Today it is 70 years ago that the book 1984 by George Orwell was published. I was interviewed by nu.nl about the relevance of 1984 for today’s society. (The piece is in Dutch: ‘Zeventig jaar na 1984: Zo actueel is de roman van George Orwell.’)
Internetional Institute for Social History in Amsterdam
Mon, Nov 13, 2017, 9:00 AM –
Tue, Nov 14, 2017, 6:00 PM
Together with Athina Karatzogianni and Andrey Rezaev, Stefania Milan organises ‘Connecting to the Masses – 100 Years from the Russion Revolution: From Agitprop to the Attention Economy’. The two-day event will be helt November 13th to the 14th at the International Institute for Social History and the University of Amsterdam. Lonneke van der Velden will be present ‘Daguerrotypes of protest: the Paris Commune’s media activism and present-day ‘social media revolutions’ on Day two. For more information about the schedule and tickets, check the eventbrite page.
About the two-day event
The relationship between governments and the people they govern has been always hostage to rhetoric, propaganda, and strategic public relations, as well as aggressive marketing and the influence of contemporary media industries, altering the dynamics of healthy political communications. Often, this relationship has thrived on charismatic leaders, the “avant-garde”, who could feel the pulse of their population’s grievances, demands and hopes for the future. Whether the Russian revolution of 1917 is interpreted as a product of class struggle, as an event governed by historic laws predetermined by the alienation of the masses by monopoly industrial capitalism, or as a violent coup by a proto-totalitarian Bolshevik party, the Russian revolutionaries understood and connected to the masses in a way that the autocracy, bourgeois elites and reformists alike failed to do.
In the midst of rage, desperation and harsh everyday life conditions, due to the pressure and failures of WW1 against Germany, food shortages, growing poverty, inequality and alienation, the Bolsheviks felt the undercurrents in the seas of history and spoke to the people, exactly when the relationship between the Tsar and the population, and between the Provisional government and the Soviets were at a crucial tipping point. The Bolsheviks grasped the opportunity to change the world for themselves in the here and now, rather than waiting to reform in the future for their children. They did so violently and unapologetically with the effects of their move running through the Cold War and the confrontation with the West, all the way to the complex and intense relations between Russia and the United States, in terms of failed engagements of the past 25 years since the fall of the USSR, the first socialist state in the world.
About the organisers
The conference is organised through a collaboration between Athina Karatzogianni from the School of Media, Communication and Sociology of the University of Leicester; Stefania Milan from the DATACTIVE research group at the Media Studies department of the University of Amsterdam; Andrey Rezaev from the Department of Sociology at St. Petersburg State University; the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam; and the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki.
Save the date! On Tuesday 19 September from 3 until 5 pm, room 0.16 (BG1) we will host the first of this year’s DATACTIVE Speakers Series. This time we team up with the rMA and Thomas Poell for a session on digital vigilantism and data activism. We have invited Daniel Trottier (EUR) and our own Lonneke van der Velden (UvA) to share their thoughts. You can find the abstracts of their talks below.
Digital vigilantism – Daniel Trottier
Digital media enable citizens to hold fellow citizens accountable, often resulting in shaming and harassment. This project examines digital vigilantism (DV) in a global context. DV is a process where citizens are collectively offended by other citizen activity, and respond through coordinated retaliation on digital media, including mobile devices and social media platforms. The offending acts range from mild breaches of social protocol to terrorist acts and participation in riots. In addition to shaming the targeted individual, participants may also share additional information about the target, resulting in a harmful and lasting mediated visibility.
