Book report: Social change and creative activism in the 21st century


The Yes Men, one of the dozens of examples of creative activism mentioned in the book (source: Shadow Distribution)

Presentation link

In this book, Silas Harrebye explores the field of creative activism today by studying its definition; characterizing the roles played by creative activists; discussing the ways social movement theory has accounted for it; and ultimately proposing a theoretical framework that distinguishes creative activism from other creative endeavors outside activism, and from other forms of activism that don’t rely on creative tactics.

He tentatively defines creative activism as “civic, project-driven, and nonviolent forms of democratic participation where critical perspectives on a societal issue or a political system are communicated when, where, and in ways that no one else can or will. They do so in creative ways through temporal interventions such as strategic happenings, transformative events, and manufactured spectacles characterized by a cynical approach, an ironic attitude and/or [a utopian] quest in order to provoke reflection in the individual spectator and the public sphere at large.” This definition encompasses the dimensions he explores throughout the book: critique, cynicism, irony, utopia and participation.

He starts out by tracing the relationship between activism and creativity by appealing to the idea of the political theater, the performance; he expands on the definition by listing practices that serve as examples:
– pranks and protests
– happenings,
– street art,
– tactical media,
– social utopian experiments,
– viral campaigns,
– flash mobs,
– subvertisement,
the-emperor-has-no-clothes disruptions,
invisible theater,
minor additions or twists to the already known traditional repertoire of demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, barricades, lobbyism, information campaigns, boycotts, mass petitions, the urban insurrection, etc.

He also defines 21st century creative activism in terms of the old vs the new. Creative work in organizing is not new; what is new, he argues, are “the changed conditions for the immanent and potentially emancipatory critique at the heart of this type of engagement”. These new conditions imply the crisis of representative democracy, the rise of inequality; in terms of media, they imply “new forms of cognitive capitalism”.

He argues that the roles played by creative activists too can shed light on the question. He poses them as facilitators, people who “make it easier for a group of people to do what they want to do together”, a practice rooted in deliberative democracy; he also poses them as mediators/translators “in the cacophony of critical voices”.

Before proposing his own framework, Harrebye provides an overview of the theories of social movements that have in accounted for different aspects of creative activism: questions on formal membership, brief or sustained engagement, Rochon’s ‘critical communities’, specific vs global theories, repertoires, causes, dialectic dynamics, identity formation and framing and dynamics of contention.

To understand creative activism and its role in promoting critique and democratic participation, Harrebye proposes an analytical framework that relies on three core elements: cynicism, irony and utopia.

– Critical preaching, scandalous behavior, and provocative dialogue, the three qualities of praxis associated with cynical philosophers, can be used to understand some of today’s creative activism. In quoting Andy Bichlbaum from The Yes Men, “We are not just making fun of people. We are laughing with a purpose.”

– Irony “is critically directed towards those who cannot see and share this existential insight”, and political action is enabled by humor that can take a critical stance and “speak truth to power” in ways that other discourse can’t.

– Utopia addresses the widespread political demand for alternatives as a price to pay for criticism. “But to a number of [creative] critics, being taken seriously is not seen as a goal nor a quality in and by itself – quite the opposite, it sometimes seems”. The critical exercise may aim to revitalize our political imagination, above all, by rethinking the world we want.

This last feature of creative activism points at the idea of mirroring, the practice of creating alternative reflections as a way to carry critique. “Instead of having a clear idea about what the good life is and let that form the basis of a critique, which eventually might lead to reflection, the logic is reversed in more experimental practices”, argues Harrebye.

“Critique does not only become ironic, cynical, and question utopian attitudes and strategies, it becomes a reflexive act when it is negotiated with and within the system that it is an inherent part of”; this system is capitalism, and Harrebye aims to circumvent it by building on Nancy Fraser’s theory of framing for social justice (redistribution – economics, recognition – culture, and representation – politics) that responds to the seeming inescapability of the framings of capitalism.

What, then, are the pragmatic consequences if we take this theoretical framework of creative activism at heart? Harrebye addresses future dilemmas and impact evaluation. He focuses on dilemmas around the limits of participation, innovation and implications of different funding models for creative activism; the evaluation culture and considerations around causality and cultural change; and makes recommendations on experimental design for impact assessment.

Finally, he explores the implications this all has in our theories of change: “We must renounce the wish for an administrative politics of ‘truth’ and ‘necessity’, and foster forms of action that dare to celebrate the vacuum it leaves and the possibilities that follow in relation to how we conduct ourselves as political subjects – in praise of an elusive but valuable revolutionary ethics of political imagination”


Silas Harrebye is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, and serves as a board member for the Centre for Artistic Activism. His background is in international studies and philosophy, and he describes his methodological approach as interdisciplinary, using academic literature reviews, interviews and an impressive collection of examples from the field, as well as quantitative data from European Union sources.


Harrebye, Silas F. Social Change and Creative Activism in the 21St Century : The Mirror Effect. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan, 2016., 2016. EBSCOhost,


Book Report: Campus Wars

Campus Wars: the peace movement at American state universities in the Vietnam era

In Campus Wars, Kenneth Heineman aims to tell the lesser-known story of anti-war activism at state schools from 1965-70, arguing against the traditional narrative that this activism originated and was centered at elite schools. He does this through a comparison of activism at state and elite universities, as well as case studies of four state schools that played an important role in campus activism of the era: Michigan State University, Kent State University, State University of New York at Buffalo and Pennsylvania State University. Additionally, Heineman is interested in how demographic and cultural qualities of activists affected types and quality of activism, a concern that he addresses through discussion and comparison of demographic statistics across the four campuses and at elite schools.

In the first three chapters, Heineman describes the conditions in which anti-war activism arose, pinpointing the factors working either in favor of or against campus activism. He first discusses this from the perspective of the administrators, describing a Cold War environment in which the government and academic administrators saw higher education and its products as an anti-Communist weapon. To this end, in 1968, a third of the money spent on university research and development had either a military origin or purpose, and university administrators often worked for the government, often in defense-related positions. The academic community expected its members to, at least publicly, support these goals. As a result, free speech was suppressed on campuses and it was customary to discipline activist faculty and students. FBI and police surveillance of activists was also common. Ultimately, these were all factors that often fueled activism; the fact that universities were so intimately involved with the war machine gave students and faculty a stronger sense of obligation. Similarly, when their professors were fired merely for expressing dissenting views, students became more engaged and mobilizations increased. Heineman also proposes that, in comparison to elite schools, activism was more difficult at state schools because administrators were less tolerant. In some cases, though, state schools were ahead of their elite counterparts, such as the early adoption of the teach-in tactic and emergence of an SDS group at Michigan State.

