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<nettime> Inside Networked Movements: Interview with Jeffrey Juris
Geert Lovink on Fri, 10 Oct 2008 17:21:01 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Inside Networked Movements: Interview with Jeffrey Juris


Inside Networked Movements
Interview with Jeffrey Juris
By Geert Lovink

Jeffrey Juris wrote an excellent insiders? story about the ?other  
globalization? movement. Networking Futures is an anthropological  
account that starts with the Seattle protests, late 1999, against the  
WTO and takes the reader to places of protest such as Prague,  
Barcelona and Genoa. The main thesis of Juris is the shift of radical  
movements towards the network method as their main form of  
organization. Juris doesn?t go so far to state that movement as such  
has been replaced by network(ing). What the network metaphor rather  
indicates is a shift, away from the centralized party and a renewed  
emphasis on internationalism. Juris describes networks as an ?emerging  
ideal.? Besides precise descriptions of Barcelona groups, where Jeff  
Juris did his PhD research with Manuel Castells in 2001-2002, the  
World Social Forum and Indymedia, Networking Futures particularly  
looks into a relatively unknown anti-capitalist network, the People?s  
Global Action. The outcome is a very readable book, filled with group  
observations and event descriptions, not heavy on theory or strategic  
discussions or disputes. The email interview below was done while  
Jeffrey Juris was working in Mexico City where studies the  
relationship between grassroots media activism and autonomy. He is an  
Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and  
Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University.

GL: One way of describing your book is to see it as a case study of  
Peoples' Global Action. Would it be fair to see this networked  
platform as a 21st century expression of an anarcho-trotskyist avant- 
gardist organization? You seem to struggle with the fact that PGA is  
so influential, yet unknown. You write about the history of the World  
Social Forum and its regional variations, but PGA is really what  
concerns you. Can you explain to us something about your fascination  
with PGA? Is this what Ned Rossiter calls a networked organization? Do  
movements these days need such entities in the background?

JJ: I wouldn?t call my book a case study of People?s Global Action  
(PGA) in a strict sense, but you are right to point to my fascination  
with this particular network. In many ways I started out wanting to do  
an ethnographic study of PGA, but as I suggest in my introduction, its  
highly fluid, shifting dynamics made a conventional case study  
impossible. A case study requires a relatively fixed object of  
analysis. With respect to social movement networks this would imply  
stable nodes of participation, clear membership structures,  
organizational representation, etc., all of which are absent from PGA.  
However, this initial methodological conundrum presented two  
opportunities. On the one hand, it seemed to me that PGA was not  
unique, but reflected broader dynamics of transnational political  
activism in an era characterized by new digital technologies, emerging  
network forms, and the political visions that go along with such  
transformations. In this sense, PGA was on the cutting edge; it  
provided a unique opportunity to explore not only the dynamics, but  
also the strengths and weaknesses of new forms of networked  
organization among contemporary social movements.

At the same time, PGA also represented a kind of puzzle: I knew it had  
been at the center of the global days of action that people generally  
associate with the rise of the global justice movement, yet it was  
extremely hard to pin down. Participating individuals, collectives,  
and organizations seemed to come and go, and those who were most  
active in the process often resolutely denied that they were members  
or had any official role. Yet, the PGA network still had this kind of  
power of evocation, and, at least during the early years of my  
research (say 1999 to 2002), it continued to provide formal and  
informal spaces of interaction and convergence. In this sense, it  
seemed to me that figuring out the enigma of PGA could help us better  
understand the logic of contemporary networked movements more  
generally. On the other hand, the difficulty of carrying out a  
traditional ethnographic study of PGA meant I had to shift my focus  
from PGA as a stable network to the specific practices through which  
the PGA process is constituted. In other words, my initial  
methodological dilemma opened up my field of analysis to a whole set  
of networking practices and politics that were particularly visible  
within PGA, but could also be detected to varying degrees within more  
localized networks, such as the Movement for Global Resistance (MRG)  
in Barcelona, alternative transnational networks such as the World  
Social Forum (WSF) process, new forms of tactical and alternative  
media associated with the global justice movement, and within the  
organization of mass direct actions.

