evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 6: Alter-globalism & culture


As we continue reading Gilbert’s Anticapitalism and Culture, we are attempting to deepen our understanding how political-economic changes affect the cultural conditions for social (and environmental) change.

Much of this entry will review the political-economic shifts we examined in class this past week. For those who’d like to review any of the videos we watched (or who were not in class), I’m including links to the videos and to further readings. Specific pointers on this week’s Gilbert readings are presented below.

One of the arguments I presented in class was that the social movements of the 1960s were the product of a “sense of possibility” that was enabled, in part, by the economic gains of the post-war period — the Fordist grand compromise that undergirded the “welfare state” — and by the more global media of the time, a media that, in Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, was turning the world into a “global village.”

The student-and-worker revolt in France in the spring of 1968 was perhaps the most clear crystallization of how this “sense of possibility” as it was experienced by French students could be linked to a sense of possibility for better conditions for French workers. This was a moment in which a kind of “counter-hegemony” — a broad alliance across social classes — seemed possible.

Here is the video we watched about the Paris uprising.

We also watched part 4 and much of part 5 of  “1968, The Year that Shaped a Generation.”

As was made clear, the electoral victory of the Gaullist government later that year, and of the Nixon administration in the U.S., signalled that this counter-hegemony failed to translate into a popular mandate. Somehow, it seemed, the majority wasn’t convinced and the revolutions failed.

I suggested also that the emergence of neoliberal ideology and post-Fordist economies, beginning in the 1970s, could be seen in part as responses by dominant political-economic classes to the challenges of the Sixties, the New Left, the anti-colonial revolts that spread through the Third World from the 1950s on, and the “new social movements” that grew through the 1970s.

As we saw, the first major movement to constitute itself as an anti-neoliberal movement — and to have a global impact — was the Zapatista movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Here’s the video we watched an excerpt from, “A Place Called Chiapas.” We started roughly 6 minutes into this segment, and continued for about 17 minutes (follow the links to sections II and III once this segment ends):

We then watched a few very brief clips from This is What Democracy Looks Like and from Democracy Now’s 10 Year Anniversary program on the Battle of Seattle.

Tying much of this together, while focusing particularly on the economic crash of 2008, was David Harvey’s video on “The Crises of Capitalism” (2 million YouTube views and counting!):

Harvey, who is one of the most famous human geographers, is the author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism, which can be read online here and here. Jason Hickel’s “Short History of Neoliberalism” is a more concise account of some of the same material. I also recommend the UN Research Institute for Social Development report by Jan Arte Scholte on “The Sources of Neoliberal Globalization” (PDF warning).

(And, for fairness, I mentioned that the weekly magazine The Economist is perhaps the best periodical to provide a view of world affairs that is inflected with a “pro-neoliberalization” perspective. But pro-neoliberal views are much easier to find: much of mainstream neoclassical economics is permeated with it, as are the views expressed by governments of the Right and the Left over the last 25 years. The question for us to consider is how that view became so hegemonic, and how an alternative view might become similarly hegemonic — for a wiser, more just, and more ecologically sensible world.)

Assignment for this week

We are reading chapters 3 and 4 of Gilbert’s Anticapitalism and Culture.

In chapter 3, “Another world is possible,” please focus on how Gilbert defines the “anti-capitalist movement” (a.k.a., altermondialisme, globalization from below, global justice movement, pro-democracy movement, anti-neoliberalism, etc.), and on his discussions of the Zapatistas, Reclaim the Streets, the Battle of Seattle, and the World Social Forum. Pay particular attention to how Gilbert is working out an idea of “anticapitalist culture” (which he expands on in the next chapter). You needn’t pay too much attention to his critiques of specific thinkers, such as Naomi Klein, the Situationists, or Murray Bookchin. But it will be important for us to understand his general argument about pluralism, radical democracy, and “anti-essentialism” — themes we’ll pick up on later in the book and course.

In chapter 4, “(Anti)Capitalism and Culture,” try, again, to get a sense of the overall argument — about capitalism, creativity, and “creative destruction.” Don’t get too bogged down with his discussion of individual theorists. One such discussion, beginning at the bottom of p. 117 and ending on p. 121, can be skimmed or skipped altogether; but do read his discussion of music, which begins at the bottom of p. 121 (with the paragraph that starts with “Most Marxist cultural criticism…”), and continue on to the end of the chapter.

