Abstracts

Panel 1 – Channeling Anger: Social Media Bubbles, Algorithmic Logics and the New HateSMMTposterSeminar6

Articulations of Islamophobia: From the Extreme to the Mainstream?

Aurelien Mondon (University of Bath) & Aaron Winter (University of East London)

Following the US presidential election and Donald Trump’s victory, the role played by social media in the spread of racism and hate speech appears clearer than ever. However, analysing the normalisation of racism demands a nuanced approach which goes beyond its more extreme forms. To explore this process, this paper will examine the construction, functions and relationship of what we term the liberal and illiberal articulations of Islamophobia. Illiberal Islamophobia commonly emerges from exclusivist ideologies, discourses and identities associated with easily recognisable forms of racisms, typically originating on the far right. This type of Islamophobia is closest to traditional racism and often presents Islam as monolithic and innately threatening and inferior (in terms of ‘race’ if not also culture). While the most caricatural forms of illiberal Islamophobia are usually easily recognized and widely denounced in mainstream discourse, we argue that a more mainstream trend has taken hold of public discourse and become increasingly normalized. The liberal articulation of Islamophobia can be contrasted with the illiberal one by its proclaimed allegiance to fantasized liberal and democratic principles, but both share a basic structure. Using the French case and the role of both traditional and social media, this paper will explore how, rather than working in opposition, these articulations are essential to one another in the legitimisation and normalisation of Islamophobia in mainstream discourse.

 Much Ado, about Nothing? Feminist Resistance against Neo-liberal Post-machismo Narratives in Spain

María José Gámez Fuentes (Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain) & Sonia Núñez Puente (University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain)

In 2004 Spain approved the Organic Law of Measures of Comprehensive Protection against Gender-Based Violence, which has, however, failed to address gender violence in terms of the structural conditions that render it possible. This, along with cuts and changes in equality policies stemming from the coming into power of the right-wing Partido Popular in 2011, has contributed to the recent reinvigorated backlash against engagements to fight it. In the context of ‘post-truth’ politics, this backlash has been propelled by the high visibility of recognition frameworks merely based on the figure of the victim. This has served to feed, in turn, populist beliefs about gender violence being a social problem whose importance has been overstated, even fictitious. In a neoliberal postfeminist political economy that urges women to transform their frailty into resilience, women are both encouraged and blamed for having turned damage into an opportunity (Bracke 2016: 67)

Focussing in particular on the case of Spain, this presentation will examine the growing influence of ‘postmachismo’ narratives, and the role played by social media in shaping dominant cultural beliefs about gender-based violence. More specifically, in the context of discourse and praxis regarding violence against women by the feminist platform ‘7N’, it will analyse how the ‘neomachist’ social media sites HazteOír and Asociación Projusticia reframe and rearticulate discourses of victimhood. The analysis will map the nature and reach of processes of appropriation and commodification of such discourse, fostered by the circulation of affect as a ‘binding technique’ (Dean 2015: 90) in online social spaces. Ultimately, the presentation will interrogate possibilities and strategies for Spanish feminist activism to resist and challenge the cooptation of the symbolic and representational space of the victim, newly transformed as a contested terrain.

 

Let a Thousand Niches Bloom: The Digital Long Tail and the Ghettoization of Radical Dissent

Justin Schloseberg, Birbeck University

This paper attempts to apply long tail theory to the distribution of mainstream and alternative voices in both news and popular culture. Optimistic accounts posit that the long tail phenomenon has produced an ‘explosion of niche’ where the ‘ants have megaphones’ (Anderson 2009), and that the control paradigm has been supplanted by cultural chaos (McNair 2006) and convergence (Jenkins, 2006). At the same time, there has been a groundswell of critique of algorithm-driven culture focused on the fracturing of the ‘group society’ and the repressive atomisation of cultural and news consumption. Others highlight empirical data that points to the endurance – and in some cases expansion – of the ‘head’ of mainstream news and culture, suggesting that nothing much has changed after all. This paper attempts to steer through these contesting accounts and argues that in both news and much of popular culture, the reality is closer to one of coexistence between the head and the long tail, but in ways that may do more to contain radical dissent within niches than enable it to flourish and reach critical mass publics.