In contrast to the administrators, faculty views were often less homogenous and more polarized in their view of the war in Vietnam. There were, for instance, many scientists whose careers could be advanced by an anti-communist foreign policy and military research. This state of affairs began when academics were called to action in WWI and again in WWII. Whether as a result of patriotism or of reliance on government funding, being an academic became politicized in support of the status quo. Younger faculty, who joined after the World Wars, became disillusioned and were more likely to speak out against the Vietnam War than older academics. Another factor associated with academics’ political views was their area of study: dissent was much more common among faculty in the humanities and social sciences, as opposed to science and business, where research was often related to the war effort. It was not uncommon for faculty to be punished for expressing dissent, and faculty were often victims of McCarthyism.

For students, higher university endowments in the cold-war era meant student activists could benefit from more low-income students could, more students overall, and a more diverse student body. Students were mobilized by moral obligation to oppose military research and recruiting on campus, as well as spillover from civil rights and other movements. Institutions unwittingly created more activists by placing increased emphasis on the study of social sciences, making students more politically aware and engaged than their peers studying business or science. In addition, students were moved to action when they felt alienated by the impersonal quality created by increased enrollment and the in loco parentis administration. Heineman goes into demographic statistics of activists in great detail in order to show their diversity. His most emphasized finding is that, contrary to mass media portrayals, not all anti-war activists were middle- or upper-class and privileged. Different avenues of action were available to privileged students than working-class students: the latter usually attended state schools, while the former were more likely to attend elite schools. Different schools differed in tolerance toward activism; thus, privileged students were more likely to get away with violent tactics and have parental support networks that were unavailable to working-class students.

After describing the conditions in which activism arose, Heineman dedicates the next three chapters to a chronological description of major events on campuses across the country. The account begins with the years 1965-67, when anti-war activism got off to a slow start. Initially, pro-war activists collected more signatures and, in popular conservative media, branded anti-war activists as traitors or communists. Even peaceful protests were poorly attended and often suppressed entirely, yet activists were optimistic at first. They overestimated the power of popular opinion and thought that President Johnson merely needed to be made aware of their dissent for the war to be put on hold. Meanwhile, Johnson increased troop commitments and draft calls, as well as the grade requirements for draft deferment, amplifying discontent among students. In response, mobilizations increased and students formed new groups, such as Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and anti-draft unions. Two factions began to emerge: many students were increasingly radicalized while others continued to advocate for a more moderate movement. some students were alienated by use of violent tactics. Heineman also distinguishes between activists elite and state schools, claiming (without much evidence) that violent forms of protest immediately propagated at elite universities, while students at state schools were forced to engage in less drastic forms.

With the discouraging outcomes of the Tet Offensive, political assassinations of MLK and others, and the increased polarization of American society, the period of 1968-69 was one of increased intensity of activism, causing many activists to turn to radicalization and violence. The main focus of student activism at the time was protesting ROTC and on-campus military research and recruiting. In response, administrators attempted to crackdown on student activism, increasingly involving policing, FBI surveillance and seeking punitive actions. In addition, this was a period of increased activity among Black, gay and women’s groups, which was at times not well received or supported by anti-war activists. The lack of solidarity between anti-war and other movements contributed to divisions among activists, which resulted in the fracturing of the SDS and other student groups. One of the factions of the SDS formed the Weathermen, a violent revolutionary student group, which led a bombing campaign targeted at government buildings and invaded campuses to tell the coming of the revolution.

In 1970, anti-war activism on campus reached its climax with a period of chaos and violence. A number of campuses became combat zones as a result of riots, police occupation of campuses, and firebombing of ROTC buildings. Perhaps the most extreme example is the case of the Kent State shootings. In May, Riots on campus and throughout Kent had caused the National Guard to occupy the Kent State campus. When student activists did not back down and continued rallies, National Guard fired 61 rounds into non-violent crowd gathered for a rally, wounding nine and killing four. In response to these shootings and continued military occupation of Kent State, as well as the invasion of Cambodia, over four million students across the nation mobilized for the largest student strike in American history. Police responded to continued protests with more unprovoked violence.

Ultimately, the anti-war movement declined as a result of ideological and cultural divisions, as well as an increasingly unsupportive academic environment (though supportiveness of environment depended largely on the institution). A majority of Americans despised the campus peace movement and loathed the war; they often viewed against student activists as justified and, in extreme cases, thought more students should have been killed at Kent state. In the face of such intolerance, the price of activism was incredibly high. Additionally, activists groups were fractured from within as radical activists alienated those who wanted to pursue less extreme tactics. This led to the decline and dispersion of SDS and other student groups.

Heineman does not discuss the long-term impact of the movement in much depth. In the end, he emphasizes that the anti-war movement was one of unprecedented diversity, which led to the creation of more diverse social movements. However, the anti-war movement was far from true intersectionality, and diversity was often cause for disputes. It was not uncommon, for instance, for woman and minorities to be alienated in anti-war groups and for movements like women’s liberation to be rejected by anti-war activists. Additionally, Heineman points to the record-breaking size of mobilizations across the country to emphasize its importance and impact for large portions of the population, even in the face of fierce opposition. Finally, Heineman links the extent of student anti-war activism to changes in campus culture, such as the eventual acceptance of the necessity student activism.

Social Action Coordinating Committee

Project Proposal: MIT Social Action Coordinating Committee

The Social Action Coordinating Committee (SACC), originally known as the Science Action Coordination Committee, was a student activist group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1973(?). Initially, the group tasked itself with collective action in opposition to military research at MIT and the war in Vietnam, employing a variety of tactics. In attempt to broaden its scope, the group later turned to support the women’s movement, as well as the Black Panthers. A large archive of documentation of its activities, including meeting minutes, correspondences, and the media they produced or circulated exists in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. In this study, I will work closely with the documentation of the group, performing in-depth case analysis and producing information for comparison with larger student movements of the period.