Your comments for this week will be expected to respond to the general argument(s) presented in the first 4 chapters of Gilbert’s book. Feel free to anticipate the discussion to come by looking into how the movements mentioned — the EZLN (Zapatistas), Reclaim the Streets, the “anti-globalization” protests, the World Social Forum — made use of new media, and by thinking about how cultural possibilities for new alliances might have been missed by these groups, and might be available for us today.

Somebody please volunteer to start the discussion. . . Enjoy!



  1. I’ll start the conversation with some background information on Gilbert’s key arguments, as well as some prompted questions throughout, and in the end.

    In Chapter 3 of Anticapitalism and Culture, Gilbert specifically defines the anti-capitalist movement as not simply the opposition of world trade between borders, but the fact that these principles are “driven solely by and for corporate interests.” (76). Therefore, the collective movements: anti-neoliberalism, pro-democracy, anti-globalization, all have the common interest of divesting human destiny away from corporate control.

    When discussing the Zapatistas, Gilbert points out that although it had a great deal of similarities to the Radical Democracy Theory, indigenous activists were certain not to generalize their cause to representing any other marginalized or oppressed groups effected by capitalism. Simply because the indigenous Mayan’s sought to defend their traditional way of life, and the Neoliberal program in the North American Free Trade Agreement, took those rights away, they became an ant-capitalist movement.

    The Reclaim the Streets movement in the 1990s brought together a lot of different types of people: environmentalists, anarchists, squatters, and people from across differing political views. Their anti-car culture campaign led to protesting the London financial district, vandalizing McDonald’s, however, didn’t have much of an agenda to challenge neoliberalism, or suggest an alternative to capitalism. Gilbert critiques this movement largely for their lack of success or agenda.

    Do you agree with Gilbert’s harsh critique? Do you think that although there was a lack of agenda, that the mere awareness and public display of an anti-capitalist idea is still important? Or simply not enough?

    A few years later, inspired by Reclaim the Streets, Seattle protest of 1999 again brought together a wide range of activists. Their protest was to stop the World Trade Organization from organizing, and to make a statement that their decisions directly effected citizens, and should not be made by a group of delegates, but in a more democratic manner. Gilbert marks this movement as a success for stopping the business organizing of the WTO in November of 99.

    The World Social Forum is said by Gilbert to be one of the few coherent anti-capitalist movements. They sought out to create an open meeting place for groups opposed to capitalism, neoliberalism, etc. The Forum shares a common belief in opposition to large multinational corporations, and in favor of positive human-to-human, and human-to-earth relationships through social justice, equality and democratic systems and institutions. Gilbert surfaces the common critique that The World Social Forum failed to “constitute real decision making bodies for the anti-capitalist movement, their supporters point out that the mere maintenance of open, deliberative public spaces is a crucial element of the struggle against neoliberalism.” (93)

    Continue to think/and or respond to which do you agree more with and why (the critiques or the supporters)?

    Towards the end of chapter 3, and into chapter 4, Gilberts begins an argument about an anti-capitalist culture. This newfound culture is one where media (internet, documentaries, etc.) begins to uncover “unsavory activities of major corporations” (98).

    Chapter 4 continues with multiple definitions of culture, all of which are corrupted or distorted by ideas of capitalism. Gilbert describes, “Capitalism is not something that happens to culture. Rather, capitalism is a culture…” (107). He continues his argument that capitalism isn’t defined by its market economy, but rather, by the elite, anti-markets, and monopolies that control them. He brings in the idea of “commodification,” in that natural resources are exploited as commodities for profit has deeply intertwined into our culture. Gilbert argues that services like Education and Healthcare have too become “commodified.” Gilbert dives into music culture as an example of an industry where eras of music (jazz, rock, hip-hop, etc.) have never existed without the reliance of commodification. Some argue that commodification is a positive thing for music, but he argues that, music is a collaborative and social process, and the commodity culture we have created around it has masked this fact. Because of this it, “increasingly comes to be presented as a kind of narrative drama about competing personalities rather than as a scene of collective creativity” (123).

    He closes the chapter with some questions I find worth re-prompting.
    (I apologize for how long this opening post is, so feel free to continue the discussion with any/all/some/none of my prompts)…

    Do you agree with Lawrence Grossberg’s opinion that, “many people will [not] be persuaded to join a movement defined by its opposition to capitalism”?
    And if so, by relying on Gilbert’s argument that “capitalism is too abstract a process for many people to define themselves in opposition to it”, “how do we actualize the shared anti-capitalist potential of those who will never call themselves anti-capitalists?”
    In relation to recent times, Gilbert states that in current northern anti-capitalism, “one of the great paradoxes…is that…it does not have many passive supporters amongst the public at large, even though it shares the views of many” (99).
    why do you think this is still the case for the anti-capitalism movement?
    Seeing as most movements analyzed in this chapter were pre-millennium, do you see this being still being a problem in future movements/campaigns of the 2000s? Why or why not?
    Furthermore, if some critiques on something like the recent Occupy movement was that there was not enough of a common, or singular goal/agenda for protest or action. And on the other hand, the critique of most of Gilbert’s discussed movements were their specificity of concerns, rather than the overarching opposition to all of capitalism.
    Therefore, which can be the more effective tactic in your opinion: movements geared towards specific issues of capitalism? or an all inclusive ant-capitalism movement?