Donald Trump: The Rise of Twitter-Fascism?

Christian Fuchs, University of Westminster

The task of this presentation is to a) ask how US capitalism is changing under Donald Trump’s presidency and to b) present some preliminary results of a critical discourse analysis of all tweets posted by Trump between his nomination as Republican candidate in July 2016 and his inauguration as 45th US President in January 2017.

The analysis is guided by the Frankfurt School’s analysis of authoritarianism, especially the works of Franz Leopold Neumann, who combined the study of political economy and ideology critique in the analysis of authoritarianism. It is theoretically feasible to draw a distinction between right-wing authoritarianism, authoritarian capitalism and fascism and to discern various levels, on which the far-right needs to be analysed. The analysis of Donald Trump and capitalism in the age of Trump needs to draw on such distinctions.

Given that Donald Trump is not just a billionaire and the US president, but also a self-centred media practitioner, who uses reality TV (The Apprentice) and social media (Twitter) as means of public communication, social media analysis guided by critical theory can provide insights into how far-right ideology works.

 

Panel 2 – About Truths and Alternative Facts: Problematising Post-Truth Politics

Michael Gove’s Folly? Or, Why Economics Was Always More Post Than Truth

Aeron Davis (Goldsmiths, University of London)

During the EU Referendum, Michael Gove became notorious for his ‘experts’ moment, claiming people had generally had ‘enough’ of them. For many, this moment summed up the depths to which the Remain camp were happy to stoop. Far right populist leaders, from Nigel Farage to Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, appear to show regular contempt for evidence, facts and expert opinion, so taking contemporary politics into the realm of the absurd. The problem is, when it comes to economics and economists, they have a point.

Neoclassical economics, the kind that has dominated politics and policy for several decades, is anything but the rational ‘science’ it presents itself as. Critics have long argued that: a) too much economic theory is too abstract to be applied to real economies and used in real policy; and b) in practice, it is as much about malleable statistics (and the damn lies told about them). Both these points are pertinent to current events in the UK, US and elsewhere. But, the point, presented here in more detail, relates to the looming gap between elite conceptions and media discourses about the economy, and the economy as it is really experienced by ordinary citizens. For many who voted for Brexit or Trump, ‘economists’ and the political and business elites who talked up the ‘the economy’, had long since stopped talking ‘truth’.

It was the Sun wot made it but the BBC sold it

Angela Phillips, Goldsmiths University

Social media played a minor role in the Brexit debate. It was the tabloid press, TV and the BBC in particular, that changed the debate.  The tabloid press (with the exception of the Mirror) had campaigned against Europe for decades and bombarded their readers with pro-Brexit propaganda throughout the campaign. While the BBC covered the campaign as though it was a battle between two wings of the Conservative party. This was not a grass roots revolt it was delivered by the mass media.

Post-truth Journalism, Fake News and Brexit

Julian Petley, Brunel University

 For decades before the Referendum, British national newspapers had been regaling their readers with negative stories about the evils of ‘Brussels’. Many of these consisted of ‘Euromyths’, which ran the gamut from the wholly untrue to the wildly distorted. What this demonstrates is that there is more than one kind of ‘fake news’, and that such stories by no means originate only from social media (as, of course, the press habitually, and hypocritically, claims that it does). This paper will suggest that the degree of partisanship shown by certain papers during the Referendum, and the tactics which they employed in order to make their case, disqualifies them from being considered members of the ‘Fourth Estate’ and also demonstrates that IPSO is worse than useless as a press self-regulatory body. It will also suggest that, for all the virulence and dishonesty of the press pro-Brexit campaign during the Referendum itself, this would have been far less effective had it not been preceded by years of consistently anti-EU coverage. Finally, it will draw attention to the fact that certain newspapers are still pouring out fake news of one kind or another in their daily assertions that Britain has already benefitted mightily from Brexit (even though it hasn’t actually happened yet), and are doing their absolute utmost to delegitimise and demonise all those who have the temerity to take a different approach.