Research Question

Generally, I am interested in evaluating the tactics, particularly media, employed by the SACC in terms of various measures of effectiveness. As I learn more about the movement, the question will become better defined. For instance, I may consider broadening the temporal scope of the question to account for how its change in tactics might have resulted in its decline of the group. Alternatively, I might want to do a study of effectiveness of strategies used for antiwar movements compared to those used for more general movements.


Case Selection

My position as an MIT student allows access to the institute archives, which facilitates an intimate knowledge of the group which would not otherwise be feasible. With this knowledge in-hand, the case of the SACC is of interest for a number of reasons. It is an instance of a thriving student activist group at an institute that has virtually no record of activism otherwise. Further, MIT’s position as a leading research institution biases the mass media towards it and makes it a potential role model for other schools, suggesting a high likelihood for tactical diffusion. Perhaps most importantly, MIT received huge (90) percentage of its funding from the Department of Defense, potentially catalyzing forms of activism that might be otherwise unprecedented at other universities.



The research will take the form of a case study proceeding in an exploratory fashion. Findings will primarily based upon archival research and literature review, though there is potential to contact movement participants and conduct interviews.



To be able to recognize qualities unique to the MIT movement, it will first be necessary to acquire a working knowledge of overall antiwar movement of SACC’s contemporaries.

Once this is accomplished, I will turn to the MIT Institute Archives, where I will conduct the majority of my research. This will involve an initial reading through the four boxes to determine the relevant documents, which will then be analyzed deeply and comparatively. Afterwards, if it appears that there is relevant information which is not available in the MIT archives, I will attempt to locate it in other sources, such as interviews, books, newspapers or other archives.

Throughout this process, I will be open to criticism and inspiration from my peer researchers.

Discussion Apr. 13: Tactical Media


Alessandra Renzi,

A key writer and theorist of tactical media, in addition to being a practitioner and media creator. She has studied tactical media activism in Italy, which is the focus of discussion for this class.

Tactical Media

Tactical media does not have a clear definition and is constantly being redefined by its actors and contexts. Instead it is marked by transience, a sense of defiance, and an ad hoc creation. Tactical media is often about the short term and seizing a creative moment. To having a lasting effect, it can be situated within a strategy, or longer term plan, often including and connecting many tactics together.  Tactical media can be effective at grabbing attention and can be used as a tool progress a larger campaign. Many things may start tactical, and when they are successful, they can be turned into a more sustainable project, becoming a strategy rather than a form of tactical media. However, one of the most valuable pieces of conversation, coming at the time when “The ABC of Tactical Media” (1997) was published, is that not everything has to become a larger project, and that a tactical medium employed can be abandoned and still be effective.

Telestreet (early 2000s)

Telestreet ( is a network of pirate television stations in Italy that began in June 2002. Around this time, the prime minister of Italy controlled >90% of the media. Telestreet formed as a different mode of media production and dissemination to provide alternate stories and perspectives to the state-sanctioned ones. Using home-made transmission tools, Telestreet employed a network of micro tv-transmitters to broadcast on a street or in a neighborhood. This is an example of tactical media being disruptive and seeking to subvert the dominant narratives.

Telestreet occurs at a time where tactical media has been in existence and Telestreet ties into a lot of other projects around the same time. Many people within the movement had a media background. It is a good example of how social media movements and technology are co-dependent. A lot of the technologies that Telestreet employed they needed to develop themselves. They developed technologies for a means of indiemedia, as well as a peer-to-peer network for horizontal communication and sharing videos. For the video sharing network, they had to work on codecs to read the files and create a method for circulating media online. These are examples of tactical media intervention, and were soon institutionalized and became strategic. It is also in this context of co-evolution of social movements and technology that there is a sense of a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) character of tactical media.

Squats as a site for tactical media development

Another important aspect to tactical media is the face-to-face interaction. Many Telestreet stations occurred in squats, or abandoned properties that were repurposed by those who moved in. Squats are often key cultural hotspots that act as zones of innovation or cultural experiments. People working on tactical media projects, like that of Telestreet, can remain close and live outside of authoritarian influence. Additionally, squats are the sites of hacklabs where helpful software is developed to distribute among those who needed it. One notable example is Dyne:bolic (, which is distributed freely and can be run on low-end computers, designed with digital resistance and privacy in mind. Another example of such software is Reamweaver ( which allows for quickly parodying a website in real-time.

Naples Garbage Crisis (2008)

Another instance of tactical media is within the city of Naples, Italy in 2008. Government works were refusing to pick up trash, which then piled up along the streets. In response to public outcry, the government decided to dispose of it improperly and negligently. The populace of Naples, who studied EU laws on waste disposal, decided to fight back against their negligent government. The citizens gave visitors tours of the garbage mounds and improper dumping sites. They recorded where and how much the garbage piled up, and videos of the improper disposal.

This was ongoing before the proliferation of smartphones and easy-to-use recording devices. Many groups had to organize trainings and obtain cameras for people to use so that they could capture a lot of the ongoing transgressions. Because of these workshops, and the large amount of video recording, all of these groups collaborated to create a documentary. The documentary was highly collaborative and crowdfunded. The documentary was viewed at guerilla screenings where new spaces were created to talk about the garbage crisis, as the government was tightly controlling discussion of the topic. This was all possible due to the networks formed in the beginning from organizers encouraging everyone to record the garbage sites and speak out against their negligent government.

Tactical media in the present day

Some recent examples of tactical media include the check-in at Standing Rock, Facebook page. It was effective in raising a lot of awareness of the situation and garnering public support. Another example from 2017 is the national park alternate twitter accounts that arose to protest a temporary media blackout. Additionally we discussed the overpass light brigade and it’s efficacy as tactical media.

Are memes tactical media? There is some overlap between meme warfare and tactical media. For example, in Puerto Rico, a fake Facebook account was created as a satirical page about duplicitous government decisions that was successful. However, meme warfare tends to concentrate on content and rarely extends beyond the online sphere, where tactical media mostly resides. Alternatively, effective tactical media that occurs in the offline world can create a powerful image that will be circulated online. This is because we can take for granted the access many people have to social media. Twitter itself started as a tactical media project and is conducive to circulating information due to its responsiveness. Before social media, the most important thing to do was to get into the mainstream media or go viral to draw attention to a specific keyword to change the understanding of what is ongoing (branding). Going viral nowadays can be achieved through an effective hashtag or compelling image. Tactical media can be used to set an agenda, for example Ferguson and reporting on Twitter instead of through mainstream media.

