Materiality, Publicness and Digital Media
The rapid development of social media platforms is affecting public communication and mobilization around contentious issues. The series of workshops on ‘Trajectories of Publicness and Contestation’ traces these developments along three axes: temporality, materiality and spatiality. This second workshop in the series focuses on materiality, aiming to explore and theorize how popular protests are articulated through particular technologies and material settings (ranging from face-to-face communication to global social platforms), which ‘mediate’ how these protests take shape. To pursue this exploration, the workshop brings together scholars from different disciplines and approaches, including media studies, political science, geography, science and technology studies, anthropology, and sociology.
Building on the work done in these fields, we would like to interrogate the specific material characteristics of the different types of actors involved in contemporary protest. Starting with online platforms, we are interested in the materiality of software, in the form of algorithms, user and application programming interfaces, and (meta-)data. Closely related to this is the hardware of digital communication, ranging from devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) to infrastructures (mobile telephone masts, wifi hotspots, internet servers). In turn, we intend to focus attention on the protesters’ bodies, which have become inextricably entangled with the digital. In recent protests, the body has taken on a renewed symbolic significance in contestation through acts of self-immolation, nude activism, hunger strikes, and physical occupations, incessantly communicated through online platforms. Similar observations can be made regarding protest sites -occupied streets, squares, and buildings-, as well as protest objects -tents, banners, pamphlets, umbrellas, etc.-, which are both media and mediated protest symbols.
The larger challenge of the workshop is to explore and theorize how these different types of actors mutually articulate each other in protest activity. Taking our cue from actor-network theory, we suggest that actors and agency should not be studied in isolation, but as enabled and shaped by the connections between them. Thus, the objective is to situate online platforms in the heterogeneous networks that make up today’s protest configurations or assemblages.
Taking up this challenge, participants may address the following questions:
- What different media assemblages of software, hardware, bodies, sites and objects can we trace in contemporary protest? What are the relationships between them, particularly as they emerge in the practices and cultures of the protesters who use them?
- How do such material configurations affect processes of mobilization, decision-making and collective identity-building in contentious politics? How do they shape the ways in which participants in contentious politics pursue their goals and engage with their opponents?
- How does the body become a site of protest through digital mediation? And how does the body together with other material resources, including digital platforms, technological infrastructures, physical places and objects, affect the power dynamics of contentious politics? What new divides and exclusions can we identify?
- How do protesters act through and manipulate media infrastructures that are developed and managed by global corporations? What efforts are made to create autonomous digital infrastructures, and how successful are these?
- And finally, what are the methodological potentials and challenges of interrogating the materiality of digital media in connection with other types of actors in contentious politics?
For more information contact Thomas Poell (Poell@uva.nl).
This workshop is financed by the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies of the University of Amsterdam. The ‘Trajectories of Publicness and Contestation’ series as a whole is developed in collaboration with the STINT funded collaborative project entitled Advancing Social Media Studies, involving Umeå University¹s Digital Social Research Unit (DIGSUM) and HUMlab, as well as the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research Institute and Centre for Social Media Research.
- Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam, firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Anastasia Kavada (University of Westminster, email@example.com)
- Samuel Merrill (Umeå University, firstname.lastname@example.org)
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