In other words, the focus of my book is really these broader  
networking practices and logics, although these were particularly  
visible within the PGA process. Methodologically, then, I situated  
myself within a specific movement node?MRG in Barcelona, and followed  
the network connections outward through various network formations,  
including but not restricted to PGA. However, it is also true that the  
ethnographic stories I present are largely told from the vantage point  
of activists associated with PGA. This is because MRG happened to be a  
co-convener of the PGA network during the time of my research, but  
also because PGA activists were particularly committed to what I refer  
to as a network ideal.

In my book I distinguish between two ideal organizational logics: a  
vertical command logic and a horizontal networking logic, both of  
which are present to varying degrees, and exist in dynamic tension  
with respect to one another, within any particular network. Whereas  
vertical command logics are perhaps more visible within the social  
forums, PGA reflects a particular commitment to new forms of open,  
collaborative, and directly democratic organization, thus coming  
closer to the horizontal networking logics I am most concerned with.  
In this sense, PGA is definitively NOT a 21st century avant-gardist  
organization and has been particularly hostile to traditional top-down  
Marxist/Trotskyist political models and visions. PGA does reflect  
something an anarchist ethic, although this has more to do with the  
confluence between networking logics and anarchist organizing  
principles than any kind of abstract commitment to anarchist politics  
per se.

Rather than a networked organization, which refers to the way  
traditional organizations increasingly take on the network form, PGA  
is closer to an ?organized network? in Ned Rossiter?s terms, a new  
institutional form that is immanent to the logic of the new media  
(although in this case not restricted to the new media). The network  
structure of PGA thus provides a transnational space for communication  
and coordination among activists and collectives. For example, PGA?s  
hallmarks reflect a commitment to decentralized forms of organization,  
while the network has no members and no one can speak in its name.  
Rather than a traditional organization (however networked) with clear  
membership and vertical chains of command, PGA provides the kind of  
communicational infrastructure necessary for the rise of contemporary  
networked social movements. The challenge for PGA and similar  
networks, given their radical commitment to a horizontal networking  
logic, has always been sustainability. This is where the social  
forums, with their greater openness to vertical forms, have been more  
effective. In this sense, I find PGA much more exciting and  
politically innovative, but it may be the hybrid institutional forms  
represented by the social forums that have a more lasting impact.

GL: We're 3 or 4 years further now. What has changed since you  
undertook your research? The post 9-11 effect has somewhat leveled  
off, I guess, but the anti-war movement is also weaker. Is it fair to  
say that the worldwide ?Seattle movement' has weakened, or rather,  
exhausted itself? Please update us.

JJ: If you mean the visible expressions of movement activity,  
particularly those associated with confrontational direct actions,  
then I think it is fair to say the worldwide anti-corporate  
globalization/anti-capitalist/global justice movement has weakened.  
But it is not entirely exhausted. As I argue in my book, mass  
mobilizations are critical tools for generating the visibility and  
affective solidarity (e.g. emotional energy) required for sustained  
networking and movement building. However, activists eventually tire  
and public interest inevitably wanes. In this sense, movements are  
cyclical and the public moments of visibility necessarily ebb and  
flow. In terms of the global justice movement, events such as 9-11, or  
the repression in Genoa, certainly put a damper on the movement, but  
it would have slowed anyway. That said, mass actions have continued  
throughout the post- 9-11 period, while the anti-war and global  
justice movements have largely converged, although more so outside the  
United States. What we have seen is a shift toward the increasing  
institutionalization of movement activity combined with a return to  
?submerged? networking, to borrow a term from Melucci.

If we think about social movements in terms of these less visible,  
spectacular forms of action, then in many ways, the global justice  
movement has proven remarkably sustainable. In this sense, global  
justice activists have continued to organize mass actions, but at  
regularized intervals (every two years against the G8 Summit, for  
example, or every four years during the Democratic and Republic  
National Conventions in the U.S.). The massive 2007 anti-G8  
mobilization in Heiligendamm, Germany, which I was able to attend, was  
a particularly empowering experience for many younger activists. At  
the same time, the global social forum process has continued to  
provide a more institutionalized arena for networking and interaction.  
Although the WSF itself has attracted declining media coverage, tens  
of thousands people continue to attend the periodic centralized global  
events (every two years or so), while local and regional forums have  
expanded in many parts of the world.

