By Jon Cloke

Loughborough University geographer Jon Cloke shared this piece with the Crit-Geog-Forum in response to the recent discussion about blogs and social media (see here for more on that). Jon’s been kind enough to allow me to share it on Immanence. I think it provocatively gets at the larger picture in which blogs (and related media forms) are both filling in the communicative gaps for social movements that have not been well served by traditional media or academic circuits, and are helping create new circuits for informational exchange. – ai

Moving upwards from the personal to the institutional and outwards from the impersonal to the systemic, there are numerous examples where blogging fills an immediate and urgent need.

In terms of the ongoing global economic crisis (as one instance) understanding causation, correlation and the spatiality of the critical is impossible through following official and academic analyses, still less the fairly meaningless data that have been trotted out. The clearer and more critical analysis is only available through following a set of crucial blogs such as Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism, Alphaville, the Real-World Economics Review, Steve Keen’s (he of ‘Debunking Economics’) Debtwatch blog, and the bloggish stuff at the Post-Autistic Economics site. That is, unless you want to be fed the mixed official pablum of (‘Whocouldanode?’ or ‘it-wasn’t-us-it-was-the-shadow-banking-system’). All economic geographers worth their salt should be reading this stuff and comparing it to Adair’s review and the US Financial Services Inquiry Commission – if you want to understand why the austerity being proposed in the UK and the US is such a universally bad idea you need to understand the ways in which that particular meme springs from the same laissez-faire economic conceptualization that created this mess in the first place.

In a similar vein, any scholar of international affairs or geopolitics should be raiding the Wikileaks site on the leaked US cables (and yes, I know Wikileaks isn’t a blog which I’ll touch on in a bit) for ‘knowledge’ that is performed differently but which is perhaps invaluable for not being located in the official/academic – which is what this discussion is really centred on.

Most of the pro-blog comments here [in the Crit-Geog-Forum discussion] centre around professional and personal utility, the personal/political instrumentality of blogging if you will, without perhaps considering blogs in a more holistic context. What most commentators seem to be interested in is either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of blogs from the point-of-view of a particular academic performance of knowledge OR their instrumentality as it relates to their personal performance of knowledge (‘it helps me think’, etc.). Not (rapidly) to say that there is anything wrong with this….

I think that you have to see blogging not as a thing by itself but as part of a suite of social networking activities that are transforming the shape and the meaning of information, perhaps even as the first ‘bitter notes’ of the nascent hive-soul. If you think that this is hyperbolae then I suggest you visit the ‘I am Tahrir’ facebook site and have a look at the way this particular experience intensifies type and use of art as insurrectional, intensifies global art/activist connectivity and links directly into ‘real’ activism and insurgency in North Africa and the Middle East. Not convinced? Then think about this in terms of the purported digital divide and the suggestion that IT-based social networking excludes the poorest – across Africa, MPESA and other mobile phone operators have stepped into the gap left by conventional phone services and the financial services sector to initiate mobile networks aimed at the poorest. These new forms of communication link the rural and urban households to family members on a global basis for the purposes of communication and transmitting remittances, but at the same time because they are mobile-based they make services such as Twitter the NATURAL communications mode on a continental basis and the organizing mechanism by default of the powerless against the powerful.

Which brings us round to the ways in which current academic conduits constitute a 17th-Century solution for the slow, clumsy performance of knowledge. Academic journals, research bids, conferences are not merely conduits for certain kinds of knowledge, they constitute how that knowledge is constructed; they are not passive transmitters but active agents. What is required in terms of the social networking revolution is not just to lift our Foucauldian academic ‘gaze’ from the way academe currently performs knowledge, but to stop comparing the two critically and finding social networking at fault. If it is true (for instance) as Paul Krugman notably claimed in 2009 that “most work in macroeconomics in the past 30 years has been useless at best and harmful at worst”, then what does that say about the journal/conference/ research-funding process that produced it? And are we really suggesting that it’s only economics whose structurated knowledge-production processes are part of the problem, not the solution?

More widely, this more holistic take on social networking (blogging included) requires us to revisit what we mean by ‘concrete data sources’, what is implied by the assertion of “the discipline of judgement, selectivity” and against what doxae these value judgments are being juxtaposed. What is a ‘sincere’ blogger, or an ‘insincere’ one, for that matter? In this view, social networking technologies are not ‘for’ anything, not research, not activism, they are of and by themselves in a way that can be leant to these needs but do not characterize them. I can’t help thinking that at the base of most criticism of social networking technology is that what it is actually being accused of is profanity – it contravenes the will of the academic/official gods by passing, in Promethean fashion, the ability to construct knowledge to the masses.

So the humble bumbleblog flew on, completely unaware that (according to the discursive models of the semantic mechanics) it should not be flying because of its vacuity, speciousness and narcissism. And after indiscriminately collecting the info-pollen from the lowliest BNP weed-blog to the towering magnificence of Mr Krugman’s intellectual sunflowers, in the company of countless millions of other bumbleblogs it returned to the collective consciousness, so that this harvest could be used to make the cyber-honey fuelling the evolution of the human mind…..

Just some thoughts,

Dr Jon Cloke

Lecturer/Research Associate, Geography Department, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU

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