Networking Futures

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Book: Jeffrey Juris. Networking Futures: The Movements Against Corporate Globalization. Duke University Press, 2008

URL = http://www.networkingfutures.com/home.html

Geert Lovink called it the bible for autonomous movements.

Review

Vince Carducci:

"Juris’ book is a result of nearly a decade’s research on the various movements for alternative globalization, from their first emergence in the public eye during the Battle of Seattle in 1999 to last year’s US Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. There are stops in between in Barcelona, Prague, and Porto Alegre, Brazil. The author, a 2004 PhD and now assistant professor of anthropology at Arizona State University, didn’t just observe his research field, he lived in the middle of it, squatting with activists in Europe and taking part in hundreds of meetings and discussion groups as well as many of the major alt-globalization actions of recent years.

The view Juris offers is more in-depth than has been generally reported even by sympathetic journalists such as Naomi Klein, whose book Fences and Windows covers a lot of the same territory but with less detail. Basically an academic text, the book also puts a conceptual framework around the events and interactions in which Juris participated to explain their significance.

A major theme that emerges is how digital network technology reinforces certain social norms and political forms of the alt-globalization movements. The spoke-and-hub architecture of online networks, for example, mirrors a political organizational structure in which individual groups retain their autonomy but communicate with one another to coordinate their actions. That horizontal hierarchy, in which no one node is essentially “in charge”, also reflects the egalitarian culture new social movements espouse. There’s also the fact that alt-globalization doesn’t reject globalization per se, but the way it’s evolving under transnational corporate rule, and so it fittingly turns the information-processing and telecommunications tools of global capital against itself, much in the way that the literacy that indoctrinated colonized peoples into Christianity through studying the Bible also permitted them to read the The Communist Manifesto and thereby come up with liberation theology.

...

Juris has no qualms about his dual identities as both as observer and participant, researcher and activist. In fact, he asserts that ‘going native’ is the only way to really get what alt-globalization is all about. Physically joining in on protest actions, feeling the sting of tear gas, being overcome by fear of the police truncheon about to come down, but also the exhilaration of collective contagion and feelings of group solidarity is an essential part of documenting these new social movements as they are in the making.

A good portion of the book is taken up reporting field research. There’s a chapter on the aesthetics of direct-action protests, laying out the color coding of different march columns in which various positions are organized—white overalls and padding for civil disobedience where some police retaliation is presumed, pink and silver for frivolity and festivalism, symbolic, unruly play set in contrast to buttoned-up official ‘business as usual’ of the transnational suits, black bloc for militant action, including calculated property damage, primarily against corporate targets, etc. Another chapter maps out various alt-globalization constituencies—the ‘institutional’ wing comprising progressive political parties and trade unions, the ‘critical’ sector of non-governmental organizations, the ‘network-based’ units of direct democracy, such as the Movement for Global Resistance and Peoples’ Global Action, and ‘autonomous’ elements, including squatters and indigenous peoples’ groups.

These mappings are augmented by reports of actions in which Juris took part, from the heady days of Seattle, Barcelona, and Prague to the terror of Genoa and the discontent in its aftermath. There’s also a bit of history, tracing alt-globalization to the grassroots, peasant, and indigenous peoples’ movements in the 1970s in the Global South, especially Latin America, the first region to be subjected to the then new ideology of neoliberalism as Milton Friedman and his wrecking crew ‘adjusted’ Chile’s economy after ‘Little September 11’ (the date in 1973 when dictator Augusto Pinochet assumed power in a military coup d’etat that ended in the death of popularly elected president Salvador Allende). This history, while generally well told, could have given a little more attention to Northern unionists, who actually accounted for some two-thirds of the protestors on the street in Seattle.

While his book is sympathetic to its subject, Juris does offer criticism and correctives. He points out, for example, the Eurocentric bias of some alt-globalization groups, who by virtue of access to financial, technological, and cultural resources are positioned to set and manage the global agenda on behalf of not-so-fortunate others who actually constitute the vast majority. (Half the planet’s population has never received a telephone call let alone downloaded files from the so-called World Wide Web.) He also acknowledges the limitations of informal networks of organization and communication, which reinforce egalitarian ideals but lead to instability that may hamper long-term effectiveness. Then there’s the question of political legitimacy, which democratically elected governments ostensibly have and self-appointed counter-forces outside the system arguably don’t. (Although if the will of the people were truly being done, the United States would likely have been out of Iraq long ago and Bush and Cheney may well have been deposed by now.)