For example, the first U.S. Social Forum was held in Atlanta last  
summer, representing a key moment of convergence for a movement that  
was particularly weakened by the climate of fear and repression after  
9-11. At the same time, countless networks, collectives, and projects  
that arose in the context of the global justice movement continue to  
operate outside public view, including local organizing projects and  
new media-related initiatives such as Indymedia. In sum, if we think  
about movements as those relatively rare periods of increasingly  
visible and confrontational direct action, then the global justice  
movement has perhaps run its course, at least for now. However, if we  
take into account the submerged, localized, routinized, and  
increasingly institutionalized (by which I mean the building of new  
movement institutions, not the existing representative democratic  
ones), then the movement remains alive and well, perhaps surprisingly  
vibrant after so many years.

GL: We can't say that many practice "militant ethnography". There is a  
limited interest in media activism but the life inside radical  
movements is not over studied. In the past decade this was, in part,  
also due to rampant anti-intellectualism. What is the intellectual  
life inside social movements like these days? What are the main  
debates and critical concepts?

JJ: The lack of ?militant? ethnographic approaches to life inside  
radical social movements has to be understood not only with respect to  
anti-intellectualism among activists, which varies from region to  
region, but also the dominant academic traditions for studying social  
movements. For the most part, what many refer to as ?social movement  
theory? has been the province of sociologists and political  
scientists, many of whom are committed to positivist theory building,  
using quantitative or qualitative methods, and thus tend to view  
social movements as ?objects? to be studied from the outside. These  
scholars may support the political goals of the movements they study,  
but their theory and methods are directed toward other academics, not  
movements themselves. There has always been a significant counter- 
tradition, of course, including anthropologists who have used  
ethnographic methods to study popular movements around the world and a  
few politically engaged scholars who have gone deep inside the heart  
of radical movements, such as Barbara Epstein?s study of the U.S.  
direct action movement during the 1970s and 1980s, ?Political Protest  
and Cultural Revolution,? or George Katsiaficas? book on German  
autonomous movements, ?The Subversion of Politics.?

Meanwhile, critiques of positivist approaches to social movements have  
become more frequent within the academy, while the recent push for a  
more public or activist anthropology and sociology have led to a more  
conducive environment for ?militant? approaches to the study of social  
movements. At the same time, there has also been a noticeable trend  
toward self-analysis and critique among activists themselves. In my  
book I suggest that contemporary social movements are increasingly  
?self-reflexive,? as evidenced by the countless networks of knowledge  
production, debate, and exchange among global justice activists,  
including listserves, Internet forums, radical theory groups, activist  
research networks, etc. There is still a great deal of anti  
intellectualism, although as mentioned above, this varies by region.  
For example, in my experience, activists in the Anglo-speaking world,  
including the UK and the U.S., tend to be more suspicious of  
intellectuals, while those in Southern Europe or the Southern Cone of  
Latin America are more open to abstract theorizing.

There has been a general surge in activist research and radical theory  
projects linked to the global justice movement over the past decade,  
many of which have been associated with the social forum process. In  
this sense, there has been a blurring of the divide between academic  
and movement-based theorizing as evidenced not only in my own work,  
but in many other spheres, including the volume edited by Stephven  
Shukaitis and David Graeber, ?Constituent Imagination,? the on-line  
journal Ephemera, or the newly created movement newspaper Turbulence.  
In terms of the main debates and critical concepts these vary widely  
depending on the particular network, region, or project. Given that we  
are dealing with a ?movement of movements? or a ?network or networks?  
the particular issues and ideas of concern to activists are shaped by  
the specific contexts in which they are embedded. My own work is no  
exception, as I was particularly influenced by the interest in  
networks, digital technologies, and new forms of organization among  
activists in Barcelona. It was through hours of collaborative  
practice, discussion, and debate that I began to see the network as  
not only a technical artifact and organizational form, but also a  
widespread political ideal.

It was fascinating to see how the concept of the network popularized  
by theorists such as Manuel Castells or Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri  
had seeped into activist discourse itself. Indeed, by the end of my  
time in the field the ?network? had emerged as one of the key unifying  
concepts among global justice activists around the world, and many of  
the movement debates surrounded the pros and cons of network  
organizing, the divide between the so called ?horizontals? and  
?verticals,? the struggle against informal hierarchies, the role of  
new technologies, etc. In other words, the theoretical concerns  
addressed in my book reflect the concepts and debates I encountered in  
the movement itself. At the same time, the specific theoretical  
languages and traditions through which these issues have been  
addressed vary greatly. For example, many Italian activists associated  
with the occupied social centers, and those influenced by them  
elsewhere, were particularly influenced by the Italian autonomists and  
concepts such as the multitude, immaterial labor, and precarity found  
in the writing of Hardt & Negri and Paolo Virno, among others. Some of  
the more UK-based radical theory networks have been particularly  
influenced by Gilles Deleuze as well as Deleuze and Guattari?s notion  
of the rhizome.