Digital vigilantism is an interdisciplinary concern that requires both conceptual and empirical advancement. Drawing upon existing research on digital media cultures, online policing and surveillance, this five-year project considers the cultural factors surrounding DV, in contradistinction to embodied vigilantism. It also considers the social impact on the various actors involved, as well as how this complicates conventional policing and state power. While online shaming and coordination can transcend borders, this project will remain attentive to national contexts in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, China and Russia. This project will develop a theoretical framework that advances the frontier of knowledge of DV in relation to key disciplines and interdisciplinary fields. Next, the research will deliver a comprehensive analysis of news media as well as other sources of public discourse that render DV meaningful. This will be followed by an account of DV from the perspectives of those who encountered or contributed to it in a personal or professional context. These theoretical and empirical findings will inform a conceptually rigorous and nuanced understanding of the motivations and practices that surround DV, alongside recommendations for key stakeholders.
OSINT and data activism – Lonneke van der Velden
This presentation discusses instances of Open Source Intelligence in the context of “data activism”. As datafication progressively invades all spheres of contemporary society, citizens grow increasingly aware of the critical role of information as the new fabric of social life. This awareness triggers new forms of civic engagement and political action. “Data activism” indicates the range of sociotechnical practices that interrogate the fundamental paradigm shift brought about by datafication. This includes ways of affirmative engagement with data (“proactive data activism”, e.g. data-based advocacy) and tactics of resistance to massive data collection (“reactive data activism”, e.g. encryption practices), understood as a continuum along which activists position and reposition themselves and their tactics.
Author: Lonneke van der Velden
Early June Becky and I participated in the Techno-Galactic Software Observatory, an event organised by Constant, a feminist art and technology collective in Brussels. It was a great event, in which theoretical insights from the philosophy of technology and software studies were combined with practical interventions which ended in an exhibition.
The event aimed to critically interrogate all kinds of assumptions about software and software knowledge. We discussed how software relates to time, spatializations, perspectives, and the hierarchies implied in ways of looking. The last day of the event was a ‘walk-in clinic’ in which visitors could get ‘software-critique as service’ at several ‘stations’.
The project I participated in was file-therapy. Departing from the Unix-philosophy that everything consists of a file (a program is a file, an instruction is a file, etc.), our desk would take people’s problems, understand them in their property of a file. Next, we would transform these files into other file types: visual data or music files.
We would not offer solutions. The idea was that our visitors, by being confronted with their new visualised or sonified file, could start developing a new relationship to this file. For example, one person would have a problem with her PhD-file: it was a big Word-file full of references and therefore difficult to handle. Working in it becomes a hassle. But listening to the transformed file is rather meditative. The other station in the room would criticise the reductionist ´file-formatted’ vision of the world, and in that way, we set up a dialogue about how computers format our lives.
A comparison of the various problematic files
The observatory was a great event and a learning experience at the same time. Please read other people’s experiences too 🙂
Constant is a non-profit, artist-run organisation based in Brussels since 1997 and active in the fields of art, media and technology.
Constant develops, investigates and experiments. Constant departs from, feminisms, copyleft, Free/Libre + Open Source Software. Constant loves collective digital artistic practices. Constant organises transdisciplinary worksessions. Constant creates installations, publications and exchanges. Constant collaborates with artists, activists, programmers, academics, designers. Constant is active archives, poetic algorithms, body and software, books with an attitude, cqrrelations, counter cartographies, situated publishing, e-traces, extitutional networks, interstitial work, libre graphics, performative protocols, relearning, discursive infrastructures, hackable devices.
On the 21st of April Lonneke participated in the ‘Nacht van de Filosofie’ (The Night of Philosophy) in Nijmegen, in a panel about ‘Digital Unrest’. The panel was about Big Data, perceptions of Big Data, and the possible implications of Big Data for privacy and politics. She talked about data activism, and how activists have different ways of responding to Big Data challenges. The other panelists were Patricia de Vries (media critic and researcher writing about algorithmic epistemology), Marjolijn Lanzing (a privacy researcher in the context of Big Data and self-tracking ) and the panel was moderated by Joyce Pijnenburg (philosopher and member of SWIP). SWIP is the Society for Women in Philosophy in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Friday the 21st of April, Lonneke van der Velden gave a talk at the Radboud University in a ‘conversation with philosophers’. Find the program here (in Dutch)
Can we think of a radical turn in thinking about the self and our relationships in a time of social media? And what about the use of Big Data and our Privacy? Join the panel discussion and reflect on what philosopher Byung Chul-Han describes as ‘the digital era, an era without reason’.