At several points, Juris credits alt-globalization with achieving ‘symbolic’ victory in its struggle against transnational capital. But that begs the question as to what has been tangibly accomplished. It’s true as Nobel Laureate and former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz says that the alt-globalization movements do appear to have succeeded in putting certain issues on the table, although one can well argue that so far talk has been cheap. Resistance in South America has been more concretely bolstered by the electoral mandate of several progressive governments who are refusing go along lock, stock, and barrel with the neoliberal transnational agenda. Capitalism in the United States seems to be doing a pretty good job of bringing itself to its knees through the cupidity, venality, and hubris of its own agents, without the help of outside activists. What’s known as the Doha round of free trade negotiations collapsed this summer not because of the alt-globalization movements but because the two biggest parties, India and China, wouldn’t submit to the rules of a game they saw as rigged against them (a clear example of God blessing the child that’s got its own).

The force of Juris’ close-up perspective needs to be set alongside an understanding of the dark side’s structural apparatus to make clear just what it is the alt-globalization movements are up against. Naomi Klein’s most recent book The Shock Doctrine is a timely place to start, although I recommend David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism and William Robinson’s Theory of Global Capitalism as more substantial yet still readable. That noted, Networking Futures stands as a pioneering document of what may yet prove to be a new new world order. That makes it important enough for me." (http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/62311/networking-futures-by-jeffrey-s-juris/)


Interview

Geert Lovink has conducted an extensive interview with the author:

"As I point out in Networking Futures, there is nothing particularly liberatory or progressive about networks. As Castells and Hardt & Negri show, decentralized networks are characteristic of post-fordist modes of capital accumulation generally, while terror, crime, military, and police outfits increasingly operate as transnational networks as well (see Luis Fernandez? fantastic new book about police networks, ?Policing Dissent?). What is unique about radical activist networking, however, is not only how such practices are used in the context of mass movements for social, economic, and environmental justice, but also the way radical activists project their egalitarian values- flat hierarchies, horizontal relations, and decentralized coordination, etc.- back onto network technologies and forms themselves. It is this contingent confluence that makes certain activist networking practices radical, not the use of specific kinds of technologies per se." (http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/geert/inside-networked-movements-interview-with-jeffrey-juris/)


Excerpts

From the introductory chapter:


On Barcelona as a hub:

"This book explores emerging norms, forms, and technologies within anti– corporate globalization movements based in Barcelona. Since November 30, 1999, when fifty thousand protesters converged on Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization (wto) meetings, anti–corporate globalization activists have organized protests against multilateral institutions in cities such as Prague, Barcelona, Genoa, Quito, and Cancún. Barcelona has emerged as a critical node, as Catalans have played key roles within the anarchist-inspired Peoples’ Global Action (pga) and the World Social Forum (wsf) process, both of which unite diverse movements in opposition to corporate globalization. Anti–corporate globalization movements involve an increasing confluence among network technologies, organizational forms, and political norms, mediated by concrete networking practices and micropolitical struggles. Activists are thus not only responding to growing poverty, inequality, and enintroduction vironmental devastation; they are also generating social laboratories for the production of alternative democratic values, discourses, and practices."


On Seattle as a transformation event:

"I never imagined the intense feelings of power, freedom, and solidarity I would experience on the streets of Seattle. When the wto meetings were delayed and a major police riot broke out, I knew something big was happening. That was when I decided to study this emerging global phenomenon ethnographically.

Over the next few years, anti–corporate globalization activism would spread around the world as the local and regional networks we built during the protests in Seattle increasingly used digital technologies to communicate with activists in other countries. Computer-supported networks, including activist media projects, Listservs, and websites, were mobilizing hundreds of thousands of protesters, constituting “transnational counterpublics” (Olesen 2005) for the diffusion of alternative information. Indeed, media activism and digital networking more generally had become critical features of a transnational network of movements against corporate globalization, involving what Peter Waterman (1998) calls a “communications internationalism.” Moreover, emerging networking logics were changing how grassroots movements organize, and were inspiring new utopian imaginaries involving directly democratic models of social, economic, and political organization coordinated at local, regional, and global scales."