Although some movement pockets in Barcelona were in line with the  
Italian tradition, many of the Catalan activists I worked with were  
more familiar with Manuel Castells, and there was a general concern  
for emerging forms of participatory democracy. To the extent that  
there have been intellectual debates within the U.S. context, these  
have tended to revolve around direct democracy, on the one hand, and  
issues of race, class, and exclusion, on the other. The other critical  
arena for intellectual discussion and debate within the global justice  
movement has revolved around the social forum process. Here the key  
concept has been ?open space,? which I view as a reflection of a  
horizontal networking logic inscribed within the organizational  
architecture of the forum. Proponents of open space see the forum as a  
new kind of organization, an arena for dialogue and exchange rather  
than a unified political actor. Critics argue the open space concept  
neglects the multiple exclusions generated by any political space, and  
undermines the ability of the movement to engage in the kind of  
coordinated actions needed to achieve tangible victories. The open  
space debate thus incorporates many of the concepts and tensions that  
are important within the movement, including networks, the rise of a  
new politics, participatory democracy, and tension between networking  
and vertical command logics.

Finally, activists have also widely debated alternative models of  
social change, particularly within and around the forums. Although  
traditional sectors of the movement are still committed to state- 
centered strategies of reform or revolution, there has been a keen  
interest, particularly among younger and more radical activists, in  
more autonomous forms of transformation based on ?changing the world  
without taking power? to borrow a phrase from John Holloway. These  
emerging political visions involve a complex mix of traditional  
anarchism, autonomous Marxism, Deleuzian post-structuralism, and the  
post-representational logic of organized networks. The intellectual  
life within many (though not all) parts of the movement continues to  
thrive, and in many respects represents a far richer and more complex  
set of ideas and debates than those found within many academic circles.

GL: It is not hard to notice that you left the Italian intellectual  
influences outside of your writings. One could easily state that the  
bible of Seattle movement has been Negri/Hardt's Empire (with Spinoza  
hovering in the background). No traces of Virno or Berardi either, no  
Lazzarato, not even an Pasquinelli or Terranova. How come?

JJ: I do address Hardt & Negri?s work, but not so much the others.  
This is perhaps more of a reflection of my particular approach to  
theory, as well as my anthropological concern for ?staying close to  
practices,? as Chris Kelty puts it in his recent book on free  
software, ?Two Bits,? than a statement of my affinity (or lack  
thereof) for Italian theory. Analytically, I take the emergence of  
distributed networks associated with post-fordist, informational  
capitalism (as analyzed by Hardt & Negri, Castells, and others) as a  
starting point, but I specifically examine how network forms are  
generated in practice and how they relate to network technologies and  
imaginaries. I use ethnography to generate another series of concepts  
that are closer to the networking practices I encountered in the  
field, such as the cultural logic and politics of networking. In this  
sense, I try to descend from the realm of abstract theorizing about  
networks, immaterial labor, capitalism, and so forth, to consider the  
complex micro-political struggles and practices through which concrete  
network norms and forms are generated in specific contexts, as well as  
the links between network norms, forms, and technologies more  
generally. Hardt & Negri are thus in the background, particularly  
their emphasis on the networked form of contemporary resistance, but I  
am concerned with a more concrete level.

At the same time, it is true that I am less convinced by the more  
ontological, Spinozan dimension of Hardt & Negri?s writing, given my  
emphasis on practices, circulations, and connections- the rise of new  
political subjectivities certainly, but I?m not so sure about a new  
historical subject. A second, more contextual reason why the Italian  
theorists are not more prominent in my book has to do with the fact  
that the particular Catalan activists I worked with most closely were  
less influenced by this tradition than theorists such as Manuel  
Castells, general writing on participatory democracy, or ideas  
developed through their own grounded networking practices. In this  
sense, although Empire has indeed been influential within many global  
justice movement circles, and has had an important impact on my own  
thinking and writing; it would be a stretch to call it, or any other  
single book for that matter, the bible of the global justice movement.  
The movement is too diverse and there are too many political and  
regional variations. Finally, to be frank, I was not aware of Berardi,  
Lazzarato, Pasquinelli, or Terranova at the time of writing this book,  
which is partly due to the specific intellectual and political  
currents in which I moved. It would be interesting to go back and  
address some of these theorists now, particularly Terranova?s ?Network  
Culture,? and Ned Rossiter?s recent book, ?Organized Networks,? which  
more deeply engages the Italian tradition.

