Recent years have witnessed an increasing internationalization of claims as well as claimants with respect to social protest as a result of various notions of globalization and the spread of information and communication technologies (ICT) (Tilly and Wood, 2009). In this contribution, we will show how the rise of ICT goes along with a shift from a society of discipline to a society of control (Deleuze, 1992), or, more precisely, a superimposition of these two modes of power (cf. Savat, 2009b) and how this calls for a re-conception of space as an apparatus of control (cf. Agamben, 2001). FOR CITATION PLEASE REFER TO THE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION IN
THE special issue on “Online and Offline Social Movements: Critical Perspectives” OF THE Journal of Critical Studies in Business & Society
We take a theoretically novel and critical stand by conceptually elaborating Tilly’s work on social movements (Tilly, 1999; 2003; Tilly and Wood, 2009) with DeLanda’s assemblage theory (2006) as well as taking the spatiality and technicity of social movements into consideration. We have chosen the transversality of protest assemblages as our entry point and discuss their shifting performances both with regard to their effectiveness to organize across space-time and their uses and production, of urban space. We illustrate our arguments with recent social protest events.
Christoph Craviolini is a PhD student at the Sociospatial Complexity Lab at the University of Fribourg and a Research Assistant at ETH CASE at ETH Zurich. His fields of research include housing, architecture and security, and urban studies.
Joris Van Wezemael is Professor for Human Geography and head of the Sociospatial Complexity Lab at the University of Fribourg. He formerly held positions at ETH Zurich and Newcastle University. His fields of research include housing, planning, and architecture and security, which he conceptualizes through the lens of decision-making and agency.
Felix Wirth is a student of geography at the University of Fribourg. He wrote his bachelor thesis at the Sociospatial Complexity Lab at the University of Fribourg on the topic of assembling protest settings.
The recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have clearly shown that new information and communication technologies and services such as SMS, Twitter and Youtube have found their way into early twenty-first century protest movements; whether on an organizational level or with regard to claim-making performances (cf. Tilly and Wood, 2009; Bennet, 2003). The events demonstrated important changes in terms of the forms and practices of social protest and an increasing internationalization, especially with regard to supporters and various audiences. The speak-to-tweet service developed by Google for Twitter as a response to the Internet shutdown by the Egyptian government, for instance, enabled protesters in Egypt to leave voicemails which were then converted into text and published on Twitter’s microblogging service (cf. The Economist, 2011) and various related electronically mediated spaces. Against this background, the question arises as to what extent digital democracy in the form of electronically mediated opinion polling can serve as a substitute for the actual social movement repertoire, such as meetings, marching, etc., and how it reconfigures the role of space. At the same time, in this alleged age of cyberspace and declarations of solidarity and support via Facebook and similar services, the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo have underlined the role of physical space and the physical display of solidarity through physical co-presence with regard to the effectiveness of social protest. To paraphrase DeLanda, “actions speak louder than words” (2006: 57). The events in Tahrir Square clearly exemplified the persisting importance of spatiality in social protest: the materialization of the protest generates topological relationships and, in this case, showcased the heterogeneity of the groups of protesters and unquestionably showed the broad support of a movement that could no longer be subjugated to an “Islamic” revolution (by Western media or Egyptian officials).
Despite their anecdotal character, our illustrations point out some important characteristics with regard to the socio-technological environment in which social protest takes place and articulates itself. The illustrations exemplify the strong emphasis on information and communication technologies (ICT) in the context of the “new Arab Revolt” (their online-sphere). An emphasis, that runs the risk of technological determinism and the neglect of the inherently spatial dimension of social protest and its capacity to generate and reconfigure relational space (their offline-sphere). The question that arises here is how physical space and cyberspace relate to each other with regard to social movements (SMO) and social protest.
There is no question that ICT have opened up new possibilities for virtual as well as physical forms of social protest and SMO because new media have fundamentally changed the way we communicate and interact. The last two decades have also given life to a vivid debate – inside and outside academia – regarding the role of technology in SMOs and social protest and produced a large body of interdisciplinary literature (e.g., Tilly and Wood, 2009; Bennet, 2003; Kaplan, 2002). In this article we will not engage in the discussion on the role of ICT and its pros and cons for SMOs and protests in general, but focus instead on its impact on SMOs as assemblage and the performativity of social protest, particularly the way it transforms space as an apparatus of control.
In this article we argue that social protest and space must be understood in their mutual constitution rather than as a substitution of one by the other (usually physical by cyber) or a mere co-evolution (Graham, 2004b). In such a view, a particular spatial setting is not given. Rather, what is at stake is the manner in which it is produced and maintained by the connection of physical, virtual and mental relational networks and how it is performative. It is materially experienced as a significant but relatively fluid conjunction of multiple networks. The connections of those networks can be investigated in order to grasp not just their momentary fixity (represented in an aerial photo of a demonstration), but also their performativity, either as assemblage or agencement (Van Wezemael, 2008).