  2. As an avid supporter of what the Occupy movement was (no longer, but the beginning four months), my response is a bit biased. I believe that movements need to be inclusive anti-capitalist movements in that I am an anarchist. I believe that capitalism has little room left for reform and even possible reforms will not eliminate the mass oppression felt by the majority of the people. From this framework, it makes sense for movements to attack pillars of capitalist power. This is where specific demands and messages come from. Rising Tide is a perfect example of a revolutionary movement attacking a pillar of capitalist culture, namely ecological destruction and extraction, and attempting to prevent a pipeline which will enhance capitalist power and diminish worker power. Class needs to be at the forefront of movements analysis because it allows a huge majority of the population to support your movement.
    For example, when environmentalists say things like “we need to stop driving cars” to working people, they are overwhelmingly ignored. I believe this is rightfully so. Only very priviledged people can afford to not have a reliable means of transportation to and from work. Statements like these also ignore the incredibly complicated power structures that require working people to continue working and consuming products that may damage the environment. The key is that these people have no opinions in the political process. Radical environmental movements, such as the Earth First coalition with IWW under Judi Barry have been more successful because telling working people, “We need to stop the capitalists from cutting down trees and pay us better wages,” appeals to people’s self interests. A specifically anti-capitalist framework (preferably an anarchist framework rather than a authoritarian Marxist perspective) allows for a broad, militant movement that can challenge power and bring about real social change.

    • In response to the comments about the occupy movement and the anarchist or anti-capitalist viewpoint as a technique for success, I would like to reiterate the criticism that Gilbert employed while discussing the Reclaim the Streets movement in the 1990s. He pointed to the overall disorganization, lack of cohesion and ultimate failure of the movement due to these factors. In many ways the Occupy movement mirrors the Reclaim the streets movement. There is a large swatch of support from many walks of life, however there is never a single purpose or plan presented for change, merely a cacophony of voices each yelling for their own purpose. In the end, this chorus without a conductor becomes a wall of unintelligible noise that no one can or cares to make sense of.

      I feel that the issue here is not the framing of the movement in marxist, anticapitalist, or anarchist terms, but in the purpose the movement itself. The examples of successful movements provided, have been those that target an issue and do not stray from it. Clearly, a campaign for any change must have a captivating subject to reach its goal, however having too vague of an issue can be just as bad, or worse than having too specific of one. Utlimately, Gilbert’s critiques of social movements, despite being slightly dated still hold today in the majority of cases.

  3. Gilbert states that in current northern anti-capitalism, “one of the great paradoxes…is that…it does not have many passive supporters amongst the public at large, even though it shares the views of many” (99). I agree here with Gilbert that it is not a good thing for the anti-capitalist movement to be the sole effort of committed activists. I see it like professional football: most people are watching in the stands, and only a very few, who have committed their lives to the game, get to play. Gilbert makes a good point that “any movement which cannot inspire sympathy and support amongst those large numbers of people… is not going to achieve much.”(p.99). In other words, the Broncos won’t be calling random fans onto the field to help with any plays. Contrasted to the environmental movement, which is easily participated in (recycling, using “green” appliances, even simply walking places), the anti-capitalism movement requires a decided effort to play.

    • Conor,

      I wrote down both of the quotes you shared in your post and think that they both really sum up my feelings not only towards the anti-capitalism movement, but also the environmental movement. In both of these growing movements, there seem to be individuals who sympathize with “the cause” but fail to take a part in the call to action. Unfortunately, in my own experiences, I find we are a society of sympathizers, not doers. Gilbert says, “any movement which cannot inspire sympathy and support amongst those large numbers of people… is not going to achieve much”(99). I wonder if our environmental movement has the capacity to reach the masses in a way that does not leave them strictly sympathetic, but instead motivated to act. Grassroots movements have gained success do to their ability to “get small” within a big system. By breaking the issue down into incremental parts, battles have begun. Organizing allows for individuals to take action one step at a time and begin fighting small battles that will eventually lead up to a dramatic change. Both of these movements, however, showcase the complexity of the system at hand and the challenge that we face in attempting to create change. Money, power, influence, and perpetual cycles all contribute to keeping these movements at bay because of the alarming system we are all up against.