GL: Do you see the networking practices amongst radical activists as  
something special? I mean, isn't it terribly mainstream to use all  
these technologies? I understand that the network paradigm within the  
realm of politics is still something new, but as tools there is  
nothing that creative, or even subversive, about their cultures of use.

JJ: My contention is not that the networking practices I explore in my  
book are unique to radical activists, but they do form part of an  
innovative mode of radical political practice that has to be  
understood in the context of an increasing confluence between network  
norms, forms, and technologies. It is important to point out that,  
when I talk about networking practices, I am not only referring to the  
use of digital technologies, but also to new forms of organizational  
practice. Activist networking practices are both physical and virtual,  
and they are frequently associated with emerging political  
imaginaries. It is precisely the interaction between network  
technologies, network-based organizational forms, and network-based  
political norms that characterizes radical activism.

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.

GL: One could easily write a separate study of Indymedia and the  
Independent Media Centres, which were erected during all these protest  
events. You have not gone very deeply into internal Indymedia matters.  
These days, almost ten years later, Indymedia is not playing an active  
role anymore, at least not the international English edition. How did  
it lose its momentum and is there still a need for such news-driven  
sites?

JJ: Although I do address Indymedia and other forms of collaborative  
digital networking, it?s true that the main ethnographic focus of my  
book revolves around broader global justice networks such as MRG in  
Barcelona or PGA and the WSF process on a transnational scale. Largely  
for that reason I was not able to provide more in-depth coverage of  
the fascinating and very important internal debates and dynamics  
within the Indymedia network. Tish Stringer?s dissertation on the  
Houston Indymedia collective called, ?Move! Guerrilla Media,  
Collaborative Modes, and the Tactics of Radical Media Making,? comes  
closest to this kind of analysis. I?m not sure what you mean when you  
say that Indymedia is not playing an active role anymore. If you mean  
that the novelty of the network has worn off, that particular  
collectives are not as active as they once were, or that it is no  
longer on the cutting edge of technological and/or organizational  
innovation, you may be right. But if you mean that Indymedia has a  
lower profile on the web than it used to or that activists no longer  
read or contribute to the various local and international sites, then  
I?m not so sure. Indymedia is nearly ten years old and certainly much  
of its novelty has worn off. At the same time, it continues to fulfill  
a key role of providing a space for activists to generate and  
circulate their own news and information, facilitating mobilization  
and continuing to challenge the divide between author and consumer.  
There have been heated debates within the network about the need to  
generate more reliable and higher quality posts, and I think this goal  
still remains elusive. In this sense, Indymedia remains very good at  
doing what it was initially set up to do, but it has not advanced much  
further in terms of pushing the bounds of its grassroots collaborative  
production process to generate the kind of deeper and more insightful  
reporting that some might wish for.

For example, there had been a proposal to develop a kind of open  
editing system that would generate more accurate, higher quality posts  
without the need for a more centralized editorial process, but that  
proposal has yet to yield any concrete results, as far as I know. If  
this is what you mean by losing momentum, then I suppose it is true.  
However, this might be expecting too much. In my experience networks  
are often good at achieving the specific goals they were established  
for, but efforts to reprogram them midstream are often extremely  
difficult. It is generally much easier to simply create a new project  
or network than try to retool an existing one. In this sense, I would  
expect that further innovation with respect to alternative,  
decentralized news production is happening elsewhere. Indymedia thus  
continues to play a critical role for grassroots activists in many  
parts of the world, and, in fact, I think it is one of the most  
important and enduring institutions the global justice movement has  
left behind. At the same time, I think the desire to see Indymedia  
become something else, resolve all of its internal tensions, or  
forever remain at the vanguard of innovation is misplaced. Indymedia  
will continue to fulfill a key role in terms of creating alternative,  
self-produced activist news and information, but I think it is  
important to look elsewhere for new innovations, practices, and  
strategies.

