Grab ’em by the history!

Before I started writing this article, I finished reading the work of Marxist feminist and theorist Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004). Inspired by Shakespeare´s The Tempest, it is a history of the body in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Federici shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labor power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization.

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Memes: Can We Take Them Seriously?

Humor as a political weapon – The phenomenon of memes 

The term “meme” was introduced by biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976). As part of his larger effort to apply evolutionary theory to cultural change, Dawkins defined memes as small cultural units of transmission, analogous to genes, that spread from person to person by copying or imitation.

Internet memes can be treated as (post)modern folklore, in which shared norms and values are constructed through cultural artifacts such as photoshopped images or urban legends. Lynne S. McNeill

According to Shifman, what Internet users seemed to have grasped—and Richard Dawkins couldn’t have imagined back in 1976—is that the meme is the best concept to encapsulate some of the most fundamental aspects of the Internet. Three main attributes ascribed to memes are particularly relevant to the analysis of contemporary digital culture: 

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Curbing New Media Activism in Closing Civil Society Space

Social media use has transformed the way activists work and can be considered an integral part of the networked public sphere (Castells 2012; Tufekci 2017). New media and ICTs are central to the way activists raise awareness, challenge governments and mobilise supporters, although the actual impact of digital media may be overstated (Guo & Saxton 2013; Denskus & Esser 2013). Governments have also incorporated new media and ICTs into their strategies and often have far greater resources, the ability to dominate commonly used platforms, and access to internet and telecoms infrastructure.

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Is Artistic Activism Changing the World?

Think of the short youtube video clip by the political art group Pussy Riot or the brave Mexican artists who have been standing naked in public to protest student killings. What differs artistic activism from regular activism? And how is social media playing a role in the link between artist and activism?

As the name implies, activism is an act of changing and challenging power relations. In basic terms, its target is action to create an effect. On the other hand, art does distinct work in the world.

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The Handmaid’s Tale-Inspired Protests

Mass media might be enormously persuasive, but people’s principal main way to engage with mass media is passive receptive. According to Leah A. Lievrouw (2011), exposure to or reception of a message might or might not provoke a receiver to act. 

Pro-choice supporters at a Rosa rally in Londonderry, Northern Ireland

One recent message that has made a powerful impact is The Handmaid’s Tale, which has inspired protests because it does not merely contribute content to a demonstration, it has become a symbol of resistance. People all over the world are wearing red cloaks and white bonnets to protest various injustices, particularly regarding women’s rights. 

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World Habitat Day in Cambodia: When Clearing Garbage is Political Dissent

World Habitat Day (WHD) is a significant date on the calendar of many activist groups, grassroots communities, and NGOs around the world. It falls each year on the first Monday of October and acts as a focus for protests and advocacy for the right to decent housing.

The UN describes it as a day to “reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter”. Unfortunately, the UN’s claim, that WHD “also reminds us we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns” does not ring true in many parts of the globe.

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Social Media Activism in Repressive Environments

One of the most prominent scholars of the Internet, Manuel Castells, explains in a speech on @vilaweb that the Internet is a place where the “fearful” of the world should overcome their fear and bond to fight against the power structures. He continues that this overcoming is possible because people lose a sense of solitude. As a consequence, the aggregative and communicative power of Internet can turn into a transformative power (e.g. #blacklivematters). But how can the civil society become stronger vis-à-vis the state? And what online strategies do political regimes use against dissident social movements?

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From the Glossy Surfaces of Women’s Magazines to Humanitarian Activism

Internet culture is constantly changing. Nowadays, in contrast to traditional protest methods, a click is enough to be part of a movement, support it, and make it viral. Many organizations invite us to support causes we might agree with. In this sense, we can all become activists. One of these organizations is the UN and its UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador initiative.

“The chance to make a real difference is not an opportunity that everyone is given and is one I have no intention of taking lightly. Women’s rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting. I still have so much to learn, but as I progress I hope to bring more of my individual knowledge, experience, and awareness to this role.” Emma Watson, a UN Goodwill ambassador.

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Setting the Scene: New Media Activism for Social Change

Welcome to our new blog!

Over the next six weeks, we will explore what we think are some of the most interesting themes in new media activism for social change.

Coming from different academic, professional and cultural backgrounds — and based in different parts of Europe and the world — we will bring different perspectives to the discussion. This blog will mix theory with reflections on practice. We will sound off about techno-utopianism, positive and negative aspects of new media activism and some of the top trending issues in the blogosphere —as well as covering glocal events that employ new media for social change (locally and globally) with varying degrees of success.

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