Public memories, public knowledge? Movements, media and shifting formations of publicness

Thursday 7th November, 12.30-14.00
Room NAB 1.14, New Academic Building, London School of Economics

The Publics then, now and beyond network, which was founded at the Open University in June this year, will be kick-starting its 2013-14 ‘travelling seminar series’ with a seminar at the London School of Economics on Thursday 7th November.

The Publics, then now and beyond network is convened by Dr Nick Mahony and Dr Hilde C. Stephansen. It is supported by CCIG’s Publics programme, the Creating Publics project, and the Making Publics Across Time and Space project. The travelling seminar series is also supported by the Faculty of Social Science at the Open University. This seminar is hosted by Media@LSE in collaboration with The Open University and the Publics then, now and beyond network. It will also be part of the Media@LSE Research Dialogues series.

Chair/discussant: Nick Couldry (LSE)
Speakers:
Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE) ‘Memories, secrets and digital archives’
Hilde C. Stephansen (The Open University) ‘Global communication activism and shifting formations of publicness’

About the seminar

This seminar will explore key questions about the making of publics and publicness through the use of media and communications technologies by social movement activists. Focusing on the practices, infrastructures and forms of mediation through which publics are brought into being, it will examine the shifting formations and imaginaries that result from such processes. Moving beyond the more immediate effects of activists’ communication practices on the mobilisation and organisation of protest action, we will consider the potential of such practices to support publics that can facilitate longer-term processes of identity construction, memory formation and knowledge production, at different scales. Papers will explore the uneven and often contradictory dynamics surrounding activists’ communication practices, raising questions about the relationship between ‘mainstream’ and ‘counter’-publics, openness and secrecy, and politics of knowledge.

Memories, Secrets and Digital Archives

Pollyanna Ruiz

This paper will reflect upon these contradictory dynamics surrounding the use of digital archives and in doing so explore the relationship between the past and the present, the activist and the non-activist, the alternative and the mainstream. The digital archive appears to span the ruptures, continuities and discontinuities of contemporary protest by creating a mechanism through which the past is accumulated in the present in order to shape our experiences of the future. According to this view, open archives constitute a space in which contemporary protest movements can draw upon the experience of previous activists and equip themselves with the necessary skills to engage with the mainstream. However digital archives can also be understood as potentially problematic. Archives remove protest discourses from the secure realm of ‘dusty back numbers’, ‘forgotten publications’ and ‘oral interviews with aged political veterans’ (Downing, 2003, p.252) and places protest discourses within a transparent, open and centrally organised system. Consequently digital archives fix, frame and expose alternative ways of thinking which are fragile, untried and still evolving. Digital archives can therefore also be understood as compromising the very existence of counter publics free from the ‘supervision of dominant groups’ (Fraser, 1990, p. 66).
Global communication activism and shifting formations of publicness

Hilde C. Stephansen

This paper explores shifting formations of publicness and globality in the context of the World Forum of Free Media (WFFM) – a process, connected to the World Social Forum (WSF), which aims to support the formation of a global grassroots movement of communication activists. Through a combination of prefigurative politics, organising and campaigning, activists involved in the WFFM are working to achieve the conditions for more democratic public spheres – at local, national and transnational scales. The paper proposes that an emergent version of a decentred ‘global public’ – constituted through a myriad intersecting publics at different scales – is discernible in the WFFM’s efforts to bring together a diversity of actors and media forms under the umbrella term ‘free media’. Such a version of a ‘global public’ contrasts with more liberal – and increasingly institutionalised – notions of publicness implicit in conceptions of the WSF as ‘open space’ or ‘global civil society’. The paper concludes by proposing an understanding of ‘free media’ as central actors in a broader project concerned with ‘cognitive justice’ (Santos) and as informed by an emergent logic of epistemic plurality.

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