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Archive for December, 2014

The leap from a euphoric digital media statement, such as by David Wolman in a recent issue of WIRED ‘But the Arab Spring has shown the world what is possible when you combine social unrest with brave citizenry and powerful digital tools. (David Wolman, Facebook, Twitter Help the Arab Spring Blossom.http://www.wired.com/2013/04/arabspring/)’, to the idea that any political expression in order to have an effect must be digitally mediated, is a short one.  To ask for the conditions that make an expression not just intelligible and communicable but above all else possible, permissible, and acceptable among a certain people in a certain place and at a certain time. If an act of resistance is not mediated in digital form, it is not just excluded but effectively silenced. Digitality becomes an instrument of the coloniality of power, moreover digitality itself becomes the coloniality of power: If the structure of Globality is rendered in colonial terms, if Globality is sustained and maintained by digitality, if resisting within the realm of Globality or even Globality itself can only be articulated – in order to be accepted or denied as a communication – in a way that can, at least potentially connect with digital media, than resistance has become colonized. In order to be excluded from digitality, one must be able to be heard digitally: To be denied the use of twitter or facebook as a means of resistance, one must first be able to think of facebook or twitter as a means of expression, and, subsequently, a means of expressing dissent. The denial to express dissent means to be excluded, but one is already digitally colonized. However, if one does not consider resistance in digitally compatible terms means that form the point of view of Globality, one is radically silent Other.

It is important to understand, that this an ambiguous situation: Digital literacy and literacy can be independent but often are not, resistance by silent Others is possible, but it is not covered by the Global Northern understanding of the concept of the subaltern. The Global Northern subalterna should be read through the lens of, say, Judith Butler. I want to emphasize this problem, because of an interesting experience I had several years ago at a conference (http://www.gradnet.de/papers/, http://www.gradnet.de/papers/ethik07/webcontributions/stingl.pdf), where I had the ‘audacity’ to propose that groups of of people that would be considered ‘lower class’ and have a different, less advanced educational background may consume more mass- and popular cultural media (Interestingly, I was actually also considering, among other semantic dimensions, how media producers think of their audience, of the self-descriptions of members of that audience, etc.) and we should be paying attention to the different dialectics/interpellations between media metaphors and the imaginaries of people – I was proposing that the emergence of a pejorative use of the semantic of the ‘victim’ was an indicator for a sociologically noteworthy phenomenon. I was then berated by members of the audience for that panel for using a word like ‘class’ and for connecting class and education, which was considered the ‘wrong way to call this’ or ‘politically quite incorrect’, and, as one (hypo)critical PhD student – mind, I was a PhD student at the time – pointed out, I had also not  considered ‘the possibilities of resistance by the subaltern’. My response was, that ‘well, I too, have read my Judith Butler’, which drew out the expected grins of an overly confident crowd of German graduate students and junior scholars, who were expecting either a polemic defense or my bowing to their reverence to Gramsci or Spivak. What they had clearly missed, was the point in my reference and my little act in epistemic disobedience: I was trying to make them think about what I had actually said. My problem with the concept of the subaltern whenever it is used by Global Northern social scientists and humanities scholars, such as myself and that’s why I don’t use it, is that they quickly contribute to the creation of a looping effect that is well described from a Butlerian perspective: It often is the discursive performance of those speaking about a subaltern’s possibilities that bring this subaltern into existence in the first place, rather than a subaltern performing itself. The mattering of subalterna is mattered through performances, wherein the members of the subalterna are not the performers of this mattering. Their actual performances are often other-worldly, i.e. they are of different worlds and world differently than the academic discourse: As a consequence, they are othered silently, i.e. without even knowing or realizing that they are being othered in the form of the subaltern. This is also the reason why, specifically within the social sciences, it is so difficult to connect academia with policy-making and a smart kind of activism. Academic activism either fails before the reality and activists frustrate their academic interlocutors and/or allies, or academics categorically renounce – often by actively misreading Weber – the notion of any activistic participation by academics.

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