With regard to SMOs and protests, we elaborate the following questions: Has the existing constellation of power changed? How does ICT come into play? How is space as an apparatus of control affected by the reconstitution of urban space and ICT? These questions allow a conceptual exploration of the question of whether social protest is still effective in bringing about social change. More precisely, we propose a critical and novel way to address the above questions through re-conceptualizing SMOs. We start from their conceptualization as SMO assemblages and draw on both Tilly’s (e.g., 1999) research on new SMOs and DeLanda’s assemblage theory (2006) (section I). On this basis, we address processes of internationalization and digitalization and the resulting increased interconnectedness of SMOs and the materiality and spatiality of ICT (section II). Then we point out that those processes express a shift from a society of discipline to a society of control (section III). Social protest is then viewed as an event in the course of which the (virtual and political) opportunity structures are actualized and generate a spatial order (section IV). We illustrate our argument with recent events of social protest, such as the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Seattle or the World Economic Forum in Davos. In our conclusion, we summarize our arguments and discuss our research questions.
I. An Assemblage Approach to Social Movements
DeLanda’s assemblage theory allows us to re-conceptualize SMOs as SMO assemblages. This enables us to address the large number of intermediate levels between the micro and the macro that Tilly’s work on SMOs (e.g. Tilly, 1999: Tilly and Wood, 2009) correctly reveals, but whose ontological status he does not explicitly conceptualize (see also DeLanda, 2006). Assemblages, through their conception as ‘wholes’ whose properties emerge from an interaction between parts, provide an elegant and productive solution for modeling any of these intermediate entities between the micro and the macro and to account for the heterogeneity of SMOs. In Manuel DeLanda’s (2006) ontology, an individual person, a population of individual persons, interpersonal networks, SMOs, organizations, inter-organizational networks or territorial states are all conceptualized as assemblages on different spatio-temporal scales because they do not differ in ontological status: they are all historically produced, unique individuals (Van Wezemael 2010b).
According to Charles Tilly (1999: 257), SMOs consist of
“… a sustained challenge to power holders in the name of a population living under the jurisdiction of those power holders by means of repeated public displays of that population’s worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment (WUNC displays)”.
An SMO therefore involves at least two collective actors, challengers or claimants and power holders who are in a continuous conflict-ridden interaction. Each collective actor is composed of one or many allied communities, which can be conceptualized as populations of interpersonal networks connected by relations of exteriority (see Box 1).
Box 1: Interior and exterior relationships
Assemblage theory (DeLanda, 2006) replaces relations of interiority with relations of exteriority. While a part detached from a whole represented by relations of interiority “ceases to be what it is, since being this particular part is one of its constitutive properties” (l.c.: 9), a component part of a whole characterized by relations of exteriority (an assemblage) “may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different” (l.c.: 10). Furthermore, relations of exteriority imply that “the properties of the component parts can never explain the relations which constitute a whole,” although these relations “may be caused by the exercise of a component’s capacities” (l.c.: 11). In fact, the reason why the properties of an assemblage “cannot be reduced to those of its parts is that they are the result not of an aggregation of the components’ own properties but of the actual exercise of their capacities” (ibid.). Now these capacities in turn “do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities” (ibid.). So to speak, the execution of a given component’s capacities involves an act of conspiracy between the given component and other components. Thus, the concept of the exteriority of relations guarantees “that assemblages may be taken apart” while simultaneously “allowing that the interactions between parts may result in a true synthesis” (ibid.).
In addition, there are third parties such as authorities, but also rival claimants or enemies, and various audiences often playing significant parts in the unfolding of campaigns (see Tilly and Wood, 2009: 12). SMO assemblages emerge from the complex interaction of these component parts. A fruitful and critical discussion of the state of SMOs must necessarily take into account all of these components and their connections by relations of exteriority. If we want to discuss changing constellations of power and the impact of ICT on SMOs, we need to take a closer look at the form of the different components forming a particular assemblage and at the processes of assembly.