Tactical media can also be inward facing, not necessarily designed to grab attention. On tactical media’s current relevancy, Renzi commented that it’s about realizing “you can tweak the system,” “get creative, weav[ing] different media together” and “recogniz[ing] what others are doing.”

Additional Discussions

Disaster capitalism is a term for when certain policies are presented and progress that otherwise would be rejected due to a catastrophe that has caused chaos. One example is after Hurricane Katrina, lands were rezoned, displacing people and benefiting those who were given the land. It’s the premise that companies are prepared to turn any crisis into an opportunity, by bypassing normal democratic mechanisms. In this instance, tactical media would be very useful. The tactical media arising could distract and raise awareness to examples of disaster capitalism and help prevent inequitable policies from being approved. Often in a state of chaos, it requires being creative and flexible to ad hoc designs, which is why tactical media can play a crucial role.

Also discussed, in light of the recent backlash against Pepsi for “trivializing” ongoing social movements, was the co-opting of tactical media by ad agencies. Corporations now have the resources and time to search the web and incorporate tactical media into their campaigns. For example, many alt-right organizations are able to expand in ways that grassroots organizations don’t necessarily have the means to. However, Aziria commented, “Even though there’s often a space which gets co-opted, that doesn’t mean that what has been does loses its effect. So there’s still reason to press on in this space, as there’s room for negotiation and the tactic hasn’t lost it’s value or use in political discourse.”

Additionally, we experimented with NewsJack ( Similar in concept to Reamweaver, but it isn’t real-time and designed to be more accessible.


Medios Tácticos/ Tactical Media

Tema: Tactical Media/Medios Tacticos

Exponente: Alessandra Renzi

Para la clase de Networked Social Movement la profesora, activista y artista Alessandra Renzi discutió con la clase las características de los Medios Tácticos en términos de su producción, su aportación y las problemáticas que presentan. Alessandra participó activamente en el desarrollo de varios proyectos de Medios Tácticos. Igualmente aportó académicamente al libro Digital media and democracy: tactics in hard times con el capítulo: The Space of Tactical Media donde discute la definición, relevancia, uso y espacio que pueden ocupar los Medios Tácticos en el proceso de activismo social y democracia.


¿Qué son los Medios Tácticos?

Los Medios Tácticos son usualmente definidos como producciones mediáticas de disidencia colectivas e independientes, desarrolladas por los mismos usuarios utilizando tecnologías accesibles y baratas. Usualmente son muy difíciles de precisar y definir lo cual los hace muy particulares. (Boler, 2008)

Historia de los Medios Tácticos

Según Alessandra Renzi la producción de medios tácticos inició a través de las conversaciones que se comenzaron a llevar a cabo una vez el muro de berlín cayó. Activistas a través de toda europa comenzaron a incorporar formas de producción mediática desarrolladas e incorporadas por activistas del este europeo. Muchas de estas conversaciones iniciaron en centros de arte y producción cultural. En estos espacios se reflexionaba sobre las posibilidades creativas y combativas de los medios tácticos, principalmente se muchos artistas y activistas se preguntaban cómo podían comenzar a identificar objetivos y métodos de lucha en contra de situaciones de opresión sistémica económica y social. Más que nada cuestionaban los métodos utilizados hasta el momento para participar activamente de la lucha social. Se percataron de que la organización debía ir más allá de salir a la calle y protestar, ya que la lucha corporativa descansaba en una base informática y mediática para llevar su agenda política y economía que tenía que ser combatida en otros niveles (no necesariamente los tradicionales)

¿En qué lugares usualmente se producían los medios tácticos?

En el caso particular de europa los “squats” eran semilleros de producción de medios tácticos por diversas razones. Squats son usualmente edificios privados o gubernamentales que han sido abandonados y son reclamados por la ciudadanía de los cuales no puede luego ser desalojados después de haber vivido un tiempo en ellos debido a reglamentación gubernamental particularmente en europa. Sin embargo, esto está cambiando en el siglo 21, ya que muchos gobiernos han buscado deshacerse de estos espacios. La razón por la que estos espacios han ido eliminando estiba de su importancia como centros activos de disidencia y pensamiento crítico que son sustentados de manera colectiva y muchas veces gratuita ya que no se tiene que pagar alquiler o arrendamiento. En Estados Unidos los casos de “squats” son muchos más limitados debido a la primacía que se le da a la propiedad privada en el país.

Igualmente, ha habido un esfuerzo increíble por parte de distintos gobiernos locales y estatales por crear espacios de creatividad e innovación contenida, muchas veces desde una estética y práctica técnica y empresarial, mientras simultáneamente eliminan estos espacios de creación que no se adecuan a sus ideas de lo que se debe criticar y/o producir.

Tácticas vs. Estrategias

Una de las formas en las que se tratado de definir los Medios Tácticos ha sido a través de determinar las distinciones entre que se puede determinar como táctico y estratégico. Esto ha probado ser problemático ya que cuando hablamos de tácticas tendemos a pensar en herramientas utilizadas en un momento dado con una finalidad específica mientras que si pensamos en las estrategias estas se presentan como un plan a largo plazo que buscar cumplir con unos goles en el futuro. Sin embargo, al utilizar estas definiciones se limitan las posibilidades de incorporar proyectos de medios tácticos que tengan momentos más largos de duración. La producción de medios técnicos evista ser definido precisamente porque le permite mucha más agencia política el dejar la definición de la práctica lo más amplia posible. Esto le permite a la práctica cambiar constantemente y no ser atada en la práctica.

Cabe destacar que los medios tácticos no solo se pueden  pensar en relación a fin definido porque mucha de la producción también busca cuestionar la necesidad de llevar a cabo acciones políticas que después se convirtieran en un proyecto definido. Muchas veces, era más efectivo llamar la atención a gran escala de un gran número de personas a un issues y luego saltar a realizar otros proyectos que forzar esa producción y tener que unirse al complejo corporativo sin fines de lucros o a vender algún producto para subsistir.

