Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Global Social Movements: Does the collective activist exist?

Globalization and glocalization have created and continue to foster decentralized networks around the world. The readings this week exemplify this phenomenon. There were a few points that I found to be exceptionally interesting. Manuel Castells, in his article, “The Mobile Civil Society: Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks”, states, “new avenues are open for autonomous processes of social and political mobilization that do not rely on formal politics and do no depend on their framing in the mass media”. These new avenues come in the form of ICTs- the Internet, SMS text messaging, instant messaging, social networking (in the form of Facebook and Twitter), and blogging. Castells uses examples from different countries to illuminate the differences of the impact of ICTs on social and political activism. As I was reading this, I noticed the vast differences in the case studies he selected. My only quam with this article is that each one of these places has vast social and political histories that greatly influence the success or failure of ICT diffusion for activism. These examples bring to light the varying levels of development internationally and depict the multiplexity and complexity of networks at the local, national, and global levels.

Jeffery Juris in his article, “Network social movements: global movements for global justice” argues that activists think of themselves as belonging to global movements, linking local protests to a greater global struggle. This raises questions of the collective global experience in pursuit of justice. Superficially, grassroots activists could be cognizant of their impact globally, but I think that local cultural values, and economic and political histories complicate the notion of the collective global activist given the examples sited in Castells’ article. Furthermore, Bennett also postulates about the collective identity that emerges from movement networks. He articulates, “individual activists are more able to identify with the experiences of the “other” classes, causes, cultures, and places.” If this is true, can ht idea of the global activist exist? Won’t there always have to be an “other” to compare against.

Castells mentions the March 11, 2004 Al Qaeda attacks on three suburban trains in Madrid, Spain. He discusses the political and social implications of the government’s control of information. The attacks were orchestrated with the use of low-cost prepaid phones. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain in the spring of 2007. Everyone from my program was instructed to buy one of these prepaid phones to be able to keep in touch with one another since we were sprawled across the city. I just recently went back to Spain this past summer to spend sometime with my grandparents who live in Valencia. When I got there, I found that I was unable to use my prepaid phone because the government had passed a law stating that all cell phones (regardless of the plan type) must be registered through their mobile carrier. My understanding of this law is that it would allow carriers and the government greater access to monitor cell phone use, particularly for maintaining national security. I, of course, registered my phone. This, too, also raises questions like if the government of Spain was willing to withhold information for the sake of a political party, what kind of Big Brother tactics are they employing? How much power is too much? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for national security but where is the line and is the line moving with the pace of globalization?

I found the readings to be enlightening containing fun IC jargon such as culture jamming, memes, and netwars, but also filled with compelling examples to illustrate the impacts of ICT diffusion to spark social and political change. These readings show that ICT use can do great things for having dissonant voices heard, but in the process, it also raise many compelling questions.

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