An assemblage’s components can perform various roles ranging from purely expressive ones to purely material ones. Interpersonal networks, for example, posses a number of material components ranging from human bodies and physical labor to the buildings and neighborhoods that serve as their locales (DeLanda, 2006: 12). Important components playing a material role in the context of SMOs are weapons, anti-riot gear, the physical control of protesters by police and army forces, communication means, tracking and surveillance devices, physical occupancy of a particular space by protesters as well as Web-servers that host communication and information services, such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc., to name just a few. The illustration of components that perform an expressive role is more delicate as expressivity cannot be reduced to just language and symbols. Nonlinguistic social expressions, such as expressions of solidarity between members of interpersonal networks through shared sacrifice or mutual help, are as important as linguistic expressions (l.c.: 13). Important components performing an expressive role, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, in SMO assemblages are Tilly’s above-quoted WUNC displays
The roles of an assemblage’s components are not fixed and may change over time, usually occurring in mixtures. The change of contention repertoires from machine-breaking, physical attacks to the more expressive ones used in protests nowadays implies that at least some components have switched from a material to an expressive role (l.c.: 12). The decomposition of an assemblage into its component parts and the assignment of roles to each of them allows analyzing the impact of changing social and technological givens on the components and tracing the changes of a component’s nature over time.
However, there is another concept that makes it possible to understand the processes of assembly through which social entities such as interpersonal networks come into being, and how these assemblages maintain their identity once they have emerged: the concept of territorialization (and deterritorialization). Although territorialization can be understood literally (as a process that defines or sharpens spatial boundaries), the term is usually used to refer to non-spatial processes that increase the internal homogeneity of an assemblage, such as sorting processes that exclude certain segments of the population from networks or organizations (Van Wezemael 2009). An external threat, such as the announcement of the deregulation of sensitive markets (such as agricultural markets) can increase the unity of a heterogeneous assemblage (in this case, it would unite farmers, anti-GMO movements, green parties, slow food movements and more). Conflicts are another example of a territorializing force that is particularly important in the context of SMOs, as conflicts between different communities play an important part in delimiting interpersonal networks and promoting internal homogeneity through group boundary construction by exaggerating the distinction between us and them. These narratives of us and them and the associated categories of insiders and outsiders serve to rigidify the identities of the conflicting parties (l.c.: 58f) and to “code and consolidate the effects of territorialization on interpersonal networks” (l.c.: 59). This kind of territorialization allows for an increased mobility of representations across space and time (similar to Latour’s (1987) argument of the black box). Deterritorializing processes, in contrast, are processes that destabilize (spatial) boundaries or increase an assemblage’s internal heterogeneity (DeLanda, 2002: 1). An example of such deterritorializing forces – and a particularly important one with regard to our argument – are transportation and communication technologies because they reduce the importance of physical co-presence and increase geographical dispersion. (l.c.: 58). The WEF related riots in Zurich in 2001 and Bern in 2003 show an increasing spatial and temporal decentralization of actions on the side of the protesters (Bruno, 2007). This spatial decentralization of actions indicates a de-territorialization of spatial and temporal strategies on the one hand, but it signifies at the same time a re-territorialization on the thematic level, facilitated by ICT.
An important characteristic of SMOs, according to Tilly, is their political byproducts that lie outside their actual programs and sometimes even contradict them. These include, for example, new police personnel and practices, the generation of rival movements and organizations, co-optation of activists and their organizations by governments or political parties, or the transformation of SMOs into pressure groups (see Tilly, 1999). The so called “pop-up armies” (see Graham, 2010) are such a byproduct (in the above mentioned case of the increasing spatial and temporal deterritorialization of social protest). Assemblage theory makes it clear that a protest assemblage does not consist merely of a specific group of activists; rather, the variation and transformation of SMOs can only be understood by paying close attention to political actors other than the central claimants (Tilly and Wood, 2009: 12) as well as the relational and mutual constitution of (material and expressive) forms or technologies of protest and protest control, of occupying and defending space.
In this section we have shown that an assemblage concept of SMOs based on DeLanda’s assemblage theory (2006) allows an analysis of the impact of changing social and technological givens and the processes through which SMOs materialize, maintain their identity, or fall apart. Based on this, we can now discuss the influence of internationalization and the spread of ICT.
II. Internationalization and Digitalization
According to Tilly and Wood (2009), SMOs have experienced considerable internationalization with regard to claims as well as claimants as a result of globalization and have been facilitated by an increasing availability of ICT. Internationally organized networks of activists, international non-governmental organizations and internationally visible targets, such as multinational corporations and financial institutions, all figure prominently in recent SMOs (Fisher et al., 2005; Tilly, 2003: 8; Smith, 2001). This internationalization and the quasi-ubiquitous connectedness offered by ICT have altered the nature, form and practices of SMOs as well as anti-protest strategies and tactics (cf. Tilly and Wood, 2009; Rheingold, 2002). At the same time, they have reconfigured the role and importance of relational space (Van Wezemael 2010a). Specific places serving as venues for international events such as Seattle or Davos increasingly serve as a spatial anchor point for the exemplification of diverse and often contradicting claims under general(izing) labels such as “anti-globalization movements” (see EJPD, 2001; Rucht, 2001).
