In our digital age discussions of media activism abound – whether in the guise of Twitter Revolutions referred to in relation to uprisings in the Arab world and North Africa; through the mobilization of mass protests often organized via social media in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal against austerity politics; or the transnational reach of the Occupy movement heralding the rights of the 99%; or raising awareness of racist police discrimination in Ferguson (US) – the art of contemporary protest comes to us in technological form. But when discussions of activism begin with technology, all too frequently it is with technology that they also end. And somewhere along the way we lose sight of social and political critique. In this book I make the startlingly obvious point that putting all our hopes in technology as our political saviour will never deliver social and political change of the magnitude required to deal with the global problems of inequality, poverty and ecological crisis. The costs then, of interpreting the world through the prism of technology are enormous. Far from answering the key questions of our time – how can we have a sustainable planet; how can we eradicate poverty and inequality; how we can we live together better and more peacefully? We remain stuck asking the questions that are confined to network niceties. This book urges researchers in the field to rediscover the political in our work in order to better understand what political transformation might mean. I argue that social, political and economic context is key to appreciating the enormous constraints on the possibilities of being political to effect progressive social change; that organizational factors are vital to comprehend the efforts required to build and sustain a counter-politics; just as individual motivations and political passions are crucial if we are to understand the relationship of social life to political consciousness. All impinge directly on our understandings of what equality is or could be, on how liberty can be claimed and practiced and how solidarity is experienced. If we wish to research arenas of the political then we must open our arms and our minds a little wider to embrace and analyse the actual politics such that we can start to deal with the political problems and start to consider what the conditions of possibility for radical political solutions might be. As so many places around the globe are flailing around trying to discover what a new contemporary progressive politics might look like – there is no time like the present.
Natalie Fenton is Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.