In Projects

John Postill

Funded by RMIT University, 2013 – 2016

In recent years, scholars across the social sciences have begun to theorise the rise of internet activism through studies of the free software movement, the information freedom movement or transnational networks such as Global Voices, Anonymous and WikiLeaks. However, we still know little about the part played by internet activists and other tech-savvy political actors in new social movements in the wake of the Arab Spring, indignados and Occupy movements, and with what consequences (if any) for real political change. Existing accounts of the new protest movements have focused on the digital technologies rather than on the technologists themselves. In this anthropological research project I explore the contribution of ‘freedom technologists’ (Postill 2014) – geeks, hackers, online journalists, digital rights lawyers and other actors who combine technological skills with political acumen – to ongoing processes of political change. One key working assumption that I am currently testing through fieldwork in Indonesia and Spain, is that far from being the deluded ‘techno-utopians’ of a certain strand of internet scholarship and punditry, most freedom technologists are in fact techno-pragmatists. That is, they take a very practical view of the limits and possibilities of new technologies for political change. Another key hypothesis is that freedom technologists who are not only internet- but also media-savvy are in a stronger position to make a lasting impact, as we have seen in the abrupt rise of Spain’s Podemos party, based partly on a strong TV strategy. Finally, I expect to find that freedom technologists are leading the rapid growth around the world of ‘monitory democracy’ (Keane 2009) initiatives in which citizens take up active roles as political watchdogs by means of new digital tools. Apt examples of this global trend include Indonesia’s Kawal Pemilu (Election Guardians) initiative and Spain’s X.ne

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