Assemblages of Resistance: Network Politics paper (finally)

Dan McQuillan and I presented a paper at Anglia Ruskin’s Network Politics’ conference in Cambridge last May.

I’ve been meaning to sort out getting this paper up for a while but never really found the time to edit/tweak/revise it so just figured I’d post it anyway!

Assemblages of Resistance: new media, old technology and the Egyptian Uprising

It’s very image-led so I heartily recommend consulting the slide notes or this blog post while you review.

In summary, we were interested in the notion of assemblages that draw together material objects/forces as well as communicative components in a fluid network. Our argument addressed the conference’s question of whether the emergence of distinct, proprietary platforms (e.g. Facebook; apps; etc) are undermining the web’s political potential.

We believed that assemblages provide a conceptual framework for accounting for radical ways to circumvent and route around attempts to lock down the web as a networked space. Perhaps more radically, we asserted that the web isn’t just an immaterial networked space but that it’s also imbued with physical effects – from technological infrastructure, hardware to human capacity and material resources.

Articulating this hypothesis we used some good empirical data and insights that Dan had gathered from the Egyptian #jan25 uprising and internet shutdown. We tried to highlight how multiple components – people, technology (crucially, both ‘new media’ such as twitter as well as old media such as ham radio, faxes, etc) and material objects (rocks; lamposts; space; etc) – were assembled to act as a radical, revolutionary assemblage – or more accurately, a network of assemblages.

Importantly, such assemblages contain within them – and exude – a radical potential. This radical potential is firstly that assemblages resist attempts to curtail them (e.g. the Internet shut-down didn’t stop the revolution, merely prompted different arrangements of components within the assemblage(s)) and secondly, that as the effects of fluid (re)assembling of multiple material and immaterial components are based on their capacity to become something when combined with other elements in the assemblage the outcome can never be known beforehand, thus making attempts to predict and put a stop to the revolution near impossible. Still with me?

Finally, we seek to learn from the Egyptian Uprising case study and articulate a way of using assemblages not only as a conceptual framework, but as a pedagogical one too. We do this by turning to the pedagogy of Paulo Freire who argued for a praxis-based learning rooted in experimentalism – the sought we identified being assembled in Tahrir Square. Dan brings this point to life using other examples he has been involved in, such as Social Innovation Camp and The Good Gym, and demonstrates how such approaches not only offer a radical resistance to authoritarian ways of thinking and doing, but also provide a productive route out of the totalising and seemingly inescapable spaces and practices – both in Egypt and the UK.

At least, that’s how I remember the paper coming together. It might have been nothing like that. Why not take a look at the Slideshare above and find out! You can find the original abstract here to make sure I’m fibbing :)

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