The presentation can be watched online!
The materiality of surveillance publics
This presentation discusses the materiality of surveillance publics. Notions of material publics are particularly useful to think about activist interventions into surveillance. Digital surveillance is considered to be a rather intangible phenomenon. However, now and then, surveillance gets ‘exposed’, for example through leaks that disclose surveillance technologies or by using software that can detect online tracking. These interventions (sometimes dubbed ‘countersurveillance’ or ‘sousveillance’) manage to transform digital surveillance practices into public knowledge repositories that can be studied and, in some cases, this results into new online investigative tools. In the presentation I demonstrate how surveillance can become ‘public matter’: in the process of turning surveillance into a matter of concern, surveillance becomes itself ‘datafied’, and this material can be used for public ends. In other words, they give rise to ‘data publics’. Moreover, these interventions assemble very specific data publics: these publics are situated in socio-technical environments in which intelligence, secrecy, and privacy practices codetermine the modes of working, and thus, interestingly, making things private coincides with ways of making things public.
DataPublics will investigate the diverse ways in which publics are, and can be, constituted, provoked, threatened, understood, and represented. This includes examining the role played in the formation of publics by new on- and offline infrastructures, data visualisations, social and economic practices, research methods and creative practices, and emerging and future technologies. Specifically, the event will facilitate cross-cutting conversations between designers, social scientists and creative technologists to explore the new challenges and opportunities afforded by thinking and working with “Data Publics”.
On the 27th of January Lonneke participated in a philosophy conference about contemporary resistance. Her panel focused on the question ‘How can we resist?’ and she discussed how the integration of encryption belongs in a larger arsenal of resistance strategies.
Both Stefania Milan and Lonneke van der Velden participated in a panel session at the Subversion of Big Data – Cultures, Discourses and Practices of Big Data in Social Movements Contexts. This seminar is part of the Social Movements and Media Technologies: Present Challenges and Future Developments Seminar Series which took place in Florance at the 17th and 18th of November 2016.
The panels being, respectively:
- Activists’ data cultures in the understanding of big data
For a long time now activists have managed different types of social data for
civic purposes in the context of their mobilizations. In doing this, they devel-
oped different attitudes and beliefs towards data, including what citizens can
do with them and to what extent they can be embedded into social movement
activities. This panel looks at big data through the lenses of different activists’
data cultures in order to put the emergence of big data, and their integration
within activists’ repertoires of contention, into an historical and cultural per-
2. Social practices related to big data in activists’ contexts
Activists are not just passive producers of data when they mobilize. On the
contrary, they often consciously engage in social practices that include the
gathering, analyzing, and visualizing of big data in the context of their activist
projects. This panel discusses such social practices related to the use of big
data in the broad framework of social movements. The aim is to unveil the lib-
eration potential of big data for citizens and their grassroots initiatives as well
as the repressive capacities of big data when it comes to activists and their
The entire program can be found here.
DATACTIVE was invited to host a session at the AoIR 2016, the Association of Internet Researchers, that took place 5-8 October in Berlin. Stefania Milan, Lonneke van der Velden, Jonathan Gray, Becky Kazansky and Frederike Kaltheuner organised a fishbowl session, building on questions like ‘How are data and information changing contemporary activism? How do individuals and collectives resist massive data collection? How do they take advantage of the increasing availability of data for advocacy and social change?’.
To kickstart the Big Data Meet Grassroots Activism discussion, Jonathan Gray made a short clip on the production and contestation of socio-technical (data) infrastructures to. A full transcript of the video ‘Reshaping Data Worlds’ can be found at his website.