      • The previous two posts are, to me, a perfect summation of how the Gilbert reading made me think about the future of environmental movements. Norah and Gilbert make a good point about actually carrying out an action instead of just investing an interest. I do think that these movements are just works in progress and we are moving towards a more organized system that will tie both interest and action together. I think that movements like Occupy show us that the will to participate is there it just needs to be ignited properly and the 350.org movement shows that an environmental movement can be successful in getting an idea heard (we’ll see what the outcome is, but it is at least a much longer lasting/better organized process).
        It seems to me that environmental movements just need to find their niche. These movements are very different from ones we have in our history surrounding civil rights and gender equality. Environmental issues typically go unseen on a day to day basis. We’re fighting an impending beast. Up until this point it seems as though we’re using a standard movement template to attack the issues and I think some adjustments need to be made to make the kind of impact we’re aiming for.

  4. I really enjoyed the videos that we watched in class last week. Specifically I found the Paris Uprising of May 1968 to be the most interesting. I’m not saying that media didn’t fuel the other uprisings around the world – however this one was increased and greatly powered by the media to the greatest extent. What began as a series of peaceful student strikes due to overcrowded living and such college conditions was eventually turned into a country wide strike – including students, workers and teachers alike standing side by side. What caused the strike to become such a national problem? It was the media. A few reporters filmed and photographed the brutality in which peaceful college students were dealt with by French authorities and reported it to the country. That was where the pedal hit the metal so to speak. The country was appalled and joined in – bringing with them a shopping list of other problems they wanted addressed. Within a matter of weeks the whole country was on strike – and ultimately met with the same violence that the college students faced. If it were not for the media it is hard to say whether the strike would have become such a national issue. Furthermore I think it was this uprising in Paris, France that triggered all the others around the world in the upcoming years. It opened people’s eyes that they could do something to change politics and led to a global revolution of sorts. I think it is notable when looking at social revolution, uprising and such and looking at the extent to which media effected them and their outcomes.

  5. I think that Gilbert’s critique of the Zapatistas and Reclaim the Streets movement was too harsh. Although he does have some good points about how the lack of agenda hurt their cause, I believe that this is the foundation for things later to come. We need this original, relatively unfocused, protests and stands to work with later when people’s ideas can be more focused and really work towards a goal in which we know what we want. Although there are many things wrong with the system we live in today, the exact correct answer isn’t there yet. If people say that they have a definite goal to work towards, with the big picture, and it isn’t correct we could be back at square one again. Many of the uprising in our past human history didn’t have any particular goal in mind; people just rose up against authority because they were sick of the current political situation. I don’t think that there needs to be a precise goal when people first begin to make changes in the current political situation. People just need to rise up and show that they are unhappy and will not stand for what is happening at the moment. Once their movement gains popularity and is shown that it can really make a change, then it is time to choose a specific plan and choose its goals.

  6. “Do you think that although there was a lack of agenda, that the mere awareness and public display of an anti-capitalist idea is still important?”

    I think it is still very important to simply get the idea “out there” in the public sphere. For example, if you want to make people think a restaurant is good, you start complimenting and praising it around other people who haven’t thought of it that way before. If they respect you and your opinion, they will think differently about the restaurant, at the very least realizing that other people with legitimate opinions like it. It is the same with a movement.

    Lawrence Grossberg makes an interesting point, that many people won’t be persuaded to join a movement defined by opposition to capitalism. It is too deeply entrenched in our culture, especially as the only alternative to communism, which seems to have failed in practice. But the rest of his point is also worth nothing: that these same people could be convinced to join a struggle to transform society based on a shared vision, one of a new ‘planetary humanism’. I think in winning the center and bringing the center around a shared vision like this, many people will start to espouse anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberalist ideas anyways, unconsciously at first, since capitalism is inherently competitive, exclusive, and non-humanist. But as Gilbert points out, “any movement which organises itself on the explicit basis of its anti-capitalism is unlikely to achieve much in the West today, precisely because capitalism is too abstract a process for many people to define themselves in opposition to it.”

    Most importantly, people need to be organized around a positive vision, what we DO want to see, as opposed to just a negative. This will help bring “together those many people who aspire to create a more livable environment” without necessarily calling themselves anti-capitalist, and help keep this movement from alienating large portions of the population who are not yet so disenchanted with the market forces and ideas that have thus far shaped our country and culture.