The importance of relational space as a unifying element and point of exemplification is intrinsically connected to the loosening and fragmenting of network structures, resulting from the virtualization of communication and the multiplication of connections. This has a deterritorializing effect on existing SMO assemblages as it increases the heterogeneity of components by facilitating the introduction of local issues into movement discourses and diminishing the relative importance of bounded, durable, resource-rich organizations as bases for social protest, thus weakening the identification of local activists with the movement as a whole (see CSIS, 2000; Bennet, 2003). Instead, relatively resource-poor organizations and permanent campaigns (e.g., anti-globalization) with rapidly shifting immediate targets (e.g., WEF in Davos or WTO in Seattle or Genoa) become more important. Warren (2005: 219) refers in this context to the notion of “spatial chess”.
The increased internal heterogeneity and the weaker links between component parts of SMOs imply a reduced capacity to constrain the component members, enforce local norms or provide trust in a crisis (CSIS, 2000; DeLanda, 2006: 35). This perspective offers a context for the growing conflicts between the different communities of the anti-globalization coalition regarding the proper tactics, methods and public displays, and the struggle for power and media attention that became apparent in the case of Seattle as well as Davos (see also Tilly and Wood, 2009; De Armond, 2001). In Seattle, the first fault line ran between institutionalized organizations, such as American organized labor (AFL-CIO), and an emerging species of network-based political organizations, such as the Direct Action Network (DAN), which links groups like the Rainforest Actions or the Ruckus Society. The tactics of the latter rely on ad hoc mobilizations, swarming and decentralized command and control structures; the strategic goal was to “shut down” the WTO meeting. The tactics of the unions, however, are shaped by hierarchy and unitary, top-down command and based on marches and rallies; their strategic target was the display of loyal opposition (De Armond, 2001: 203–204). A second line ran between nonviolent and violent protest groups (essentially the Black Blocs). The latter were particularly effective in terms of control of the informational conflict, though they were neither numerous nor strategically significant regarding the overall outcome of the protests (l.c.:207).
At the same time, the weaker links increase agility, the capacity to provide “their component parts with novel information about fleeing opportunities” (DeLanda, 2006: 35). In the context of what Ronfeldt and Arquilla (2001) dubbed “netwars”, conflicts of low intensity that are heavily based on ICT and non-hierarchical organizations, agility becomes essential. Once again, the Seattle events serve as an example. According to De Armond (2001: 209), the outcome of the Seattle protests was to a large extent due to the ability of the DAN to decontrol efficiently and adapt their strategy rapidly to the situation of confusion and disarray resulting from the collapse of the initial strategies of all players involved on both sides of the conflict.
However, internationalization goes beyond a growing importance of relational space and intensified interconnection between claims and claimants at multiple spatial and institutional levels (Tilly and Wood, 2009). It has led to a multiplication of lateral connections among different groups of activists who share a similar objective in their respective spatial territories and has strengthened the importance of specialized intermediaries who coordinate claims and convey tools as well as techniques at the international level rather than making claims on their own (Tilly, 2003: 18; De Armond, 2001). A prominent case of such a strategic player on the SMO side is The Ruckus Society (2011). This semi-professional group of activists provides instruction on the application of tactical and strategic tools through skill sharing and training camps. Tools range from the implementation of strategic nonviolent direct action against institutions and policies through the establishment of broad coalitions with common objectives to methods of media outreach and Internet activism (Ruckus Society, 2011; De Armond, 2001; Smith, 2001). In the case of the protests against the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 in Seattle, sometimes referred to as the “Battle of Seattle”, Ruckus-trained activists hung a huge banner from a crane or occupied strategic places where they were chained onto one another by having their arms locked together deep inside steel pipes to prevent police from pulling them apart (Ruckus, 2011; Baum, 2001; Smith, 2001). Strictly speaking, actors such as the Ruckus Society are mediators in a Latourian sense (cf. Latour, 2005) rather than simple intermediaries as they – intentionally or not – translate, modify and transform content, techniques and practices. On the side of so-called authorities, we can observe a similar development. We might cite as examples crowd control and suicide bomber specialists from places such as Ireland or Israel, training police forces in the run-up to major events that leads to an integration of military tactics and logistics into protest policing tactics (Golan, 2005; see also Graham, 2010). The result is an increasing circulation of concepts, techniques and tactics and their continuous modification and transformation because there is no such thing as simple transport (Graham, 2010; see also Latour, 2005).