On networks as practices, not objects:

"It seemed that if activists wanted to create sustainable movements, it was important to learn how newly emerging digitally powered networks operate and how periodic mass actions might lead to long-term social transformation. After several days, I finally realized what should have been apparent all along: my focus was not really a specific network, but rather the concrete practices through which such networks are constituted. Indeed, contemporary activist networks are fluid processes, not rigid structures. I would thus conduct an ethnographic study of transnational networking practices and the broader cultural logics, shaped by ongoing interactions with new digital technologies, that generate them. What is the cultural logic of networking, how is it distributed, and what kinds of resistances does it provoke? How do struggles over activist discourses, identities, strategies, and tactics constitute alternative networks within broader “movement fields” (Ray 1999)? How are activist networks embodied during mass actions, and to what extent have they made new struggles visible? How are networking logics expressed through experimentation with new digital technologies? Finally, what are the links among activist networking, political change, and social transformation? To answer these questions, I turned to the traditional craft of the anthropologist: long-term participant observation within and among activist networks themselves. Indeed, rather than studying activist networks as an object, I wanted to understand how they were built in practice, which meant becoming an active practitioner. My entry into these networks was facilitated by my past activist experience and my fluency in Spanish and Catalan. Over the next year and a half, I attended hundreds of meetings, protests, and gatherings and also took part in online discussions and forums. I lived the passion, excitement, and fear associated with direct-action protest, and the exhilaration and frustration of working with activists from such diverse backgrounds."


...


"This book outlines a practice-based approach to the study of networks, linking structure and practice to larger social, economic, and technological forces.20 I employ the term “cultural logic of networking” as a way to conceive the broad guiding principles, shaped by the logic of informational capitalism, that are internalized by activists and generate concrete networking practices.


Networking logics specifically entail an embedded and embodied set of social and cultural dispositions that orient actors toward

(1) the building of horizontal ties and connections among diverse autonomous elements,

(2) the free and open circulation of information,

(3) collaboration through decentralized coordination and consensus-based decision making, and

(4) self-directed networking.

At the same time, networking logics represent an ideal type. As we shall see, they are unevenly distributed in practice and always exist in dynamic tension with other competing logics, generating a complex “cultural politics of networking” within particular spheres. In what follows, I argue that anti–corporate globalization movements involve a growing confluence among networks as computer-supported infrastructure (technology), networks as organizational structure (form), and networks as political model (norm), mediated by concrete activist practice.

Computer networks provide the technological infrastructure for the emergence of transnational social movements, constituting arenas for the production and dissemination of activist discourses and practices. These networks are in turn produced and transformed by the discourses and practices circulating through them. Such communication flows follow distinct trajectories, reproducing existing networks or generating new formations. Contemporary social movement networks are thus “self-reflexive” (Giddens 1991), constructed through communicative practice and struggle. Beyond social morphology, the network has also become a powerful cultural ideal, particularly among more radical activists, a guiding logic that provides a model of, and model for, emerging forms of directly democratic politics."


On prefigurative politics:


"this book is not about the politics of globalization. Rather, it explores emerging forms of organization among anti–corporate globalization movements, particularly in light of recent social, economic, and technological transformations. Although the activists explored in this book seek to influence contemporary political debates, they are also experimenting with new organizational and technological practices. In this sense, they enact a “dual politics” (Cohen and Arato 1992), intervening within dominant publics while generating decentralized network forms that “prefigure” the utopian worlds they are struggling to create. In the 1960s, the New Left was similarly committed to building nonhierarchical structures that were consonant with its egalitarian values (cf. Polletta 2002). Indeed, as Wini Breines (1989) puts it, “prefigurative politics was what was new about the New Left”. At the same time, while these experiments in direct democracy were often successful at the local level, they were limited in scale. The rise of new digital technologies has profoundly altered the social movement landscape. Activists can now link up directly with one another, communicating through global communications networks without the need for a central bureaucracy. In what follows, I examine how activists are building local, regional, and global networks that are both instrumental and prefigurative, facilitating concrete political interventions while reflecting activists’ emerging utopian ideals."

More Information

  1. Jeffrey Juris on Networking Futures
  2. Peoples Global Action