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Re: <nettime> Media Squares: On the new forms of protest and their media
Eric Kluitenberg on Sun, 18 Sep 2011 22:13:38 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Media Squares: On the new forms of protest and their media, int. seminar, Friday September 30, Amsterdam

Dear Marco, nettimers,

Sorry for being a bit slow to respond to this. You're making some excellent points and it feels like I am 'forgetting' (not really) my own lessons about the hybridity of space (and media). 

Let me react briefly to some of your points below.

On Sep 15, 2011, at 23:36, Snafu wrote:
> Hi Eric:
> the seminar sounds interesting as usual, but I think that the blurb does not make justice of the fascinating title, which suggests that "the medium IS the square." This proposition is in my opinion much more interesting than a more traditional take on social movements media as extensions of social movements praxis.

Yes you are right - that is a crucial insight here, and it is left implicit in the text, perhaps too implicit.

The interesting thing is that I started thinking about all this exactly from the opposite direction, when trying to reflect on this amazing series of public square occupations we saw happening around the Mediterranean. I tried to link that with some of the experiences coming from the Borders Camps of the No Border movement. This was in the text The Tactics of Camping, which was also posted on nettime - you can find it here: 

It seemed to me while writing this text that the media-extension of the square was more consciously addressed by 15 M, the Tahrir Square occupiers and elsewhere than in the case of the Border Camps. This can be explained to some extent from the fact that especially in North-African countries oppositional groups and thinking had aligned mostly via blogger networks, operating somewhat below the radar of wider public visibility. Charles Hisrchkind for instance points out that in the Egyptian case this had been under way for well over ten years before the street protests erupted.

In my text I was thinking about these issues mostly from a street perspective, embodied local protests that seized public space and media space.

The step to take now is to think more specifically about the intersection of mediated and physical actions and experiences as forces in their own right, i.e. accepting the hybridity of these situations rather than seeing one (media) as a mere extension of the other (body).

> Let us assume for a second that the act of occupying a square is in fact an act of disintermediation that follows and complements the great disintermediation of the Internet. As Franco Berardi puts it, we are now entering a phase in which "the general intellect is looking for the erotic and social body that has been lost in the process of virtualization and precarization." We have spent way too much time in front of computer screens. This has increased our cognitive abilities, decreased collective bargaining power, and cut the feedback loops that turn for example a rich intellectual exchange IRL into a pleasurable bodily experience.
> If this is the case, then we should not concern ourselves primarily with the media that draw the masses to the squares. Rather, we should begin our analysis from the forms of embodied communication and social organization that occur within the medium of the square. These may include the language of hand signs in mass assemblies; the spatial distribution of people, tents, gazebos, banners, and stages; the manifold collaborations (and conflicts) among collectives, committees, and affinity groups; and the molecular forms of communication that escape aerial shots, radio and TV coverages, even activist micro-media. There is so much more going on in each of these Media Squares than all the media can possibly tell.

For sure - if you look at the text of Florian Schneider and Susanne Lang (The Dark Side of Camping) you can read how complicated and often extremely frustrating such processes are. How long does it take to reach a certain degree of consensus before something can finally actually be done?

I'm pretty sure some of the exasperation that they describe in this text replicates itself on these squares - but it is also fascinating to see how the issues of 'precarity' which is at the heart of the southern European protests has finally made it to the mainstream of public attention and has become a political factor that can no longer be denied. That is certainly a success of these occupations.  

> To be sure, the Medium Square is still filled with media of all sorts and kinds. But the function of disembodied media seems to be in this context more prosthetic than creative. Traditional media--including digital media--enable these movements both to reach beyond their locale and connect components that do not always communicate IRL. However, the fulcrum and kairos of these media still lie in the Media Squares. It is in the square-as-medium that communication intensifies as the affective and bodily dimension of thoughts unfolds to make worlds that cannot be perceived on a computer screen, a radio, a TV set. Such communication is not truer nor more authentic than mediated communication. It is simply richer as it contains a kind of information that has not been reduced to a set of probabilities, that mobilizes the five senses, and in which signal and noise have not been separated.

Here is where I somewhat diverge from your point of view. I would emphasise the interconnectedness of the mediated and the embodied. That for me is the true richness of the current context. One could make an argument that any lived space is always hybrid (and always has been) in that different kinds of spatial and temporal logics are at work there that create temporary connection points between localised points of contact and translocal flows, for instance trade flows, travelling salesmen, cities built at the banks of rivers or at the coast to enable direct access to transport and trade flows over water, the kinds of social and cultural exchange that happen there as a result of this positioning, military and other type of interactions that reshape the local context - and more.

The thing that has really changed with the radical proliferation of media technologies, network technologies and now mobile media is that the density of these hybrid spaces has sharply increased, combined with the element of electric speed of course. This can be a trap (traceability) as well as a possibility (agency), and I have argued quite often that activists need to be aware of this new spatial logic to be able to put it to their advantage.

The theme issue Hybrid Space (Open - Journal for Art and the Public Domain) that we made in 2006 deals with these questions and is still available free and in full for download, a.o. via the Open website:

So for me the question at the Media Squares seminar is very much how activists in these different contexts are dealing with this increased density of (hybrid) space.

> All of this is to say that if Media Squares are becoming the event of our times, then such an event calls for new modes of reading its emerging properties. Perhaps it even calls for a relocation of our conferences and programs in the very Media Squares we are beginning to approach, as scholars and activists, from many different angles.
> Cheers,
> Snafu

Absolutely, but it's not just us theorists / scholars who are holding their debates. There is an enormous amount of debate going on on these squares, working groups, committees, singular voices, dissent and agreement, conflict and temporary resolutions - in that sense 'they' don't need 'us' - but I have a specific interest in questioning the density of media layers that permeates these squares, because I believe that the experiences gained from the background of tactical media (against which we are holding this gathering) can help to better understand some of these dynamics.

Thank you for these important comments, much appreciated and most helpful to clarify some of the urgent issues on the table.
Pity we can't 'beam you over' for a day to Amsterdam...

best wishes,

> On 9/14/11 7:08 PM, Eric Kluitenberg wrote:
>> A  N  N  O  U  N  C  E  M  E  N  T
>> Media Squares

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