Moreover, the circulation between the military, police and security sectors depicts another transversality with a distinct spatiality. Graham (2010) and Golan (2005) have identified an increasing militarization of protest policy that expresses itself in the adaptation of military tactics, strategies and technology originally used and developed for modern urban warfare, rather than in the actual physical presence of military forces. These tactics heavily rely on digital technology for intelligence gathering, surveillance or reconnaissance enhancement. Their main goal, with regard to protest control, however, remains the domination and control of urban space.
Alongside the diffusion processes and transversalities attributed to the involvement of experts and the innovations in the field of ICT, the internationalization of both claims and claimants and of riot control and intelligence has substantially increased the transversality of concepts, tactics and techniques. These developments have opened up new “repertoires of contention” (cf. Tilly and Wood, 2009) and new opportunity structures for SMOs: handbills are being substituted by blogs, Twitter, Facebook and similar social networking tools; image and video posting sites offer radically new opportunities to display worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment (WUNC); social networks facilitate solidarity displays; and crowd-sourced tactical mapping and location-based social networks offer completely new dimensions of location awareness to protesters. However, while the organizations of SMOs can go online and harvest the new possibilities, in situations of protest, the control over communication technology (cf. The Economist, 2011), and thus the materiality of cyberspace, is still gaining crucial momentum.
The materiality of ICT points at yet another important aspect of space with regard to SMOs and protest assemblages. Although there is a growing range of interactions at the transnational or even global scale, and “new technologies appear to promise ever-increasing degrees of disembodiment or detachment” (Kaplan, 2002: 34), many such relationships remain largely local (Graham, 2004a: 21). The same holds true for the communication infrastructure. The immense spatiality of the ICT infrastructure and the de facto geographies of ICT in the traditional sense means that access to the various ICTs is group-dependent and thus not ubiquitous, and that the geographical patterns of the material bases and investment patterns are highly uneven (Graham 2004a). The extended use of territorial and spatial metaphors in discourses on ICTs blurs the basically material nature of the ICT infrastructure, i.e., wires, satellite stations, mobile towers, server farms and the electric systems that power the entire ICT infrastructure; an infrastructure that tends to be overlooked as long as their operation is smooth, but which is nevertheless very physical and located in real places (Graham, 2004a,b; 1998).
The concept of uneven access and distribution holds particularly true for broadband Internet connections, which are essential for many online communication services (cf. Tilly and Wood, 2009: 14f). In fact, it is the rapid spread of smart-phones in particular and the proliferation of high-bandwidth mobile Internet access that have allowed the capacity of wireless computing and location-based services to be exploited for the first time. This includes text, picture and video posting, tools for exchanging information, locations and news to activists through social networks or tools for location awareness. However, mobile fingerprint devices for biometric border controls, which play an important part in the actual folding-in of borders into a specific protest setting, typically an urban area, use the very same technological basis (real-time access to databases, smart computing devices). Both claimants and policing actors engage in place-making activities by recombining physical-spatial aspects and elements with cyberspace features and information. This, again, underlines the above point about the formation and component parts of SMO assemblages (movements, counter-movements, policing, etc.).
The new digital communication tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and to a lesser extent, SMS, email or blogs, differ considerably from older communication media in terms of symmetry and asymmetry. They show an extended level of interaction and participation and thus a higher symmetry between producers and consumers compared to media such as television or newspapers, but also handbills. Because of this, new communication media are less vulnerable to media tactics, such as the spread of misinformation by the government or mass media. Crowd-sourced mapping and location-based social networks offer new possibilities in terms of control over and management of space, rather than occupation of space. These new interactive and rather symmetric communication tools and the increased location awareness, level to some extent – or at least counterbalance – the tactical advantages that security, police and army forces get from increased aerial reconnaissance, as well as intelligence gathered from cell phone tracking or data mining (cf. Rheingold, 2002). During the riots that accompanied the rally in central London against public spending cuts in early 2011, protesters turned to Sukey, a tool that allowed them to report on and share the location and activities of police via a smartphone browser or SMS in order to avoid being contained by Metropolitan Police (Geere, 2011).
To end this section, we return to our conceptual basis and point out one of the merits of assemblage theory: it makes it clear that there can be no “given” movement that merely changes the media it works with. Rather, it is the relationships between all the component parts (material and expressive roles and their de/re-territorializing effects) that generate an SMO, stabilize its (temporal) identity or modify it. This, again, makes it clear that both internationalization and digitalization significantly reconstitute social protest, its technological and spatial modes of organization, and its effectiveness. This brings us to the next point of our argument: if we take the development from handbills to Twitter, from police cordons to data mining, or from occupation of space to control over space, we can claim that this change in technical and tactical opportunity structures on both sides of protest events goes along with a changing constellation and diagram of power. For our discussion on the impact of this change on the existing constellation of power, the next section is based on Foucault’s and Deleuze’s diagrams of power.
