Social Media Campaigning – a reflection

At the end of the social media campaigning class it is adequate to do a short review of what it has meant for me. In this space I have tried to bring some of the elements of academic writing (referencing, examples, etc) so that I could strongly back up my opinion. I am not going to do that in this post which I want to keep more personal, a reflection of my own work and evolution of thinking.

Looking back at the blogs posted, I think it is obvious that for me this blog space allowed me to take two routes that are somehow connected. First, I tried to explore some topics that I was interested before such as Occupy Wall Street and Open Access Movement and tried to question it as tools for participation and activism. At the same time, the class and this space presented me with news topics and tools, such as digital mapping and photographic metadata. I tried to approach these topics as a learning experience mostly but I also wanted to question them using the academic framework that I am to. Most likely not an 100% success on either approach, but definetely an enriching experience.

On a more general level, I want to point out how a lot of the work surrounding online platforms and its political consequences have gone through a weird history. Taking a look at studies and books around the time the Web 2.0 was created, it seems that there was the dismissal of critical analysis towards an all or nothing view. Notions that this new medium would revolutionalize the wold, that it would democracy and plurality everywhere and to everyone seem farfecth right now. However, wasn’t that the discourse that people adopted to explain the Arab Spring, the so-called Twitter revolution?

A couple of “internet revolutions” later we are surprisingly left with more than just skepticals. It seems that we are finally facing a moment in academia (and elsewhere I am sure) where the study of the new medium is focusing not on the technical possibilities but instead on how people use it. Indeed, what I take from this class, and this is probably what has marked me the most, is that the technology is nothing without social and individual’s appropriation. The same way we must never address current events with simplifying frames, we should never approach all participatory tools with the same frame: we need to remain attuned to the particular, concrete and contextual. In the end, it is people and not technology who create the successess of participatory tools and activism online.

The prefigurative politics of Occupy

I started this blog with a post on the importance of Occupy in the creation of active political identities. Today, I want to take another angle in studying agile movements by taking a closer look at Occupy and its prefigurative politics function. The origins of the term are disputed but Wini Breines created one of the most used definitions of it in “Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal“ (Bastani 2011):

““...the term prefigurative politics … may be recognized in counter institutions, demonstrations and the attempt to embody personal and anti-hierarchical values in politics…the crux of prefigurative politics imposed substantial tasks, the central one being to create and sustain within the live practice of the movement, relationships and political forms that “prefigured” and embodied the desired society.

This concept is wide and may actually point to multiples types of meta-politics (for more see (Yates 2014). However, in this post I am solely addressing Occupy’s prefigurative character which as a diverse movement that did not have a specific pre-established demand opted instead in creating a physical space where people could meet, discuss and, in effect, enact a “real, direct and participatory democracy” (Sitrin 2011, 8).

The structure is well-know. There was a General Assembly which was connected to de-centralized working groups, following a horizontal, networked structure (Sitrin 2011). The internal structure kept on being updated according to needs of the protesters, so it was also an organic network. Decisions were made under a consensus model by which proposals were not simply accepted or rejected, they were constantly re-worked till no-one disagreed with them (Kaufman 2011). These methods were used both for traditional political debates as they were for the everyday problems that occupying a private space involved.

Prefigurativeness is not new in social movements. Indeed, even the structure that Occupy adopted was deeply rooted in historical practices that date back to the Zapatistas in Mexico and their rejection of hierarchical power, which then inspired the anti-WTO protests in Seattle (Sitrin 2011). Horizontality was especially defined in the Argentina crisis protests of 2001 where local assemblies were created under total horizontalidad (Sitrin 2011). The consensus decision making was first introduced to social movements in 1976 by the Clamshell Alliance when protesting against a project for nuclear power. Surprisingly, they had adopted it from Quakers who had been using consensus decision making for over three centuries (Kaufman 2011).

