Monday, April 13, 2009

theory update

This post is just to try to introduce/clarify one major run of theory that I intend to employ in my paper for this course, and to explore beyond that in a subsequent revision/expansion I'm planning for after this tight time of deadlines (i.e. to expand the paper I will be handing in to incorporate more than can slide into the 20pp limit). As the idea of this blog is to get out the material intended for paper construction (and a lot more in practice, I think!) I do want to put this out there - I realize that I've been neglecting my blogging of late(doesn't help spending a time at my aunt's, where net access is tricky), and haven't squared up far too many loose ends!

Basically, this particular run of theory relates to Lewis Call's (2003) notion of 'postmodern anarchism', as described in previous posts. This idea links the political thought and expression of some strains of anarchism (demonstrated, for example, by some of the more 'poetic' texts translated on some blogs, and more generally with the idea of discursive contestation and resistance to the spatio-temporal foreclosure of struggle or rebellion as 'event') with a more general social trend in the presentation, reception and manipulation (non-pejorative sense) of information - in line with what I've described in previous posts as 'laterality'. Indeed, this run may speak to Dr. Forte's question of whether there is something about the infrastructure, use and culture of online communications that makes anarchism a more tenable or attractive political ideal (or label). In part, at least in Call's analysis, hypertextuality contributes to a relative pluralization, destabilization and possible democratization of the claims to 'truth' in defining the social, power dynamics, and lived experience - not to mention in describing particular aspects of refusal and resistance, and 'events' such as those cast under the rubric of the Greek uprising.

One of the first texts I read in January was the short piece on 'virtualities' by Rob Shields, and I've subsequently picked up his book ('Virtualities', 2003) - which I will employ as a helpful supplement to Call's ideas, essentially mobilizing the notion of the 'virtual' set out in that initial two-page piece (as the real-ideal, but opposed to the concrete). This notion, which I won't treat in depth here, and which will enter my paper in a trimmed form, posits the virtual as a necessary philosophico-theoretical category in describing the possible impact of social (or activist) imaginaries on the unfolding actualization of events. I think that this is a very pertinent consideration, displacing critiques of ideas (such as those of anarchists) as 'merely utopian' and emphasizing the action of the ideal on the real in social processes (as is also discussed, for example, by Derrida)...

I also noticed that a number of texts from Greek collectives translated on some sites, and indeed some of the anarchist or 'social antagonist' textual productions coming out of Europe more generally, frequently refer to 'the spectacle' as an important element of contemporary capitalist social arrangements and a target for resistance. While I'm not comfortable reducing this idea to a single historical text, I think it is useful to consider this in light of Guy Debord's (1983 [orig.1967]) 'Society of the Spectacle', in which he describes the spectacle as a social relation mediated by images, and remarks on the commoditization of time (and leisure experience in particular), the supercession of lived experience and 'authentic' life. Debord's dialectical project, he writes, use existing concepts "simultaneously aware of their rediscovered fluidity, their necessary destruction (205)."

Call places Debord's Situationism along a theoretical trajectory towards Baudrillard's notion of simulation, and the need to take resistance off the plane of the language of political economy and into the realm of symbolic contestation (it's not just about distributative justice; welfare reform and more jobs are not the gift that heals the rift), battling for the boundaries of the spatio-temporal 'actuality' (by contesting the spectacular representation of society to itself and emphasizing the 'virtual' as potentially-actual) . This is where Shield's strikes me as highly pertinent...

Indeed, Shields notes that sociology - and other 'social sciences' - deal in 'virtuality' when claims are made about 'underlying' social processes (as these are not articulable mechanisms, but posited dynamics 'in essence, if not in fact' - a tendency common from folk wisdom about human nature to high-level economic planning and the legitimating discourses of dominant institutions).

Coming back to the question of whether there is something about online arena's that might foster some version(s) of anarchism as a political orientation, it's worth noting that Shield's discussion includes the following quote from M. Poster:

"the history of electronic communication is less the evolution of of technical efficiencies in communication than a series of arenas for negotiating issues crucial to the conduct social life; among them, who is inside and who is outside, who may speak, who may not, and who has the authority and may be believed" (quoted in Shields 2003: 16).

This clearly reflects the kinds of issues concerning Uri Gordon's (2007, 2008) 'contemporary anarchists', and is clearly a point of contention with regard to independent information sources (such as some of the more interesting blogs, news postings and discussion board contributors addressing the Greek uprising and ongoing situation). I would argue that, in some ways, this could be seen as an extension of a legthy process such as that which Walter Benjamin already glimpsed in the early 1930s in newspapers' attempts to assimilate readers by raising them to the level of 'collaborators': "the conventional distinction between author and public [...] is dissapearing in a socially desirable way. The reader is at all times ready to become a writer - that is, a describer or even a prescriber" (Benjamin 2008: 359). Geert Lovink (2008) argues that blogging often tends to be parasitic of the mainstream, and discussion focuses on whether bloggers (or 'citizen journalists,' etc. are competent journalists or reasonable commentators) - and clearly this is important in many ways (see 'Does the Truth matter?' post, below), but the project of contestation and flattening out of hierarchical relations in the ability to disseminate/receive information is perhaps more clearly visible in the case of some of the online treatments of the Greek situation I've been looking at. The very terms of contestation, in many cases, are radically different, and in some, definitely not those of political economy...

This is perhaps a rough and disjointed rundown, but time is drawing nigh; I'll clean it up in post-production.


Benjamin, Walter. 2008. The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility [...]

Call, Lewis. 2003. Postmodern Anarchism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Debord, Guy. 1983. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red.

Lovink, Geert. 2008. Zero Comments: blogging and critical internet culture. London: Routledge.

Shields, Rob. 2003. The virtual. London; New York: Routledge.

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