III. From Discipline to Control
The diagrams of discipline and control that differentiate distinct conceptions of power as developed by Foucault (1995) and Deleuze (1988) draw heavily on forms of spatiality and, more precisely, on the joint becoming of power and space. Graham (2004b: 19, our emphasis) argues that “Cities – or space in general – and ICTs have fused into socio-technical and hybrid complexes” as an increasing proportion of people’s interactions of all sorts are mediated by dividing practices in and around technologies of control. In Surveiller et punir, Foucault (1995) described the panoptic diagram that, as a tool of surveillance, functions through the enclosed space and physical situating of individuals. This panoptic surveillance both pre-supposes and produces a particular concept of power that is referred to as a discipline that operates by way of making things visible. Deleuze (1992) argued that the panoptic diagram is currently being usurped by another social diagram that uses networks that deterritorialize the disciplinary assemblage. He points out the reconfigurations of new technologies when mediating new hybrids of built space, new collectives that give rise to specific modes of governance but also to shifts in citizen models (Isin 2004) and continuous electronic surveillance and control (see also Lyon 1994, 2005). The panopticon as the very diagram that unfolded disciplinary power is superimposed by the panspectric one (DeLanda, 1991). Panspectric surveillance is not a matter of watching someone as an individual. Instead, it aims to understand what they are likely to do next and thus, crucially, introduces preemption as the pivotal feature of control. In other words, control is based on calculations made on the basis of prior decisions about the norm and on what Bottomley and Moore call total registration: “the military impulse to gather information and generate intelligence” (2007: 9, our emphasis).
This goes along with a shift in the mode of observation. In the context of discipline societies, observation was focused on the internal state of the individuals and the awareness of being observed plays a crucial role. It is this awareness of being observed that aims to make individuals follow the correct form of behavior. In a society of control, however, the form of observation is focused on external manifestations, traces of an individual’s actions, such as flight records, cell-phone logs or Internet search keywords. In order to function, control presupposes openness and flows because it relies on dividual (data-) traces, information flows and patterns rather than on individuals themselves (Savat, 2009b: 54).
In this context, the way individuals are governed changes as well. While discipline controls activity by imposing order and by forcing individuals to adapt to a specific form, control is about the anticipation and management of activity (Savat, 2009b: 52). Anticipation is heavily dependent on computer technology and modulation (l.c.), which forms both the conceptual and the material basis for societies of control. As a result, social interactions increasingly operate in socio-technical environments within which negotiation is impossible. Consequently, automatic pattern recognition by a computer replaces reflection. Guattari quotes the example of the “dividual” electronic card that raises an automatic barrier, elevator or door, but could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours (Guattari cited in Deleuze, 1992: 7; our emphasis). No Fly Lists or smart credit card anti-fraud systems follow the same logic. Biometric access control tools, such as iris, face or fingerprint scans are probably the most archetypical examples of the above-mentioned non-negotiation processes. Many of these processes, which are already in use in military (e.g., hand-held biometric devices to scan and keep track of enemy combatants in Afghanistan), homeland security and border control, increasingly diffuse into riot control practices (see Graham, 2010).
The high degree of digitalization and algorithmization that is inherent in control implies a fundamental change with regard to the importance of the individual. In this environment, human subjects “cease to be individuals, in the sense of being a unitary agent in a mass of individuals” (Palmas, 2011: 342). Instead, they become dividuals, abstract products of data-mining technologies and databases (Bogard, 2009: 22). The pair individual/mass is replaced by the pair dividuals/databanks (Deleuze, 1992: 5).
All this has important consequences for the way space operates as apparatus of control and ultimately spatiality as such. While the spatiality of discipline is characterized by isolation and closing-off of territories, the spatiality of control is distinguished by opening and globalization (Agamben, 2001:1). Drawing on Agamben (2001:1), we can state that control (security) is about guiding disorder, whereas discipline is about producing order. Following Schumacher (1996) and Delalex (2006) and their understanding of built (architectural) space as the organization of movement (flow), we find that both control (security) and built space have in common that they are based on strategies on the basis of decisions about the norm taken earlier. More importantly, they mutually constitute each other: the advances in technologies of control allow technologies of space, such as architecture or urban design, to open outwards and adapt to the population, to be membrane-like in the first place, whereas open, sentient architecture enables a broader and more persuasive exercise of control at the same time (Bottomley and Moore, 2007: 192–196).