Brexit London: The Past, Present and Future of Racism in the Capital

Malcom James, Sussex University

On 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom voted by referendum to leave the European Union. Viewed as the great tragedy of Boris Johnson’s elitism, it can also be attributed to at least a century of xeno-racism nurtured by successive Labour and Conservative governments. If Brexit was in part the consequence of decades of racism, it was also the cause of new acts of street discrimination. Following the vote, the Twitter hashtag #PostRefRacism captured a surge in racist incidents as the seemingly timeless maxim “it’s not cool to be racist” was scrubbed from its Rock Against Racism social contract.

Like many others living in London, I saw this unfold in daily interactions: two second generation white Irish men talking loudly in a leisure centre about the “dirty” Romanians one had seen trying to “crawl” under the passport desks at Stansted Airport (as he returned from holiday in Spain); a white English man in a café, emboldened not to understand a Hungarian barrista’s accent, stood on his own little England until a linguistically appropriate black British employee arrived. These incidents, and many more like them, begged the question of the kinds of rents Brexit had created in London’s social fabric. They asked how we got to this place, and indeed where it was taking us.

Focusing on East London, and more specifically the London Borough of Newham, this presentation responds to those questions by looking at Brexit’s past, present, and its future. In so doing, it locates the propaganda of the Leave and Remain campaigns (what might be referred to in this seminar as post-truths) in the fabric of everyday racial capitalism, and in the long histories of racism and partial truth.

 

Panel 3 – Political Alternatives: Imagining the Future, Imagining Resistance

Mourning and Militancy: Resistance for the Post-Truth Era

Richard Seymour (Independent Researcher/ Lenin’s Tomb)

We live, supposedly, in an age of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’. This is a misunderstanding. ‘Pre-post-truth politics’ includes the era of the ‘war on terror’ and its deceptions, and the orthodoxies and falsehoods which led to the elite debacle of the credit crunch. It is technique, not truth, which has been found wanting. That is, the idea of a ‘fact’ as an objective measurement of reality, is losing ground in the post-credit crunch era.

‘Post-truth politics’ is what, until now, we have been living under: technocracy, in a word. The “monstrous worship of facts”, as Wilde called it, is nothing other than an avoidance of the question of truth. The category of ‘fake news’ describes a fusion of infotainment, propaganda, public relations and churnalism which has been long in the making, now accelerated by online advertising revenues. The moral panic which blames ‘fake news’ for the rise of fascism and right-wing populism misses the point that these degraded ecologies of information have triumphed in the vacuum of political possibilities produced by the post-Cold War consensus.

What the moral panic also obscures, by displacing it, is the fact that ‘fake news’ is just one symptom of the breakdown of the near ideological monopoly previously enjoyed by large commercial and state media outlets. The fragmentation of content, the rise of ‘narrowcasting’ on social media, the proliferation of producers — more people are published authors now than ever before, rewarded in ‘likes’ rather than cash payment — produces as many opportunities as pathologies. New types of information and new ways of sharing it, new literacies, new modes of writing, are becoming possible.

The problem is that we grope toward these opportunities in the shadow of catastrophe. The fall of the USSR didn’t signal the defeat of socialism so much as confirm it, at just the point at which it is clear that the persistence of capitalism means possible species death. Parties, publications, union membership, ideological affiliations, confidence and self-organisation dwindled and fragmented into the scale of atoms. And politics without the possibility of a liberated future, curdles and turns reactionary. New forms of antisystemic politics are emerging to take advantage of new forms of social media, but they can’t by themselves replace what has been lost. Without acknowledging what we have lost, we cannot creatively adapt to what we have left. We need, as Douglas Crimp wrote, “Militancy, of course, but mourning too: mourning and militancy.”