In my own case, I have recently become fascinated with the burgeoning  
free media scene in Mexico, which includes not only online news sites,  
but also a rapidly expanding network of Internet/FM radio stations,  
web-based forums and zines, digital video collectives, free software  
initiatives, etc. (my current research focuses on the relationship  
between alternative media, autonomy, and repression in Mexico). Some  
of the most exciting developments are happening within the free  
radios, many of which combine FM and Internet broadcasts to reach out  
to activists on a global scale, while at the same time more deeply  
engaging local populations outside typical activist circles. Many of  
these projects combine an open publishing component on the web with  
live streaming as well as more focused and directed reporting about  
local issues and wider national and international campaigns.

GL: Your research clearly shows that there is a direct and positive  
relation between autonomous social movement and network paradigms.  
However, on the Internet level this is no longer the case as of about  
five years ago or so. Activists worldwide have lost touch with the  
whole Web 2.0 wave and they tend to have neither a positive nor a  
critical attitude toward social networking applications, for example.  
There does seem to be a productive engagement with free software and  
perhaps wikis, but not even blogs have been appropriated. How come?

JJ: As I understand the question, you seem to be suggesting that the  
Internet has progressed over the past few years, but that activists  
from autonomous-oriented movements are not keeping up. They were once  
at the forefront of technological innovation, but this is no longer  
the case. Perhaps, but I?m not sure this is the most productive  
framework for looking at this, although the more specific question of  
why or why not certain groups of activists appropriate particular  
Internet tools is a fascinating one. This is a big question, though,  
and is also somewhat counter-factual. I can offer a few speculative  
thoughts based on my research and activist experience, but I suppose  
the best way to get at this would be to simply ask people why they do  
or do not use certain web tools. In general, though, if the argument  
in my book is right that contemporary activism involves an increasing  
confluence between network norms, forms, and technologies, I would  
expect that activists would be more likely to use those Internet tools  
that most closely reflect their political values and most effectively  
enhance their preferred forms of organization. In this sense, Internet  
listserves and collaborative on-line forums such as Indymedia  
facilitate decentralized movement organization and reflect values  
related to bottom-up organization, grassroots coordination, direct  
democracy, and the like. These sorts of early Internet tools  
facilitated movement organization and reflected the values of the  
movement.

The question is whether more recent Internet tools, including social  
networking and video sharing sites, blogs, and/or wikis also enhance  
mobilization and reflect activists? values. If they don?t, I wouldn?t  
expect activists to appropriate them, and thus would not be worried if  
activists are somehow not keeping up. In terms of free software and  
wikis, I think this is one area where, as you rightly point out,  
radical or autonomous-oriented activists have been deeply engaged.  
Both free software and wikis precisely reflect the kind of  
collaborative networking ethic that I explore in my book, and it  
should come as no surprise that so many radical or autonomous  
activists see their own struggles reflected in the struggle for free  
software or that so many contemporary activist collectives and  
projects use wikis- and the decentralized, collaborative editing  
process these tools allow. In my view, social networking sites are  
completely different. While non-governmental organizations, policy  
reform initiatives (such as those lil? green mask requests to stop  
global warming on Facebook), political campaigns (look how many  
friends Obama has!) have arguably begun to make effective use of sites  
such as Facebook or MySpace, in my experience this has been less true  
of more radical movements. My book does have a MySpace site, which is  
linked to other books, projects, and organizations, and I do belong to  
an anarchist group on Facebook, but I don?t find much ongoing  
interaction and coordination on these sites.