Against this backdrop, it is safe to say that ICT and physical space also mutually constitute each other; and they do so to an increasing extent. Open, membrane-like spatial design (including spatial riot control measures) constitutes a joint becoming of physical and virtual space because management of the physical space relies on matching processes between dividual information and a database that takes place in the virtual. Graham describes the emerging spatial practices that are based on this hybrid of the physical and the virtual that we encounter in and around events, such as WTO conferences or major sport events, as “passage points urbanism” (cf. Graham, 2010).
What are the implications for the organization of protests and especially its spatiality and control? On the protester side, this demands new smart tactics where unpredictability, local awareness, intelligence, instant and symmetric communication and a high degree of agility and responsiveness are key factors (cf. Baum, 2001; De Armond, 2001). ICT offers the (online) tools and services required, such as SMS, Crowdmap , Sukey, Facebook or Twitter. The Seattle Anti-WTO protests mark a tipping point in terms of the use as well as the importance of ICT for mobilization, organization and coordination. DAN protesters relied on information and communication tools, such as cell phones, radio, police scanners and portable computers to coordinate action, report and gather intelligence. The use of ICT constituted an important tactical advantage as it increased the situational awareness as well as the ability to continuously and rapidly adapt to changing conditions at a time when the police and security forces still depended on narrow, centralized communications (see De Armond, 2001). In particular, Internet-based ICT services permit coordinated actions without the need for central command and facilitate coordinated actions with minimal resources, thus rendering countermeasures difficult (CSIS, 2000).
On the protest and riot control side, the shift towards a diagrammatic and technology of control implies that preemption ultimately takes the place of reaction. Today, preemptive measures in the context of riot and crowd control typically range from subtle tactics against individual hooligans, such as denial of access or house arrest (cf. Tsoukala, 2007), to less subtle ones, such as the cordoning-off of entire venues at the WEF Davos in 2000 or the declaration of vast no-protest zones (see Della Porta et al., 2006). However, in the (near) future, riot control and crowd control will increasingly rely on filtering, tracking and targeting techniques, on intelligence and counterintelligence, on biometrics and the analysis of all sorts of dividual traces which a person leaves, such as travel behavior, credit card data or phone call records; techniques and tactics that are already in use in modern urban warfare and homeland security (Graham, 2010). This implies a categorization (and sometimes a criminalization) by pattern recognition instead of reflection.
Dividual data, as we argued above, only produces (informational) value if connected to databases, which means that action unfolds through a recombination of physical and cyber space. This creates hybrid entities that are ontologically non-reducible to either their physical or cyber existence. Instead ICT and protests in urban space merge into a joint becoming with emerging and distinct properties, as we argue in this article. Riot control in urban space, therefore, is neither on-line nor off-line, but an intertwining that relationally generates places by folding together server farms with urban texture, lines of sight in physical space with data availability and compatibility in cyber space, and unitary urban sites with distributed computing. The line between online and offline, thus, must not be drawn hastily, and should by no means be a thick line.
Social protest is transformed with regard to new possibilities in terms of tactics, repertoires of contention (Tilly and Wood, 2009) and forms of (spatial) organization. But, and this is more important, the question of protest and resistance is not just a matter of “anti-control” (Savat, 2009a: 6). In Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze (1992: 7) questions the ability of “inept” labor unions, tied to their history of struggle against the discipline or within the spaces of enclosure, to react to their crisis of institution that results from the transformation of the diagram of power. Analogously, we argue that traditional repertoires of contention increasingly lose their effectiveness, given the tactics of guiding disorder by means of the effective joint, intertwined and mutually dependent management of data space and physical space. Riot control becomes guiding the protest, allowing for movement through space, while keeping the crowd at a distance from symbolic places and objects of struggle, such as bank branches or McDonalds restaurants. Iconic examples of such mobile ”green zones” include the WTO ministerial meetings in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in 2001 as well as the WEF in Davos in 2001 and 2003 (see Graham, 2010; Della Porta et al., 2006).
The shift from discipline to control, the consequent increase of social interactions that operate in socio-technical environments within which negotiation is impossible, the transformation of the subject into a dividual and the materialization of power in the form of surveillance all affect the management and design of space and strategies of protest control and policing.
IV. Space as Event
We now have the tools to re-conceptualize social protest. Unlike SMOs, which may be studied without explicit spatial reference as their defining linkage and formal positions can, at least theoretically, be created and maintained online at a distance thanks to ICT, social protest needs to be analyzed with explicit reference to a location in space and spatial relations (cf. DeLanda, 2006) as well as to spatial expression or “spacing”.
