evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 13: Politics in global network society


As we wrap up the course, let’s weave together some of the threads we’ve explored over the last few months.

  • We have looked at theories of new media, social media, Web 2.0, and media convergence, and examined a series of definitions of “media ecology.” These included the medium theory of Marshall McLuhan and others; the mental environmentalism of Adbusters; the cultural environmentalism of James Boyle and Lawrence Lessig, with their ideas of a mental or informational commons; the global network society theories of Deleuze (“society of control”), Galloway and Thacker (whose article we didn’t talk much about), and others; the “greening of media” assessments and proposals of Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell; and (briefly, this past week) the “three ecologies” of Felix Guattari.
  • We’ve looked at the relationship between contemporary media and the public sphere; distinguished between three variations on a radical-democratic public sphere politics (Habermas’s deliberative democracy, Laclau & Mouffe’s agonism, and Hardt & Negri’s autonomism); and focused on a range of media uses in relation to public or political goals. Some of these included those of culture jammers and tactical media practitioners like Adbusters, Banksy, and the Critical Art Ensemble; location-based cyberdemocracy initiatives; the mediated environmentalism of Greenpeace; the movement against SOPA and PIPA; and the locative media and experimental public art work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, REPOhistory, and related groups.
  • We’ve looked at the changes in global political-economy over the last several decades: from the Fordist “grand compromise,” the broadly social-democratic or welfare-statist “settlement” between industry, the state, and labor that followed World War 2, to the various social and resistance movements of the 1960s (peaking in 1968), followed by the rise of post-Fordist neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s (and its incorporation of elements of the 1960s), the anti-neoliberal movements of the 1990s and 2000s (the Zapatistas, the Battle of Seattle, and the Occupy and “Arab Spring” movements of 2011); and the organizational and structural forms — networked, distributive, global — that seem to be shaping the terrain for any further political-economic changes today (as discussed, for instance, in the “sentient cities” readings).
  • And we have planned, implemented, and assessed a class project that brought together a place-based eco-activism with the use of social media (less so locational media; that would have been the next step, which we could have taken more decisively had we given ourselves more time to develop it).

This final week of the class, I would like us to return to the topic of neoliberalism and its alternatives. Two required readings can serve to pivot our thinking here:

1. The section entitled “The Abstract Machine of Neoliberalism” in Chapter 6 of Jeremy Gilbert’s Anticapitalism and Culture (pp. 169-176). (Note: If you’re interested in reading more of the Gilbert book’s remaining chapters, I would recommend the following sections: pp. 179-183, pp. 198-201, pp. 203-209, and the Conclusion.)


2.William Connolly’s article “Steps Toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism,” from Theory & Event 15.1 (2012). (Note: To access this article, you need to work through your institutional library portal; or see Blackboard.)


A few notes on the Connolly reading

William Connolly is a political theorist at Johns Hopkins University who has authored over a dozen books on pluralism, identity, secularism, culture, and subjectivity. He is a proponent of a “deep pluralism” and of “agonistic democracy” (related to the views of Laclau and Mouffe, which we examined earlier), and has recently been developing a philosophical project that extends from a pluralistic democratic political theory to an understanding of the universe itself as pluralistic, open, self-organizing, and unstable — a universe of “becoming,” in which interacting systems with “differential capacities of metamorphosis” align with each other in various permutations, resulting in periods of relative stability punctuated by periods of rapid change. This world is a world of intersecting networks (which connects this reading with the reading by Galloway and Thacker from some weeks ago — refresh your memory of that if you don’t recall it — and of Deleuze, Hardt and Negri, and others).

Ours is one of those periods of rapid change, and much of the article deals with the question of how we can better account for and cope with the “fragility of things” that greets us as we look around ourselves today: with impending climate and ecological changes, economic collapse, rapid social change, and the rest. The article attempts to contextualize neoliberal “late capitalism” within this larger set of cultural, ecological, and cosmic milieus, and ends with a proposal for us to consider seven “sites of potential action.”

While the reading is challenging in its reference to numerous thinkers and ideas well outside the bounds of our course, I’d like us to try to follow Connolly’s overall argument in its full scope to see what we can get  out of it. What are the relations between political ideology, economic and ecological systems, and the cultural and religious (or spiritual) dimensions of our understanding of the universe? What sorts of alliances across all of these domains — and what would it even mean to seek alliances across such different domains? — could help us navigate the precarious near future of this planet?

See if there is an idea or two in the article that resonates particularly well with you. Then bring this idea (or two) out in your comments and maybe follow up on it to do a little more research on what you think he means with it (the endnotes could be helpful there) and what we might make of it.



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