Many radicals I know use social networking sites in much the same way  
as other individuals do- to keep up with their friends and maintain  
interpersonal communication, but (and I might be behind the ball  
here), they are not as frequently used for collaborative kinds of  
organizing. It seems to me that not only are social networking sites  
extremely corporate, they don?t necessarily facilitate the kind of  
collaborative, directly democratic forms of organization and  
coordination that tools such as wikis or old-school listserves do.  
They do a good job of allowing radicals to keep in touch with their  
friends and broadcast what they are up to, but I don?t think they  
facilitate networked forms of organization or particularly reflect  
directly democratic ideals. I would say the same for blogs, which,  
with perhaps a few exceptions, are generally a personalized, broadcast  
medium, and thus not necessarily conducive to more collective,  
distributed norms and forms of organization. On the contrary, I would  
say video sharing sites such as YouTube (and similar non-commercial  
endeavors), do enhance decentralized, networked organization and do  
reflect radical activist values by facilitating the autonomous  
production and circulation of movement-related images, videos, and  
documentaries. Consequently, I have found, in my experience, that  
radical activists have made significant use of video sharing sites.  
The videos posted on YouTube from the No Borders camp last November in  
Mexicali/Calexico provide one concrete example. Rather than asking  
whether activists are keeping up with the latest Internet trends, a  
more useful question is perhaps whether the latest Internet tools  
facilitate distributed forms of networked organization and whether  
they reflect activists? political ideals. To the extent they do, I  
would expect activists to enthusiastically take them up. To the extent  
they don?t, I would expect there to be limited interest beyond the  
individual level.

GL: The 'distributed' form of organization could also be read as just  
another expression of more individualism, and less commitment. There  
is a debate right now about 'organized networks' and how organization  
can be strengthened in the age of networks. Do you think this is  
possible or should we drop the 'network' in the first place?

JJ: I would say the distributed network form of organization reflects  
a particular strategy for balancing individual and collective needs,  
interests, and desires. Rather than less commitment, it reflects a  
broader shift toward what the Sociologist Paul Lichterman, in his book  
?The Search for Political Commitment,? calls ?personalized  
commitment.? That said, it is true that diffuse, flexible activist  
networks have generally proven more effective at organizing short-term  
mobilizations and events than the kind of sustainable organizations  
needed to generate lasting social transformation. There is often a  
false debate between ?movement? or ?flexible networks? and  
?institutionalization,? as if there were only one way to  
institutionalize. Institutions are generally associated with the kind  
of centralized, top-down bureaucratic organizations inherited from the  
industrial age. However, if we see institutions more broadly as simply  
sustainable networks of social relations along with the organizational  
and technological infrastructure that makes such relations possible  
then there are many ways to institutionalize. In this sense, there is  
no necessary contradiction between sustainable organization and  
networks.

The key is to create new kinds of sustainable institutions that  
reflect and incorporate the networking logics I explore in my book.  
For example, what would a political institution look like that is  
sustainable over time and able to generate more effective coordinated  
action, yet is still based on directly democratic forms of decision- 
making, bottom-up participation, decentralized collaboration, etc.? As  
I understand it this is the crux of what you, Ned Rossiter and others  
are talking about when you argue for the need to move toward organized  
networks, at least in the realm of new media. I agree that something  
similar is needed in the realm of political activism. I think there  
will always be a role for more flexible, diffuse networks to plan and  
coordinate specific actions. And there is nothing wrong with letting  
these networks fizzle out when they are no longer needed (in my  
experience old networks rarely die, they simply cease to provide a  
forum for active communication). However, I do think it is important  
that we build new kinds of networked institutions (contra  
institutional networks) that reflect the best of what distributed  
networks have to offer, but are more sustainable over time. At  
present, I think the social forums, with all their problems, are the  
best example we have of this new kind of organized network in the  
realm of political action.

Forums are hybrid organizations, combining vertical and horizontal  
organizing logics. Many radicals have criticized the social forums  
precisely because of the participation and influence of traditional  
reformist institutional actors. However, in my view, it is precisely  
at the intersection of these different sorts of political and  
organizational logics, and in the context of the associated conflicts  
and debates, that new kinds of sustainable hybrid networked  
institutions will emerge. This is why I have consistently argued over  
the years that more radical activists should engage the forum, even if  
from the margins, creating autonomous spaces to interact with the  
forum process while promoting their more innovative horizontal  
networking practices. Again, it is through this kind of ongoing  
interaction and conflict between different organizational logics and  
practices that new kinds of organized networks will emerge in the  
political realm. It is no accident that of all the projects, networks,  
and institutions that have been created by the global justice movement  
the social forums remain the most active and vibrant, despite, or  
perhaps precisely because of, the continued critiques. To go back to  
your first question, PGA remains closest to my heart, but the social  
forums may ultimately turn out to be a more lasting and influential  
organized network. One of the more interesting projects I have taken  
part in over the past few years, the Networked Politics initiative 
(http://www.networked-politics.info/ ), has been an effort on the part of 
activists and engaged scholars to  think more deeply about how to develop 
new forms of politics and  institutions that are sustainable yet reflect the 
kinds of networking  logics and practices that were particularly visible in 
the context of  the global justice movement.