Space complicates things due to the fact that it emerges from and produces an order of concomitance and thus a topology. The materialization of SMOs in the form of social protest can therefore only be conceived properly in relation to the physical structure of buildings, streets, places, power grids and other conducts that constitute a (western) settlement area. Spatial distribution by itself accounts for much of what happens in the world (Thrift, 1999) because the materialization of, e.g., economic inequality in space, creates an immediate neighborhood relationship that calls for some kind of management. Consequently, social protest can be conceptualized as a larger scale social entity that includes at least one SMO assemblage and a set of physical environments, which can be the same location at different times (WEF in Davos) or globally dispersed locations such as Seattle and Genoa, in which the SMO expressively and materially displays its worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment; occupies public spaces; engages with authorities or their representations; and expresses support for shared demands (Tilly, 1999: 260). In a spatio-temporal sense, social protest can be conceptualized as a spatial focal point of SMOs and their counterparts and public, or put differently, as a spatial actualization of virtual, in a DeLandian sense (2002), (political) opportunity structures. In other words, social protest is the expression of the material and expressive resources assembled in a given place that serves as venue for a particular event such as a WTO ministerial meeting or the WEF.
An event in this context implies the possibility of rupture as well as fusion. It signifies a point of unpredictability because of its intense capacity/ability to assemble a large number of human, material, or expressive things and their capacity for diffusion, interaction and transversality (cf. Latour, 2007), but also because of the generative process of emergence that stems from the spatial juxtaposition of the materializations of various relational networks. The Seattle events exemplify this capacity to assemble actors and things, to diffuse and transform concepts and tactics, and to generate new realities in a paradigmatic way (see De Armond, 2001). An event produces and reconfigures relational space by connecting various concepts of space (physical, virtual and mental) and therefore folding mental and virtual space into the physical one (and vice versa), creating relational networks that can be materially experienced at the actual venue of the event, and also in related places, e.g., WEF related protests in Zurich or Bern (see Bruno, 2007).
The importance of a particular event, and hence social protest, results from what is assembled in the event and what emerges from it not only in terms of coalitions and relationships, but also transversalities of concepts and practices. Social protest can thus be understood as a “synthesis of past and future” (Badiou, 2007: 38), a discontinuity on the basis of continuities (cf. DeLanda, 2002).
In this article we offer a critical and novel approach to SMOs and social protest by conceptualizing SMOs as SMO assemblages and by elaborating on the distinct spatiality of social protest. This allows us to integrate relational space into the concept of SMO and to emphasize the importance of protest as a constitutive part of SMOs, something that was missing in Tilly’s SMO approach. We have shown how internationalization and digitalization both destabilize and stimulate SMO assemblages, how this fuels the transversality of concepts, practices and tactics as well as the performance of mediators. We have developed the argument, following Isin (2004), that the concept of the subject as an individual needs to be adapted in light of the superimposition of discipline by control that gives rise to the dividual.
In addition, place is an emergent product of the encounter of relationships rather than a given. The material and expressive resources of online action enter a joint becoming with physical and mental relational networks. A place can’t be seen as a distinct, unitary physical entity, nor can a virtual place perform social protest. The materiality of a place of protest is experienced as a significant but relatively fluid conjunction of multiple networks. The connections of those networks generate both their momentary fixity and their performativity, rendering the protest assemblage into an event. The specificity of space as a complication apparatus is a socket of the event and thus should be viewed as a condition of the possibility of protest by which it is, in turn, both reproduced and transformed. Thus, the concept of an “event” emphasizes the discontinuity on the basis of continuities, the potential for emergence, and the momentum for social change.
We find evidence for a significant impact of ICT on the organization, strategies and tactics of SMOs, the organization of security, police and army forces and the dynamics of exchanges of these concepts and tactics, and hence on transversalities. However, it would be wrong to oppose this to the idea of conventional, offline SMOs. Rather than a dichotomy offline/online or cyber/physical, we find a complex intertwining of offline and online relationships. Rather than disappearing as a result of the spread of ICT, the conventional spatial form of SMOs evolves into a hybrid. This hybrid becomes apparent in the spatial actualization of the SMO in the form of social protest, when the material and expressive resources of online action enter a joint becoming with physical and mental relational networks.
While we find evidence for a changing constellation of power in favor of looser but heavily interconnected networks of activists and SMOs, it remains very difficult to evaluate the development of the constellation of power on a more general level and thus the effectiveness of social protest in bringing about social change. Further research is needed on the effect of the above-mentioned hybridization of SMOs and the process of joint becoming of virtual, mental and physical space on the effectiveness of social protest. The assemblage approach of SMO and social protest presented in this article offers a conceptual entry point for such an in-depth study.
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1 See Graham’s (2010) notions ideas of “splintering urbanism” and “passage point urbanism”.
2 When Agamben (2001) draws the important distinction between disciplinary power and security, he is obviously reflecting the shift from discipline to control.
3 See http://crowdmap.com/