De igual forma, los proyectos de medios tácticos pueden buscar “mirar hacia dentro” más que generar un espectáculo. Estos pueden buscar más que nada generar una discusión entre los miembros de su comunidad y problematizar “issues” al igual que pueden buscar llamar la atención de los medios tradicionales.

Para Alessandra Renzi los medios tácticos sirven para presentar una nueva actitud de innovación hacia la de producción de medios. Muestran una sensibilidad específica donde se puede identificar qué medios utilizar para cambiar la forma en que protestamos y cambiamos la política pública y la sociedad civil.

Ejemplos de Medios Tácticos

  •    Telestreet ( ):Es un proyecto de una Red de Televisión Pirata que se creo en italiaen el 2003 (no había YouTube, FB, Twitter,Etc) debido a las condiciones de posesión de medios de comunicación. Uno de los precursores de Telestreet fue IndieMedia. Sin embargo, IndieMedia dejó de existir porque fue perseguida y “targeteada” por las instituciones policiales italianas  para el 2001, lo que provocó que la mayoría del trabajo que se produjo allí comenzará también a utilizarse en Telestreet. El presidente Berlusconi controlaba el 90% de los medios de comunicación en Italia. La estación de televisión pirata tenía el nombre de TeleAut y funcionaba desde edificios ocupados haciendo uso de lo que se conoce como un P2P network y tenían la misma estructura de producción que IndieMedia.Todo se realizó DIY. Podemos mirar al pasado y ver cómo hemos evolucionado y donde estamos ahora en términos de transmisión y producción de contenido gracias a plataformas como Telestreet. Esta red permitía convertir tu televisor en un receptor pero también proyector de contenido. Más que nada la red buscaba proveer información diferente y diversificar la producción de contenido e información en Italia. Buscaban crear formatos innovadores televisión haciendo un mix de nuevas y viejas tecnologías. Solo había conexión dial up los videos se transmitían bajando y subiendo los files via esa conexión o podían compartir todo vía cd y vhs. Esta conceptualización  inició la  distribución portable de la información.

En términos de su relación con los medios tácticos Telestreet comienza cuando en la era de producción de medios tácticos se buscaba pensar sobre el uso y la implementación de medios para propósitos de activismo social.No obstante esta luego se institucionalizó y comenzó a producir medios más estratégicos, algo que tiende a suceder en muchas ocasiones con la producción de medios tácticos cuando se comienza a pensar en la temporalidad y sostenibilidad de los proyectos.

Telestreet también entrenó ciudadanos en Nopole, Italia para que hicieran uso de cámaras portátiles para documentar los abuso cometidos por parte de la administración de Berlusconi para no atender el desastre ambiental de manejo de basura que enfrenta la ciudad. El presidente Berlusconi hizo uso de la crisis de basura que había en Napoles para instaurar política pública opresiva que buscaba sustentar las ganancias monetarias corruptas de su administración al igual que las de la mafia italiana.

Si bien el entrenamiento no paró la instauración de medidas draconianas por parte del gobierno italiano, si logró que se produjera colaborativamente un documental llamado: “Una montagna di balle”. El documental se produjo colaborativamente en todas sus facetas de producción y buscaba más que informar a la ciudadanía Nápoles del problema de basura (ya que estos eran muy versados) buscaba que el resto de la ciudadanía  Italiana y el mundo se percatan del asunto. Este documental es más un ejemplo de Medios Estratégicos que de mediots tácticos pero sirve como ejemplo para demostrar a donde los medios tácticos pueden llevar en términos de producción.

Mucha de la tecnología que fue utilizada por eso grupos es precursora de muchas de las prácticas que llevamos a cabo ahora como: compartir video de brutalidad policiaca y el uso de medios de comunicación para fomentar justicia social.

  • Desobediencia Electrónica es otro ejemplo de medios tácticos. El documental Info Wars(2004) nos muestra la desobediencia electrónica como una forma no violenta de protesta digital que busca enfatizar en el uso de las palabra como guerra en vez de utilizar las palabras para apoyar o avanzar la guerra. En el documental se proveen los ejemplos de los Zapatistas como precursores del espacio digital para dejar al pueblo saber de su agenda más allá de los espacios discursivos que permiten los medios tradicionales y el gobierno. El uso por parte de los zapatistas de llevar a cabo DDOs (ataques de denegación de servicio que no le permite a usuarios legítimos acceder los portales) para hacer al gobierno Mexicano al igual a múltiples bancos fue increíblemente novel y le permito una exposición mediática y efecto real en el proceso político de la lucha zapatista.


Nuevos Ejemplos de Medios Tácticos


  • Standing Rock Check-in: Cuando se le requirió a los usuarios de internet y Facebook que hicieran Check-in en Standing Rock para que la policía de South Dakota no pudiera descifrar y targetear a los activistas que se encontraban defendiendo el agua en Standing Rock.
  • Overpass Light Brigade: Crean banners llamativos y fotográficos  con luces decorativas para llamar la atención a asusntos politicos importantes como la guerra en Syria, los recursos de agua en Standing Rock etc… Su contenido está diseñado para ser altamente distribuido y  compartido en los medios sociales.


  • La Junta de Control Fiscal(JCF): Una página ficticia que buscaba hacer broma de la junta de control fiscal impuesta al gobierno de Puerto Rico como parte de las medidas de austeridad que se le impone a la isla por la deuda de 72 billones de dólares. El gobierno utilizó como excusa la situación precaria de la isla para cambiar la legislación que protegía a los trabajadores y sus derechos, so pretexto de que generaría más empleos. Los empleadores comenzarona despedir empleados y a contratarlos bajo la nueva legislación. La JCF publicó las corporaciones que estaban incurriendo en la práctica y junto a los usuarios llamaron la atención del gobierno quien se tuvo que involucrar y parar las prácticas corporativas en las que se estaban incurriendo.



Por mucho tiempo se creyó que la ventaja que tenían los Medios Tácticos era la rapidez de producción y distribución y el cambio constante del uso mixto y diseminación de contenido y medios de los cuales hacían practica. Sin embargo, la oposición usualmente tiene más recursos para mantener el uso de los medios y distribución del mensaje lo cual provoca que la producción de medios tácticos combativos sean cooptados por el capital. Esta modalidad lleva a muchos teóricos de medios tacticos a la conclusión de que los medios tácticos han muerto.Estos entienden que su fácil incorporación y uso por parte de las corporaciones, el gobierno, al igual que grupos de extrema derecha los ha rendido inútiles para llevar a cabo el trabajo político que necesitan realizar.

