • Horizontal, and based on trust.
  • Disintermediation of the formal political representation.
  • Viral, expansive.
  • Have no centre, they cannot be controlled, they reconfigure their architectures all the time.
  • Both local and global.
  • Self reflective, on a continuous process of deliberation.
  • Both online and offline.
  • Leaderless, with no strong affinities.
  • Do not aim at political projects, but at specific goals.
  • Deeply transforming, deeply political, without being programmatic.
  • Express feelings, generate debates, but do not support political parties or governments.
  • Aim at rebuilding democracy, more base on direct and/or deliberative democracy. They generate utopias not as unreachable things, but as drivers of change.

Joana Conill, Amalia Cardenas

After all these revolutions, especially in Spain, what has been achieved?

It is important to note that not all achievements necessarily mean taking the (political) power.

On the one hand, a huge achievement has been transforming the processes. The processes to share information and opinion, or the process of deliberation. Within these processes, some achievements have been the acknowledgement that being wrong can be right, or that errors can be discussed and their solutions be fed back onto the deliberation process.

Meetings are facilitated so that everyone can speak despite of their gender, status, shyness. And conflict resolution mechanisms are put into practice so that participation does not only come smoothly, but conflicts are solved and actually provide good input into what is being discussed.

Feelings are put into the equation. There is a shift from the I think towards the I feel, including I believe, I guess, in my opinion, from my point of view, etc.

The ultimate goal is more and better participation.

And it is not only about more and better participation of people, about not excluding people from the process, but also about not excluding some values from the process.

The relationships amongst people determine the quality of the interchange, of the communication. If communication determines society and politics, it is crucial that we care about the quality of personal relationships.

Discussion

Q: Why people do not have (enough) fear in Spain? Why do all people agree with the Indignants but so few people participate? Why is there so much resignation? Castells: there is fear, and a lot of it: there is fear of losing one’s job or fear of breaking the rules or fear of being hit by the police. All these fears are stopping many people from participating. Nowadays, institutions are not sustained by legitimacy, but by resignation.

More information

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