This is of course not to say that there was nothing new to Occupy’s enactment of direct democracy nor that it was a futile gesture. Prefigurative politics and the continuous refining of alternative structures are of extreme importance nowadays. As Zizek has pointed out, it is hard to imagine a political system that could replace capitalist democracy (Zizek 2011).  By enacting a different political structure Occupy (as other prefigurative social movements) are providing the language that allows us to imagine a different system (Zizek 2011).  Prefiguration is a way of creative experimentation that, whilst building on historical examples, provides hope that new political alternative can emerge.

References

Bastani, Aaron. “A New World in the Shell of the Old: prefigurative politics, direct action, education.” Open Democracy. 13 May 2011.  (accessed March 24, 2014).

Kaufman, L.A. “The Theology of Consensus.” In Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, by Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, & Dissent, Triple Canopy and The New Inquiry and editors from N+1, 46-50. New York: Verso, 2011.

Sitrin, Marina. “One No, Many Yeses.” In Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, by Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, & Dissent, Triple Canopy and The New Inquiry and editors from n+1, 7-11. New York: Verso, 2011.

Yates, Luke. “New article on Prefigurative Politics in Social Movement Studies.” movements@manchester. 14 February 2014.  (accessed March 24, 2014).

Zizek, Slavoj. “Don’t Fall in Love with Yourselves.” In Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, by Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, & Dissent, Triple Canopy and The New Inquiry and editors from n+1, 66-70. New York: Verso, 2011.

 

Grandolar, the Portuguese Viral Protest

In February 2013, a new type of protest was created in Portugal when people assisting the Parliamentary session interrupted the Prime-Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s speech by singing the old, revolutionary song “Grandola, Vila Morena”. The video of this immediately went viral and inspired tens of protesters to do the same whenever in the presence of a public official (Barros, 2013).

This protests started in the midst of continued austerity policies which were subjecting the Portuguese people to serious economic and social problems. Faced with an unresponsive government that kept on proclaiming that “Portugal was on the good path” even when members of its own administration secretly admitted to how acute the situation really was (Saraiva, 2013).

“Grandola, Vila Morena” holds an important symbolism for Portugal. It was written during the Portuguese dictatorship by Zeca Afonso, arguably Portugal’s most beloved and popular revolutionary singer-songwriter. It speaks of fraternity and equality (see lyrics below) and was the one used by the Capitaes de Abril to signal the beginning of the democratic Carnation Revolution that overturned the dictatorship.

It became so popular that “Grandolar” started being as a verb to describe “singing songs as a form of peaceful protests, aiming at stopping speeches or communications from government representatives” (Infopedia, n.d.).

The government responded by calling these interventions anti-democratic and of going against freedom of speech (Saraiva, 2013). This, of course, seems to be a way of understanding democracy that stops with the voting process (Barros, 2013).  Not only that as it (in a very rough way) tries to revert the claim of protesters – Grandola Vila Morena made obvious how the Portuguese political elite was monopolizing the entire political discourse. The same people that were allowed to voice an opinion at Parliament, Party conferences and Troika meetings were then invited to share their opinion with the mass media and at debates and conferences. Ordinary people were excluded on all levells of the public sphere. Grandolar was an ephemereal way of limiting that monopoly of voice.

As with such protests, the Grandolar movement was in a certain way a spontaneous, organic phenomena and by now (2014) it has all but disappeared. Still, it is worth noting that Miguel Relvas, minister of the Presidency and Parliamentary Issues, one of the most targeted politicians, did resign in April, 2013. It would be rash to say that it was the “Grandolar” protests alone that caused it, but it would also be inconsequential to dismiss the role it played in creating a political crisis that led to Relvas’ resignation.