GL: You got involved at the right time, and got out to write down your  
findings at the moment when the 'other globalization movement' had  
somehow lost steam. Do you agree? There is a certain nostalgia for Big  
Event days, which makes Networking Futures such a fascinating read.  
Where do you see the movements heading? We can all see that they are  
not dead, but the urge to continue as if it still were 2001-2002 isn't  
there anymore. Is the network form making it more bearable to see  
movements disappear? You seem to have no problem admitting that  
"social movements are cyclical phenomena." What topics and social  
formation do you see emerging? Would it, for instance, make sense to  
come up with a radical movement inside the larger context of climate  
change?

JJ: Yes, I think that?s right. I was extremely fortunate to have  
gotten involved in the movement when it was becoming publicly visible  
in Seattle, and then lived through what we might call its peak years  
from a unique position in Barcelona. I think the movement lost some  
steam, or at least some of its confrontational spirit, after the  
repression in Genoa, and then 9-11 obviously had a huge impact,  
although more so in the United States then elsewhere. Somewhere  
between 2002 and 2003 I think the social forums began to replace mass  
actions as the main focus of the movement, which reflected a shift, in  
my view, toward a more sustainable form of movement activity. At the  
same time, there was also a move toward more local forms of organizing  
rooted in specific communities. To some extent I think the turn away  
from mass actions and the change in emphasis toward local organizing  
resulted from the critique of summit hopping that had been around  
since Seattle (if not before) but became increasingly widespread as  
the novelty of mass actions began to wear off. At the same time,  
regardless of any internal movement debates, it is increasingly  
difficult to pull off successful mass direct actions over time.

The sociologist Randal Collins hypothesizes that movements can only  
maintain their peak levels for about two years, which isn?t too far  
off in the case of the global justice movement (say late 1999 to  
mid-2001 or so). In this sense, the shift of emphasis toward the  
forums and local organizing, although not necessarily conceived in  
this way, was a strategic response to the cyclical nature of social  
movements. Mass actions continue of course, but as I pointed out  
above, even these have become more regularized and routine. The  
movement has thus traded some of its emotional intensity for greater  
sustainability. Given this strategic shift, I would say the movement  
remains surprisingly vibrant. In contrast, as Barbara Epstein has  
argued, the anti-nuclear energy movement petered out when activists  
failed to make the shift from mass actions, which began attracting  
fewer and fewer people and eliciting decreasing media attention, to an  
alternative strategy. In many ways, the global justice movement is  
well placed to pick up steam again if and when the next cycle of  
increasing confrontation comes around again.

The global justice/alternative globalization/anti-capitalist frame is  
a good one in that it encompasses an array of movements and struggles,  
while maintaining a focus on systemic interconnections. I think it  
would be an error to revert back to single issue politics and  
struggles at this point, as such connections would be obscured and the  
social, political, and cultural capital of the global justice movement  
would be squandered. In this sense, rather than organize a radical  
movement around climate change, for example, it would make more sense  
to organize around this issue in the context of a global justice  
frame. This was done to great effect by the European anti-war  
movement, which was a really a fusion between the anti-war and global  
justice movements. This connection was never really made in the U.S.,  
partly due to the absence of a national level forum process, and both  
movements were worse off as a result. In terms of what specific issues  
I see emerging, that is always a tough call, but I think you are right  
that global climate change will constitute a key site of struggle over  
the next few years, as will alternative energy, particularly given the  
spike in oil prices. At the same time, in light of the current global  
financial and economic crisis, a broad anti-capitalist critique  
remains as relevant and important as ever. Moreover, if the history of  
previous crises provides any indication, we may well see the rise of a  
global democracy movement to challenge the increasing repression and  
authoritarian trends in many parts of the world. Whatever new forms of  
struggle emerge, I think they will be stronger to the extent that they  
can link themselves to a broader anti-systemic critique such as that  
represented by the global justice movement.

--

Jeffrey S. Juris, Networking Futures, The Movements Against Corporate  
Globalization, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2008.

Promotional website of the book: http://networkingfutures.com/home.html.

ASU page of Jeffrey Juris: https://sec.was.asu.edu/directory/person/863914 
.


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