No obstante Megan Boler nos recuerda lo siguiente:

“In an age of spectacle and complicity, tactical interventions are often simultaneously recuperated by dominant power while still functioning to shift and modulate perceptions and representations within the dominant culture.” (Boler,2008)

“En la época de la complicidad y el espectáculo, la intervenciones tácticas son simultáneamente recuperadas por el poder dominante mientras todavía funciona para cambiar y modular las percepciones y representaciones dentro de la cultura dominante”(Boler, 2008)

Todo para decir que si bien es cierto que los medios tácticos pueden ser utilizados y robados por el capital eso no los hace inefectivos para llevar a cabo crítica y problematización social.


Dyne:Bolic:   -Era un kit para producción activista de medios de comunicación. Era open source y accesible para todos. (2012)- Originó de el concepto de hackasaours que permitía a niños cambiar y hacer remix de los elementos de HTML que están en una página Web. Esta herramienta permite a los usuarios ver cómo se vería una página web hackeada que luego puedes compartir para problematizar las ideas que se muestran en muchos espacios de diseminación de información virtual. Igualmente la herramienta puede ser utilizada para hacer pensar a la gente sobre el futuro y las victorias que pueden tener como parte imaginar el futuro que desean ver.

Reamweaver– Creado por los YesMen es una herramienta que te permite cambiar palabras clave en páginas web haciéndole creer a las persona que el texto que observan realmente fue creado por el gobierno o corporación al cual la página aparente pertenecer.


Boler, M. (Ed.). (2008). Digital media and democracy: tactics in hard times. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.


Book Report: Tweets and the Streets

Paolo Gerbaudo’s Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism is an examination of the roles that social media played in three prominent movements that took place in 2011: the Egyptian revolution, the Spanish indignados protests, and Occupy Wall Street. Gerbaudo starts his book with an indictment of common approaches that he finds to be reductive. Wary of the mainstream media’s portrayal of various parts of the Arab Spring as “[Twitter or Facebook] Revolutions” and also of the essentialism of various writers and academics, he suggests that social media be investigated as way to understand the interactions and mediation behind emerging forms of protest. He takes issue with both the techno-optimism of Clay Shirky and the techno-pessimism of Morozov and Gladwell, as they fall within essentialist lines that ignore the spatial qualities and importance of identity that are present in many movements. Adopting this critical approach, Gerbaudo then strikes out to establish a model of “choreography of assembly,” where soft leaders, utilizing social media as emotional conduits and organizing tools, cultivate identity and set the scene for “take the square” and “occupy” movements such as those swept the globe in 2011.

In Chapter 1, Gerbaudo situates his approach in the context of previous literature written on social media, specifically the description of social media practices as indicative of “swarms” or “networks.” He first identifies an argument that is often made in the case of online activism – that the Internet allows for interaction without centralized coordination, forming a “many-headed hydra” that is effective and has no single point of weakness. Finding fault with how this proclaimed “horizontalism” obscures asymmetrical relationships within movements, as well as the nuances involved in the assembling of individuals, he explores the metaphor of the “network” from which this sort of view arises. Attributing it to Castells (2009), he explains it to be a metaphor for the spatial distribution of post-industrial societies, promising in its autonomy from bureaucratic structures and informed by libertarian ideals. This participatory culture of self-management and production is the one that is primarily associated with the World Wide Web. Mobile interactions, on the other hand, are usually associated with the “swarm” intelligence proposed by Hardt and Negri (2004), one where members remain different yet are joined by constant communication. While Gerbaudo finds the metaphor of the “swarm” to be appreciative of the role of the body in a way that the “cognitivist” abstraction of the network isn’t, he finds both metaphors to be lacking in their failure to take into account the importance of physical locations where bodies may gather, and to be too accepting of the idea that multiplicity entails action.

Gerbaudo relates these two metaphors to the growing fragmentation of social spaces in cities, a phenomenon that results in segregation along ethnic and economic lines, and the scattering and dispersal of hardships (Bauman, 2000). To explain why recent movements are started despite this dispersion, he references Arendt’s idea (1958) that public spaces are performatively constructed and reconstructed from the act of gathering, positing that social media is used in the “choreographing” of protest. This choreographing is described as a “scene-setting” or a “scripting of space,” where bodily action takes on symbolic meaning. Succinctly, it involves the “condensation of people around common identity, and material precipitation in public space,” – a process that heavily involves emotion as a form of group cognition (referencing Melucci, 1996) and allows for the construction of a “people” (referencing Laclau, 2005).

Chapter 2 gives the 2011 Egyptian revolution as the first case study, beginning with Gerbaudo providing background for the movement and describing his goal as being to “ascertain the contribution of the so-called Facebook youth” to the protests that occurred. While mild opposition was tolerated by the Mubarak government, public spaces were tightly controlled so as to prevent activists from publicly interacting with the working class. State of emergency laws, in place for almost the entire duration of Mubarak’s thirty year reign, allowed for harassment and use of force against opposition media. Egypt had a relative open internet that was touted by the government as proof of liberalization – however, bloggers were often arrested by police. Despite this, a identity of public protest was formed in the mid to late 2000s by activists like those of the 6th of April group, which held small rallies against the Mubarak government.