Grândola, swarthy town*
Land of fraternity
It is the people who lead
Inside of you, oh city
Inside of you, oh city
It is the people who lead
Land of fraternity
Grândola, swarthy town
On each corner, a friend
In each face, equality
Grândola, swarthy town
Land of fraternity
Land of fraternity
Grândola, swarthy town
In each face, equality
It is the people who lead
In the shadow of a holm oak
Which no longer knew its age
I swore as my companion,
Grândola, your will
Grândola, your will
I swore as my companion
In the shadow of a holm oak
Which no longer knew its age

References

Barros, M. (2013, March 05). “Grandolar” ainda nao chegou a verbo. Retrieved from Publico

Infopedia. (n.d.). Grandolar. Retrieved from Infopedia – Enciclopedias e Dicionarios da Porto Editora

Saraiva, N. (2013, March 02). Muitas razões para ‘grandolar’. Retrieved from Diario de Noticias

The easy case for Open Access Science

The explosive development of communication technologies have made it impossible to continue ignoring the issue of access to scientific knowledge. The Open Access movement is pushing for the online distribution of free of charge academic papers, free as well of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The aim is to make scientific knowledge available to all to access and use regardless of economic power. This, of course, would benefit resource-poor institutions and countries (Noble, 2002) and lead to a democratization of scientific knowledge.

A great initiative in this movement has been the Budapest Open Access Initiative, created in 2002, and that counts with the support of 5770 individuals and 681 organizations (Budapest website).Their working framework is as follows:

“There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. By ‘open access to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.” (Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2002)

 This movement is clearly clashing with the academic publishing industry for whom paid access is a part of their business model. Even though it could be dismissed as a simple copyrights issue akin to that that is happening to the music or movie industry, there are indeed some specificities in the academic publishing model that set it apart (Suber, 2004)

For one, there is the point that most of scientific research is actually publicly funded by government subsidies, university stipendiums, etc. There has even been a struggle in the United States where directly taxed paid research has suffered attempts of being privatized by the publishing companies (Eisen, 2012). In this cases, the public are asked to pay for research that they had already paid for with their tax money  As Michael B. Eisen, founder of the Public Library of Science, puts it, open access could “send a powerful sign of gratitude to the taxpayers, on whose continued support our research depends” (Eisen, 2012).

The publishing industry defence is that they do add value to the final product and, as such, deserve an adequate compensation (Eisen, 2012). However, open access advocate professor Stevan Harnard of the University of Southampton pointed out that the peer-review process is actually performed on a voluntary basis by other scientists (Noble, 2002). One is left thinking that the only value added is reputation and server space.

Another big difference between the above mentioned creative industries and the academic publishing industries, is that most of the times researches are not paid to publish their work (Suber, 2004). Authors, unlike other artists, are willing to distribute their work for free as the academic sphere works mostly on research and university subsidies and that authors are highly motivated by peer review and recognition.

What is interesting about many of the open access movements like the Budapest Open Access Initiative is that they allow space for both types of academic publishing. This is not (at least not always) a struggle to destroy private academic publishing companies. In a way, this movement could be framed as striving for what already exists in European and US broadcasting where private companies co-exist with public companies such as the BBC or PBS (Suber, 2004). Now, this is not to say that open access models must be funded in the same way as public broadcasting. Instead, it simply points out to the democratic need for open access to scientific knowledge, limited only by access to the internet and the author’s consent.

In the end, Open Access seems to simply be in synch with the traditional scientific value of sharing of ideas and open discussion.

References

Budapest Open Access Initiative. (2002, February 14). Read the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Retrieved from Budapest Open Access Initiative: http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read

Eisen, M. B. (2012, January 10). Research Bought, Then Paid For. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/opinion/research-bought-then-paid-for.html?_r=2&

Noble, D. (2002, February 14). Boost for research paper access. Retrieved from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1818652.stm

Suber, P. (2004, December 29). Open Access Overview. Retrieved from Earlham College: http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

 

 

Social business versus social business model

Today I would like to explore the idea of social business. I believe that there is some confusion as to this term includes, especially in the differentiation between social business, as advocated by Muhammad Junus, and the social business model, made famous by the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Social business is a radically new term. It refers to social enterprises that take the form of an enterprise, a business. However, they subvert the concept by having a solely social benefit and dispensing with the logic of profit. Social business is run like a business, deploying business strategies but it does not work on a dividend basis, and all income (when possible) is reinvested into the business to make it more durable.

It is a refreshing theory as it tackles two issues at the same time. First, as Junus himself told the Economist, it is disproving the myth that there is only type of business and this business is solely guided by the idea of profit maximization.  

