The arena of protest and the rebirth of place – a localization of political participation after networks or: how to become a 1-Click social activist

Early Stage Researchers Colloquium of Internet and society of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Berlin, Nov 21, 2013

The paper reconsiders the category of space for the forms of political protest, arguing that there is a correlation between the transformation of social interaction and the current turn of the notion of „place“ through location-based media. Until today postmodern media theory has largely neglected the concept of place. In the network society, information is rather described as a constant flow which is not just simultaneously available (in time), but also everywhere (in space). The innovations of the web 2.0 have henceforward been accompanied by a topos, that separates spatial movement from the human body – today mobile and ubiquitous computing seem to correspond to an „Esthétique de la disparition“ (Virilio).

Arguing against the idea of the everywhere-ideology of the „global village“ (McLuhan) the paper locates the arena of online protest: it points out, that the political actors of a digital society do not simply consist of virtual masses of protesting avatars, slacktivists or followers and that their actions do not only involve likes, DoS-attacks or one-click donations but that the development from the isolated mass media spectator to the post media networker of tactical technology integrates virtual and real forms of political participation. Accordingly the assumption is, that the forms of political protest dissociate from the concept of the virtual, while our interaction with and through digital technology becomes increasingly socially integrated and spatially contingent. On the basis of use-cases of online protest the paper examines both the loss of individual autonomy as well as of the benefit of collective agency by showing how social media does not just virtualise the places of the political but renegotiates the imagination and representation of place.

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