This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Activism, Ideology and Telecommunications

Bernadette Corporation, "Get Rid of Yourself", 2003, digital video, 61 min. Via artist's website.
Bernadette Corporation, Get Rid of Yourself, 2003, digital video, 61 min. Via artist's website.

Web 2.0 Activism Case Studies
7:30 - 10:30 PM Wednesday 17 December 2008
The Change You Want To See - 84 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn NY

Responding to October's questionnaire on art and politics (October 123, Winter 2008) issued earlier this year, Gregory Sholette reflected on a situation in which the landscape of social resistance movements has dramatically changed since the New Left consolidated much of its political and critical momentum in the mid and late 60s. With the dismissal of ideology critique as both a tool for social cohesion among political actors and as a foundation upon which to develop criticisms of emergent or operative power, the social, in a sense, has experienced a rupture whose intricate legacy might be reduced to what Sholette describes as "issue-oriented" activism, frequently carried under the auspices of individual NGOs and interest groups. In its wake, the movements drifting away from ideology critique develop any number of approaches to political subjecthood perhaps more sensitive to the particularities of race, gender, class and other identity-oriented concerns, but likewise -- and often -- susceptible to concessions and diminishing ambitions in the work towards social transformation. Ideology critique today remains a specter haunting the work of committed leftist critics when they're writing or organizing, occasionally materializing in popular texts such as Naomi Klein's recent and widely popular Shock Doctrine, in which the foundational principles of global capitalism are revealed to be operating at the core of the mechanisms that catalyzed the United States' illegal war on Iraq, the war on terror and other clustered and related programs and active projections of power.

By what means then are contemporary activists made into cohesive organizations, networks and bodies? Sholette suggests that it is, among other things, information technology rather than ideology that collectivizes these political actors today. Risking, perhaps, leading the horse by the carriage, we affirm technology's role in this process with even a cursory backwards glance at the recent past. We need look no further than the enthusiastic (if essentially failed) oppositional response to the 2003 war on Iraq in New York and other major urban centers around the world for proof of the paramount role that certain enabling telecommunications technologies played in forming coherent multitudes of resistors. Likewise the recent hard-won victory of the Obama campaign too, organized a popular mass with the non-ideology of a vague message ("change") and the robust scale of its new media organizing apparatus.

Tonight at The Change You Want To See in Williamsburg, Nathan Freitas, Deanna Zandt and Nancy Scola will present a discussion on "Web 2.0 activism case studies", examining a loosely defined set of technologies and their use by those working for social and political change. The talk will be certainly welcome in a milieu when the apex of hope for the sophisticated telecommunications technologies regularly available to most Americans so often seems like either low-overhead neoliberal entrepreneurship or extensive projects of self expression via personal media production and publishing tools -- a "socialism of the self," or "in one person," perhaps the most reactionary of the Web's popular values today.