Friday, September 25, 2009

The G20 Protests

Not long ago, I analyzed the health care town halls in network terms, linking the protestors' tactics to the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. Now we're seeing something more similar to the WTO protests, the G20 protests currently going on in Pittsburgh. I'm not going to attempt an analysis, at least not yet, but it's worth quoting John Robb on them:
In general, governments worldwide are losing control over all of the classical forms of national power from borders to finances to communication to media to economic activity to security to trade flows (of all types). The upshot of this accelerating weakness is a tendency to view any and all forms of public protest as a security threat.
Right. Castells goes further, noting that the state traditionally asserts a monopoly on violence (Communication Power p.51, for instance), and that "because networks are global, the state, which is the enforcer of power through the monopoly of violence, finds considerable limits to its coercive capacity unless it engages itself in networking with other states, and with the power-holders in the decisive networks that shape social practices in their territories while being deployed in the global realm" (p.51). But nonstate actors are also in play, as the Seattle protests nicely demonstrated, and these threaten states' abilities to enforce power.

So, Robb points out, states have begun turning to paramilitary operations, early and free use of nonlethal weapons on crowds (e.g., sonic weapons, tear gas), and speech restrictions. And as Robb warns:
This effort will almost undoubtedly generate unintended consequences (we can already see protest groups learning to counter this by using flash mob mobility via cell phones).
Yes, and as with the previous examples, groups are mingling and networking, using Internet and mobile communication technologies to coordinate, exhort, and plan. Techniques in one context are deployed in others - on both sides. For instance, one response to the town hall protests has been to hold "virtual town halls" in which representatives control the communication channels and thus the conduct of the meetings. The results have been less unruly, but also have been perceived in some quarters as analogous to Potemkin villages. Such communication management is perhaps analogous to the "free speech zones" Robb notes, but we can imagine more aggressive measures along these lines, such as disrupting mobile phone service or social networking.

3 comments:

Leila Nachawati Rego said...

Thanks for this analysis. I´m taking the CCK09 course and one of my biggest interests is the approach of how networking translates in community mobilizations.

Leila
http://unmundollenodemundos.blogspot.com

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Glad it was useful! The CCK09 course seems really interesting - I've seen a few of the tweets but I need to click through and read them all!

marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!
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