|A Critical View of Digital Networks and Social Movements
Activism on the Internet has often been seen as a key factor in consolidating instances of social unrest in examples ranging from the Zapatista movement to the Arab Spring, as well as protests in Venezuela, France, the United Kingdom, the Vivienda Digna movement and Indignados in Spain, Occupy, etc. Scholars and activists have provided both thoughtful insights and simplistic readings either overemphasizing the role played by digital networks (technological determinism) or downplaying their importance in relation to citizen participation.
In spite of the increasing number of articles and books dealing with the link between social movements and communication technologies, it still seems relevant to further this line of enquiry, questioning critically both positions which resist change as well as those which foreground the role of digital networks as the avant-garde and origin of each contemporary process of social transformation; the aim is to look seriously into the chances and threats brought about by the use of communication technologies. Research is needed in order to review the “digital revolution” as a sort of degree zero concept, which sidesteps social, political and cultural structures still relevant in today´s world.
In line with previous issues and with the general interests of research group COMPOLITICAS over the last few years, the current issue of Redes.com deals with the subject of digital networks and social movements from a double perspective.
First, it acknowledges the fact that the Internet and technological advances are transforming the landscape of communication practices, drawing up a new media ecosystem where new and old media coexist with a number of subjective and social practices.
Also, it looks to contribute theoretically to the understanding and to the transformation of reality. In line with Marxist and critical views in general, positions which depart from the acknowledgment of research interests and motivations are seen as fostering a deeper objectivity by virtue of recognizing the researcher´s role in a social world in which he/she projects ideas and opinions. Research about and with social movements goes beyond data accumulation in order to propose complex practices and socially transformative strategies with the aim of improving people´s lives, freedom and democracy.
The current issue of Redes.com aspires to tackle the reality of new media and, from a communication studies perspective, also to promote greater understanding and a better use of technological advances with a view to foster social, emancipatory practices within civil society and social movements.
With this in mind, we welcome academic contributions which inquiry critically into the relationship between social movements, Internet and new media along the following working lines and research questions. Topics include:
Technological sovereignty. The emancipatory potential of communication technologies often clashes with the interest of big corporations and with nation-state control via legislation; elements which greatly affect lines of development. Social movements, on the contrary, use technology in two distinct ways: disruptive use of alien technologies and the creation of autonomous, innovative projects. Which are therefore the risks of using technology not owned by the movement? Which specifics threats are posed by surveillance on behalf of governments and technological corporations? Which challenges, opportunities and limitations can be identified in autonomous uses of technology by the social movements?
Cyberactivism. Social movements have enriched their traditional confrontation repertoire; they combine virtually organized and public space actions, foregrounding dynamics which give great importance to social emotions. The Internet is not only seen as a tool for action, but also as the field of struggle and as a political claim which guides collective action. Which are the real actions in virtual spaces? How are struggles complemented in the field? How does classic and virtual activism relate to each other? Which emotions determine collective action?
Mobile Activism. Mobile technology has gone beyond computer screens in an effort to secure permanent connectivity and access. Communication systems such as SMS have played a pivotal role when it comes to democratic control in places such as Kenya or Zimbabwe; it promotes empowerment and transparency and is also able to escape censorship as it stimulates micro-coordination among social movements. What does mobility contribute to cyberactivism? How do different technologies relate to each other? Which uses does permanent, mobile connectivity foster?
Virtual and physical sociability. Social movements generate hybrid spaces, both in virtual and physical realms, where activists are socialized. Each of these spaces displays advantages and limitations when it comes to participation, debate and decision-making. How the virtual and the physical interact is a permanent subject of debate within the social movements themselves. How can we identify advantages and limitations within these spaces in terms of action, discussion and participation? How do these spaces complement each other? Can complete sociability be achieved in the virtual space of the networks?
Digital democracy. Internet cannot only be conceived as a tool within a wider struggle for social change; its role as a symbol of new forms of participation and social organization is also paramount. While the representative democracy deems direct participation and extended debate unfeasible, Internet allows horizontal communication on a mass-scale (massive self-communication in the words of Manuel Castells), opening a line of thought which questions the inevitability of representation. How can communication technologies articulate and widen participation in order to improve democracy? Which are the threats involved in digital participation? How can representative and direct models complement each other?
Digital cultura and social movements. Network culture, its terminology, memes and myths pervade political action within social movements. The latter foreground cultural frameworks which originate on the Net and respond to specific values. Anonymous masks, open-source manifestos and slogans such as “Error 404: Democracy not found”, “System Failiure” or “La Caixa is Mordor” illustrate the extent to which network cultures (hacker ethos, freak culture) influence symbolic dimensions within social movements.
Media on the Internet. Internet remains overall a complex ecosystem where conventional media and users interact in complex ways. Digital media such as Periodismo Humano or Indymedia reinforce the role played by alternative papers (Diagonal) or give birth to new ones (Madrid 15M); the networks also foster debate based on the contents of blogs and conventional media (Meneamé) and allow traditional media in crisis to develop projects where journalists look for their independence through initiatives such as La Marea. How does conventional media and new media relate to each other? Do mainstream media still set the agenda and dominate public discourse? To what extent can new media influence public opinion? Which role does traditional journalism play in relation to citizen journalism?
Redes.com also calls for contributions to its "Estudios" section. This section is ideally suited for early-career researchers. Contents might include research reports, papers or excerpts from PhD theses, as well as scientific accounts of research initiatives and projects on a variety of subjects within communication studies from a transformative perspective.
Supervisor: José Candón Mena (US, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Coordinator for the “Estudios” section: David Montero (US, email@example.com)
Call for paper opens on April, 20th 2013
Call for papers deadline: July, 15th 2013Guidelines for submission and reception of articles: http://revista-redes.com/index.php/revista-redes/about/submissions