Simultaneously, it is a step forward for the social justice campaigning sector which thus far is dependent on subsidies and donations which keeps in constant need to search for funds, and makes it extremely dependent on external circumstances and actors.

The social business model, on the other hand, has more to with a new type of enterprise whereby the logic of profit is not questioned. It seems to me that this is more of a question of strategy which puts the social at the centre of the corporation. The main ideas behind this concept come from the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Noteworthy, is their conception of the conversational market. Whilst there is nothing especially wrong about this concept, one should quite careful not to confuse it with Junus’ social model. A belief that techno possibilities will make the world a better place (even is this is limited to the workings of business) is, at the very least, dangerous. And one could question to what extent this has been put into practice. Today’s biggest companies seem still have a social media strategy, not having become themselves a social businesses.

Digital Maps and Social Activism

In this short post, I want to review the way in which digital maps can be useful in social activism and campaigning. Way too frequently we hear (positive and negative) accounts of GoogleMaps role in today’s world but not so frequently do we hear about the how social activists have appropriated new mapping technologies.

Such developments are revolving around new Geographic Information Systems (GIS) which allowed both the maturing of ESRI, the leader of privately owned mapping software, and of open-source projects such as MapServer, PostGIS and GRASS GIS (The Economist, 2009). Still, one should not entirely discount the simplicity of use of both GoogleMaps and OpenStreetMaps.  The open source software are especially noteworthy as they have allowed resource-poor NGO’s and activists to access these developments.

Maps can be a great tool for acivists as they are a good way to present large and complicated data sets in such a way that creates an immediate response (Kreutz, 2009Pedersen, 2009The Economist, 2009). As Barbara Samuels, campaigner for fair housing at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland explained to the Economist, maps were useful for their campaign as they allowed them to ”show segregation in a way that talking about it doesn’t do” (The Economist, 2009). To sum it up, maps are useful because they ):

  • Lead to instant recognition
  • Create a feeling of proximity
  • Allow a visualization of different links between complex data
  • Create audience engagement

In the past few years, we have seen a multiple maps developed by social justice campaigners and, even though  their use is many times a form of creative appropriation,  Movement.org has categorized some methods which will be useful for campaigners testing out mapping.

One of such ways is tactical mapping which is great tool to monitor the implementation of a policy strategy or even the progression of human right abuses (Cullum, 2010). A great example is the (now famous) Tunisian Prison Map or the HarassMap Project.

af7a16554a13b12e6a_fhm6bh151

NGO’s and activists have also used crisis mapping in order to increase the efficiency and speed of responses to humanitarian emergencies. Crowdsourcing is a big part of these efforts as it often allows a quicker response. Here, Ushahidi have really become notorious as it has provided the technology that can easily be used in different crisis such as the Pakistanese flood or for the violence that succeeded the Kenyan elections.

Pakistanese

Lastly, we can point out to geo-mapping and data collection whereby invisible data is made visible. In other words,  by using new mapping technologies activists can expose problem areas that have been ignored or understudied. A great example is the mapping of Kibera, a Kenyan slum that was not included in regular maps.

However, we should keep a healthy dose of skepticism towards overtly optimist perspectives about maptivism. John Kim, campaigner for Health City, is right in pointing out that “maps don’t change the world – but people who use maps do” (The Economist, 2009). Still, we should also remember that, just like all other communication tools available , the use of digital maps will always depend on the cause, its audience and objectives. Sometimes, a map can simply be a waste of time or even create further confusion. But sometimes it is the simplest way of showing a problem.

References

Cullum, B. (2010, September 29). Maptivism: Mapping Information For Advocacy and Activism. Retrieved from Movements.org

Kreutz, C. (2009, September 14). Maptivism: Maps for activism, transparency and engagement. Retrieved from Criss Crossed

Pedersen, A. (2009, July 26). Geomapping Making Invisible Data Visible. Retrieved from Slideshare

The Economist. (2009, June 4). Mapping a Better World. Retrieved from The Economist