Gerbaudo traces the origins of the Tahrir Square demonstrations that eventually led to Mubarak’s resignation to the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page, which was created by Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive. Khaled Said was a young Egyptian blogger from a middle-class background whose brutal death by beating at the hands of the secret police sparked outrage, especially among other middle-class Egyptians. Pages such as the one that Ghonim created cemented Said’s status as a martyr and as a symbol around which to cluster. The “We Are All Khaled Said” page in particular was used to call for and organize the 25th of January protests at Tahrir Square. Gerbaudo identifies several key elements involving the use of Facebook and Twitter during the protests:

  • Ghonim successfully built up emotional identification with the movement by getting visitors to the page to first read posts, then interact with the posts, and then finally to contribute their own content.
  • Ghonim then organized a series of “silent protests” that tested the page’s ability to create a physical protest presence – this revealed the large gap between the number of people who would RSVP to planned protests and the number who would show up.
  • As the 25th of January approached, Ghonim and other shabab-al-Facebook (Facebook youth) actively tried to raise morale for the event, responding to pessimistic posts with ones that appealed to emotions like pride
  • Enthusiasm was low at first, but spiked after demonstrations in Tunisia
  • The shabab-al-Facebook, who were mostly middle-class, went from being online activists to street agitators during the protest, therefore engaging and involving the working class.
  • The Egyptian government shut down the nation’s mobile and internet communications on the 27th – this had an effect that was opposite to what was intended, as it revealed the impact that the protests were having and made it impossible for those who had previously been at home to be informed without taking to the streets themselves.
  • Twitter had far less penetration among activists, and was mainly used as a form of real-time communication between activist elites (the so-called “twitter pashas”)
  • Tensions existed between the Twitter pashas and the average protesters because of this gap, and because of tweeps whose tweets were mainly on ideals and not on concrete action – there were some twitter “activists” who were well-known outside of Egypt but unheard of by those on the ground.

In Chapter 3, Gerbaudo analyzes the second case – the rise of the indignados protests as part of the anti-austerity movement in Spain. He introduces the movement as one that rejected the left/right divide for the participatory principles of “democracy 2.0,” and which emphasized the choreography of assembly and the harvesting of indignation. At the time, Spain’s youth unemployment rate was 41 percent; however, a longstanding government campaign of sanitizing public spaces and stigmatizing union protests led to a culture where protest was seen as irrational. This attitude was broken by the No Les Votes campaign, developed in opposition against the Ley Sinde legislation that was meant to counter file-sharing services within the country. While the somewhat techno-utopian No Les Votes movement never materialized into a physical presence on the streets, other movements such as Juventund Sin Futuro (Youth Without Future), Estado de Malestar (Badfare State), Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform for Mortage Victims) and Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) took up the mantle of organizing physical protests. Gerbaudo focuses on Democracia Real Ya, which acted as the primary force behind the 15th of May (15-M) protests, and identifies some key characteristics that its founders (Fabio Gandara and Pablo Gallego) and members used to expand the movement:

  • DRY adopted an extremely majoritarian orientation, seeking to include everyone who was affected by the economic crisis. This involved avoiding language that seemed too political or ideological.
  • DRY recruited members by entering online chat forums and Facebook groups, getting a sense of the conversations that were going on, and then approaching and chatting with members
  • DRY cultivated an emotional “impetus” towards protest, working hard to give the sense that the demonstrations would trigger a mood of collective euphoria
  • DRY also presented the group as being spontaneous and leaderless by asking users to contribute content, and by sustaining interaction with commenters

Gerbaudo writes that the enthusiasm and coherence of identity that DRY was able to engender convinced multiple organizations to put aside their differences and support the 15-M call to protest. He then makes the following observations about the 15-M movement itself:

  • There was significant on-the-ground organizing in the months leading up the protest, with local groups established to hang posters, print pamphlets, and spread the word.
  • In contrast to the Tahrir Square protests, Twitter played a large role in spreading the word about the protest to journalists, activists, bloggers – multiple hashtags associated with the movement, including #15M, became venues for expressing enthusiasm.
  • There was little mainstream coverage of the protest in the initial days, leading to there being a feeling of censorship that further fueled the feeling of indignation and therefore energy.
  • Protesters “spontaneously” decided to create an encampment at the Peurta del Sol; the digital activists had little say in how the camp developed because of their lack of experience in ground activism.
  • Police repression of the protests on the 17th added to the legitimacy of the movement.
  • The net was not the square, or a simple transposition of the square onto public space. According to Gerbaudo, protesters utilized multiple methods that “expressed the joy generated by the rediscovery of a sense of physical communion,” such leaving messages on post-it notes at the entrance of the Sol station, and participating in groups and assemblies while at the square.
  • Occupied squares became sites of “incarnation” for a process of social recomposition, with Peurta del Sol being the symbolic center.
  • The decentralization of the movement from Peurta del Sol completely into neighborhoods resulted in a “loss of focus”

Chapter 4 deals with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which Gerbaudo characterizes as being distinct from the other two cases in that social media initially failed as a rallying point, and that a ground presence was needed first before the movement finally took off. He describes the atmosphere prior to its formation as one where public spaces had been fragmented into functional components, unions had been defeated, and where the anti-war movement had collapsed. When the initial call to action was made, digital activist practices by groups such as Anonymous had strong influences. Tracing the movement’s confused beginnings to its prominence in the national dialogue, he makes the following points:

  • The initial call to action by Adbusters was focused more on communication than on organizing – both this and the “one demand” were left to those on the streets.
  • The #occupywallstreet hashtag spread slowly, and did not garner significant attention until there were several episodes of police repression.
  • There was an elitist character to communications, with very little attempt to engage with people on an emotional level. This severely hindered the movement at the beginning, as it was unable to tap into the pain and suffering of the many who were impacted by the recession.
  • Most of the waves of attention to the movement that occurred on Twitter were due to the virality of events that happened on the ground, such as the pepper-spraying of corralled activists, or the mass arrest of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. These events, along with the willingness of social media companies to piggyback on the movement’s growing popularity, allowed it to gain prominence.
  • The “We are the 99%” tumblr blog contributed to the creation of a popular identity for the movement, with the slogan itself indicating a systemic rather than a biographical problem.
  • The encampment itself was rather small – about 300 protesters at the beginning, growing to around 2000, but came to symbolize Americans struggling to get by. In this way, it became a social media spectacle, and a place where strangers were likely to meet and engage.
  • Although the movement was touted as “horizontal”, there were both practical constraints, such as the control of access to Twitter accounts, and also the emergence of ‘soft’ leaders, which consisted of people who had the ability to be present and to participate.

After considering these cases, Gerbaudo uses Chapter 5 to extend the arguments that he makes throughout the book, clarifying his model of the “choreography of assembly” and the roles that different platforms play. Chief among these is that social media does not entail the end of organization, but rather the emergence of “liquid” forms of organizing, where membership is based on continuous communication and where leaders emerge as those who are able to utilize social media most effectively. He argues that this form of organizing both allows for a highly personal level of engagement and a flexibility of identity while hiding asymmetries of power and privilege. While movements may appear to be leaderless, they are guided by core groups of leaders who often possess high levels of digital literacy and privilege of presence, thus allowing them to exert their influence; it is then difficult to hold these éminences grises accountable.