  7. Although at first I felt that Gilbert’s critique of the Zapatistas and other movements were a bit harsh and unfair, I do think that he makes a a valid point. There are and have been so many of these movements that seek change and gather momentum through protests or violence or any attention grabbing methods but since there is never or rarely a hegemony on what all of their members desire or a true structure it is obvious why they almost always fail. How would an established, structured and perhaps even rigid system of power that is already place be willing to adhere to or even consider the demands of a group who is loosely strung together with a few common beliefs but no formal regimented action plan? So many of these groups just seem to me as a bunch of radical people trying to get noticed by any means necessary without any tangible goals in mind. “Change” and “anti-capitalism” among other things that so many of these people flock over are way to vague to truly garner a successful altercation in the systems currently in place. Perhaps I am a bit pessimistic or bitter towards many of these movements but I am agreeing with Gilbert that there must be a much more formal outline of what each of these groups are trying to achieve. I also believe that putting labels on movements such as “anti-capitalism” or “anarchist” will only divide people. These names are far too often misunderstood or evoke false ideas about what the group truly is. I agree with Max in that a group should come together over what they are trying to achieve and what they believe in, not what name they go by.

  8. I think Gilbert’s critiques are effective in that people who pursue this type of thinking are gaining context toward whatever personal/group intellectual/activist journeys to elaborate on. I’m not sure a critique can be too harsh due to the fact that its goal is to assess the details of something. What someone like Gilbert does not have much room to say, however, due to the academic titles he must uphold and the etc’s attached to whatever that means to publishers and readers taking him seriously, is that the details, although flawed in the processes they took through whatever movement, are not lost. The details are not lost merely by the growth of thought due to their mere existence, as many have already mentioned through previous blogs, in addition to the devil still playing his fiddle with them after the particular movement that birthed them dies out.
    What I mean by my vague affinity for details is the ripple-effect any body who has ever attempted to skip rocks and succeeded has seen. There are many awesome things happening, based on the hints of autonomy any movement in history has provided. More schools are becoming environmentally aware, whether through individual professors/teachers, district-wide encouragements, or even through the detailed idiosyncratic middle-age crises of the well-informed parent (that is sarcastic to those who give the parent a hard time – I approve). No movement is ever enough, for the people in power have never been the ones seeing reason for it and, therefore, no movement can be mandated as some grand, autonomous, be-all, end-all idea that will “change everything, right now!” Much like the anti-capitalism would suggest you do not “buy this, right now!” without thinking. But thinking in the way that we do is what separates us from all the other animals we screwed over by going on our segregated, esoteric human journey, and I know that we will keep doing so – because that’s what we do: thinking, that is.
    So – Diego, like you say about a positive vision – I think that is right on through the facet that there are already so many. I do not think that the movements proclaiming injustices are negative, but truths awaiting to be transformed into positive action by the next person/people/idea that picks up the right ripple from all the rocks that were being thrown. And this may be seen as too positive for many, which is great because critique is necessary to pick out what is not needed. In a capitalist society, there is definitely more things we can do without than solid livelihoods we live within. The economy is already seeing the effects. I would think that the lineages of those fortunate enough to have time to think about them will begin, and have already begun, teaching alternative methods that will allow such effects to be part of the very lessons that any political movement endeavors to highlight to the masses. Now that our methods of communication are so fast, more people realize the need for a slow, out-dated political system to alter, and, by its nature, that will be slow…especially with our flag of innocence, hardiness, and chiefdom confusing all the stars on it.

  9. I found myself questioning my own economic philosophies after this Gilbert reading. I have always professed that scarcity is the “irreducible unit of human experience” as Gilbert refers, based on the philosophy of Hobbes, and that given the choice between saving food for one’s child or sharing it with the whole community, most would choose the child. However, seeing each of my views checkmarked off in the list of neoliberal tenets shocked and disturbed me. Like Hobbes, I always believed that the Leviathan of government existed solely to preserve property rights and make sure that people didn’t get at each others’ throats over necessary goods; but seeing that view contextualized through a hegemonic doctrine that has yielded many consequences I disagree with, I felt a distinct cognitive dissonance. Reading the tenets of the World Social Forum, by contrast, I found myself wanting buy a plane ticket and join the Zapatistas…their concept of using oppression at the local level as the common ground between various groups, yet preserving their rights to act as independently or cooperatively as they saw fit without pressure from a cult of personality or mission statement was mind-expanding.

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