Re-socialising the Political: Civil Society Futures

Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths University

As civil society has been delimited by socio-economic circumstances and constrained by social policy so it has also consistently found new ways to respond to social need as it arises. From the Industrial Revolution came Trade Unions and the Co-operative movement; from the chaos and misery of the inter-war years emerged the women’s peace movement. And so from the current context of huge economic uncertainty, austerity, political polarity, global conflict, border wars, mass migration and digital revolution, a new form of civil society is sure to burst forth. This paper  introduces a project in its early stages that is looking at these new formations in England in the midst of austerity politics and in the run up to Brexit.

If we can spot signs of what this civil society looks like it is relational (connected to things people feel part of) rather than organisational; it is localised and temporal, contingent on place and space; it is forms of civil society that are more fluid and respond quickly to social need with direct links to movement based issues; it is premised on democratic mechanisms as legitimacy in established political institutions decreases. So it is also concerned with co-production and co-ownership. This is a civil society that is more values driven than we have become used to and more avowedly political. The paper asks: can civil society re-socialise the political and under what conditions?

New Nationalism and Old Ideologies

Sivamohan Valluvan, University of Manchester

This talk will suggest that one core aspect of challenging the nationalist capture involves properly reckoning with its conjunctural affinity to multiple ideological repertoires, some of which we mistakenly consider to be inured from such trends. These repertoires include: classical values-liberalism; a resurgent anti-market Left communitarianism; neoliberal individualism and the particular racial pathologization of poverty that sits within its moral economy; some nominally feminist rhetorics regarding sexual freedoms and liberation; strands even of bucolic environmentalism; and, of course, a more familiar conservative nostalgia for the putative unity, stability and public morality of pre-war, colonial whiteness.

This argument regarding new nationalism’s ideological multiplicity also constitutes a reminder that nationalism cannot be opportunistically gamed for other political ends. Nationalism is itself the contemporary populist play – all else is merely marshalled in its service. Of course, to realise a popular politics without appealing to the totems of anti-immigrant, xeno-racism might seem a Sisyphean task. But it is the challenge that must be reckoned with, as otherwise one merely gives further succour to the nationalist call – a call that might absorb other ideological positions but is, in the final instance, only committed to its own ethno-racial exclusion and nativist desires.

Keynote – Architectures of Resistance: Infrastructures, Institutions and Digital Media

Leah A. Lievrouw, Department of Information Studies University of California, Los Angeles

Today’s community and media activists know that massive data capture and algorithmic data analysis increasingly define and shape media engagement, social interaction, cultural production, and political change. In contrast to early visions of the Internet as a welcoming forum for participation, diversity, and equitable civil discourse, today’s digital technologies — especially social media platforms — have helped foster a climate of radical uncertainty, fear and mistrust. This climate has encouraged the rise of nationalist, populist and authoritarian political ideologies around the world, from right-wing parties in Europe to the Brexit vote in the UK, to the Trump presidency in the U.S., and poses one of the greatest challenges to open, progressive, democratic societies and politics of the last century. The positive externalities and “network effects” associated with networked telecommunications and computing — connectivity, convenience, low cost, immediacy, voice, presence, reach — are increasingly overshadowed by a growing raft of negative externalities: technological lock-in that suppresses innovation; monopolistic walled-garden business models; pervasive commercial and state surveillance; cultural, ethnic and nationalist separatisms that claim separate, “post-truth” realities; and interpersonal bullying, fraud, and disinformation on a global scale.

 

Even as the challenges mount, however, repertoires of emancipatory resistance, contestation and intervention within this algorithmic, “datafied” communication landscape remain relatively undeveloped. Drawing from the perspective of infrastructure studies, this presentation presents a basic scheme for documentary, conversational, and algorithmic digital media logics, platforms and infrastructures, and their corresponding institutional implications. Several projects are presented that illustrate potential new repertoires of activist literacies, practices, tools and tactics for algorithmic media culture and politics.