In this fluid environment, Facebook serves as a useful tool for emotional engagement, one which allows activists to speak to a select audience using informal language, building emotional ties from which to springboard movements. Twitter, on the other hand, can be used effectively for both internal and external communication, although Gerbaudo asserts that it is more likely to host echo-chambers than Facebook due to the like-minded nature of its communities, compared to organic collections of Facebook “friends.” Finally, he makes the case for the importance of symbolic places, which serve as “full signifiers” of history that allow for the rituals of reunion and emotion, in contrast to the “empty signifiers” of slogans. From this, these public places take on their own identity, with squares becoming themselves the “impersonal leaders” of movements.

Gerbaudo qualifies this last point in the conclusion, quoting an activist in saying that “Tahrir is a state of mind.” He ends by suggesting a question to consider: how can movements maintain continuity after their occupied squares?


3/23 Discussion: Project Proposals and “Master Frames”

Most of this class was spent on final project proposals, with around the final thirty minutes used to discuss “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest” (Snow and Benford, 1992). Below are summaries of the questions that were asked of presenters after their presentations, followed by a summary of the discussion on the Snow and Benford reading.

Summaries of Questions for Presenters:

Presenter: Pravina

Pravina’s project proposal was to create an interactive web timeline that would educate users on the Black Lives Matter movement. A question that was brought up during the discussion was whether or not the project would have an analytical component, or just display information about BLM. Additional questions were asked on what sources would be used to gather the information, and if interviews with activists involved with BLM might be included.

Presenter: Hairuo

My project proposal was to investigate the media strategies and tactics that were used by the Occupy movement, where those methods came from, and what impacts they had. The main concern that was brought up was that the scope of the project was too large. Some suggestions for more specific topics were the discursive outcomes of the movement (i.e., how it shaped how terms such as “socialism” are used in the public discourse) and biographical outcomes (i.e., how the lives of those involved with the movement were altered by their participation).

Presenter: Jorge

Jorge’s project proposal was to follow the development of the upcoming Day Without Immigrants (planned for May 1st), and also to assess the event itself and the media narratives that emerge from it. A question that was asked was how his intention to interview business owners fit into the frame of media narratives. The need to protect the identities of undocumented workers/activists who are interviewed was also emphasized.

Presenter: Mariel

Mariel’s project proposal was to examine the street art that has been used by activists and groups such as the Rexiste collective to call attention to the unsolved kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College. The question of how to approach collective, multiple actions was brought up – it was suggested that a deep dive on a particular case would probably be enough, and that interviews with participants would be very helpful.

Presenter: Aziria

Aziria’s project proposal was to investigate the effects that humorous tactics employed as part of culture jamming have on the spread of political ideas. A major point that was brought up in the discussion was that the tactics that were mentioned in the presentation were part of the global anti-corporate globalization movement. This then led to the questions of whether or not “culture jamming” was dead, if it had evolved into something new, and if it should be considered an important historical moment or a continuing influence on political humor.

Presenter: Jessica

Jessica’s project proposal was to research SESPA (Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action), a MIT activist group that was against the Vietnam War and military R&D. It was recommended that she take a look at November Actions, a documentary of the on-campus antiwar protests made by Richard Leacock, who was the Institute’s filmmaker-in-residence at the time.

Presenter: Irena

Irena’s project proposal was to look at movements in the United States that involved the establishment of identity and the associated struggle for civil rights. There were multiple suggestions for how to narrow down this topic, including: looking at only one of the identity categories, focusing on tactics and the different media responses between movements, researching the groups that pushed for the changes that were accomplished, and investigating how identities are utilized, co-opted, or ignored by corporations in advertising (e.g. while Facebook allows for many gender identities to be displayed on profiles, these options are mapped to only male/female when displayed to adspace buyers as possible target audiences).

Presenter: Garrett

Garrett’s project proposal was to either look at organizations that plant trees in neighborhoods or to investigate how local groups use media to raise awareness of brownfields (potentially polluted land) in order to start the process of reclamation. The discussion ended up focusing mainly on the former idea, touching on i-Tree, a project that maps tree plantings and outcomes, and which Aziria worked on in Santurce, Peurto Rico. Also mentioned were forms of guerrilla planting, such as seedbombing.

Presenter: Ashley

Ashley’s project proposal was to study the tactics that youth in Cambodia employ in their fight against government oppression. The discussion focused mainly on the distribution of access to social media, and whether there were offline forms of media and cultural production that youth also use. Another question that was raised was what role, if any, those in the Cambodia diaspora play in the production and consumption of opposition media.

General comments:

It was noted that it is usually better to start with a narrow topic and to broaden it with time permitting than to try to take on too much from the start and end up with a sprawling mess.

Summary of Discussion on “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest”: 

Our discussion of the Snow and Benford reading started off with an evaluation of the propositions that they give as being illustrative of the concept of the “Master Frame.” The utility of these propositions was brought into question, as the collection as a whole seemed to be posed so as to capture all possible cases under a single framework. An example of this somewhat confounding generality is Proposition 7 (“The shape of a cycle of protest is in part a function of the mobilizing potency of the anchoring frame”), a statement that teeters on the edge of tautology. Another is the seeming contradiction between Proposition 4 (“Movements that emerge later in the cycle will typically find their framing efforts constrained by the previously elaborated master frames”) and Proposition 8 (“The shape of a cycle of protest is in part a function of the capacity of incipient movements within the cycle to amplify and extend the master frame in imaginative yet resonant ways”). While many of the propositions are illuminating in themselves, this scattershot presentation makes them almost succumb to the fallacy of the “overwhelming exception” when viewed as a whole.

We also approached Proposition 1 within the context of the recent groundswell of activism, asking if there is a certain master frame under which this surge has happened. We determined that it is that of “resistance,” or solidarity against the Trump administration. Discussing this further, we observed that although this frame is extremely useful for spurring engagement and interaction between different activist groups, it casts as a common enemy an entity that is temporary, running the risk of losing momentum once Trump leaves office. To ensure that systemic and longstanding problems continue to be tackled after the next (hopefully) four years, it will be necessary to shift the framing yet again so that it continues to capture people’s energy.