Posts Tagged ‘ power ’

Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech

President Obama receives the script from his recent Mic Checking

Author’s Note: This piece was originally posted to Sociology Lens on December 10th. On December 13th, the piece was temporarily removed and I was asked to make revisions to make more explicit the conventional sociological themes in this piece. This request was made as the result of pressure from a senior professor who deemed this piece too “polemical” and not “sociological.” While I and many others in the discipline have epistemological objections to very concept of value-free social science, and thus view with suspicion any implication that sociology can be separated from politics, I agreed to make revisions, because I think that argument in this piece important and can only be strengthened by further reference to the social theory canon. The downside is that the post is now less accessible to a popular audience than it was originally intended to be, so I have archived a copy of the original here. Finally, I must note that, while examining power is, perhaps, the oldest and most important task of sociology, it is (and has always been) political by nature.

A recent news piece for Inside Higher Ed reports on several instances where students have disrupted public presentations by conservative academics, activists, or politicians. The students used “the human microphone”—i.e., a practice of amplifying a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison—to offer counterpoints to the arguments being made by the presenter. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, asserts that the mic checking the conservative presenters is tantamount to “censorship.” This assertion shares the logic of what Karl Rove demanded when he was mic checked at John Hopkins:

If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it… if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech… then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session… line up behind the mic…

But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.” Continue reading

Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech

President Obama recieves the script from his recent Mic Checking

This text was posted to Sociology Lens on December 10th. On December 13th, the piece was temporarily removed and I was asked to make revisions to make more explicit the conventional sociological themes in this piece. This request was made as the result of pressure from a senior professor who deemed this piece too “polemical” and not “sociological.” While I and many others in the discipline have epistemological objections to very concept of value-free social science, and thus view with suspicion any implication that sociology can be separated from politics, I agreed to make revisions, because I think that argument in this piece important and can only be strengthened by further reference to the social theory canon. The new version is now on Sociology Lens and archived on my personal blog.

A recent news piece for Inside Higher Ed reports on several instances where students have disrupted public presentations by conservative academics, activists, or politicians. The students used “the human microphone”—i.e., a practice of amplifying a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison—to offer counterpoints to the arguments being made by the presenter. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, asserts that the mic checking the conservative presenters is tantamount to “censorship.” This assertion shares the logic of what Karl Rove demanded when he was mic checked at John Hopkins:

If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it… if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech… then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session… line up behind the mic…

But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Even more concerning is the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision that makes the linkage between access to money and access to speech de jure and not merely de facto. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.” Continue reading

Critical Theory: Useful Distinction or Unconscious Smugness?

On September 18th, 2011, Barry Wellman, the early and rather prescient scholar of the Internet, posed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question to the Communication and Information Technology Section of the American Sociology Association (CITASA): “‘Critical’ – aren’t we all?” This post was precipitated by a call for papers for special issue of tripleC entitled Marx is Back: The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today (no affiliation with the author). Specifically, the call invited papers that address (my emphasis):

what it means to ask Marx’s questions in 21st century informational capitalism, how Marxian theory can be used for critically analyzing and transforming media and communication today, and what the implications of the revival of the interest in Marx are for the field of Media and Communication Studies.

Shortly after it was sent, Wellman responded to the call, saying:

Not meant personally, but the use of the word “critical” by a subset of scholars always bothers me as leading to unconscious smugness? If I’m “critical”, your lot isn’t? Who, except flacks and twerps, isn’t critical? Can we criticize the criticalists?

This sparked a debate over the utility and appropriateness of the phrase “critical theory.” Critics of the phrase raise the following objections: Continue reading

A New Paradigm of Leaking: Anonymous’ “Delicious Data”

The Anonymous Twitter Feed Announcing the NATO Breach

On July 21st, 2011, Anonymous—the 4chan-associated hacker collective with a cyber-libertarian bent—announced that they had breached NATO’s secure database and retrieved roughly a gigabyte of restricted data. To verify their claim, Anonymous posted a “NATO restricted” document to Twitter. Interestingly, Anonymous has been very cautious in leaking the documents it has obtained, publicly declaring that it would be “irresponsible” to publish most of it. Much of what has be published is “Redacted, for sanity.” Continue reading

“Relationships” Comprise More Than Just Sex Partners

Christina Campbell wrote an interesting piece for change.org promoting a slacktivism campaign that encourages Facebook to broaden the way it defines relationships and to give users the option of a write-in box to describe their own relationships. She provides several examples of how the rationalization of our lives for marketing purposes via the online profile ultimately serves to privilege some lifestyles while marginalizing others.

(Originally posted: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2010/12/24/relationships-comprise-more-than-just-sex-partners/)

A Brief Reflection on Donna Haraway

While we do not necessarily use the term “cyborg” in the way Donna Haraway used it in her famous 1985 “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway’s work is of great importance to many of the topics covered on the Cyborgology blog.

As I see it, the primary takeaway from Haraway is the existence of a recursive relationship between technology and social organization. More importantly, as each iteration of this relationship unfolds, there opens a new field across which power relations operate. Haraway is far more optimistic than Foucault or Baudrillard, however, who opine about our inability to escape the techno-social system. For Haraway, we become empowered by figuring out, and, subsequently learning to manipulate, the code that organizes society in any given technological milieu. Continue reading

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