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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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Building from elsewhere. Platformization and the continuing struggle for political change – Keynote Speech, Prof. Nick Couldry (LSE)

In the framework of the Summer School on Media in Political Participation and Mobilization, Prof. Nick Couldry (LSE) will give a keynote speech on the paradoxes and challenges of political mobilization in commercial social media platforms.

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On the 29th of June 2017, from 5:30pm to 7:00pm, Prof. Nick Couldry (LSE) will give the closing keynote speech of the Summer School on Media in Political Participation and Mobilization. The keynote is open to the whole SNS community and COSMOS members.

Abstract

This lecture will reflect on the paradox that, in the era of social media, new forms of political mobilization are emerging with bewildering speed, yet one of the deepest, if least appreciated, political issues of our times is precisely the corporatization of social space itself, including many spaces of political mobilization. This paradox is driven by the dynamics of a commercial internet, whose core business model is the continuous extraction of value by harvesting data through surveillance of newly constructed spaces for social life itself. How to think through then the changing politics of struggles for social and economic change?

The lecture will propose a dialectical response. First, we must take as our starting-point the historically unprecedented corporate ambition to construct the very spaces of social life, which transforms the premises of all debate about political mobilization, including that aimed at social progress. Second, we must recognise the power of various false antitheses offered to that starting-point. There is the obfuscation provided by ‘the myth of us’ (Couldry 2014) which suggests that social media, whatever their corporate origins, literally provide the space where ‘we’, some politically meaningful ‘community’, come together (Mark Zuckerberg’s February 16 2017 manifesto being a classic example of that myth). There are also many over-literal readings of the ‘reality’ of political mobilization via social media (eg Castells and others).

Somehow, in response, a third move in the dialectic must be forged, but how? The lecture will conclude with a double suggestion: an insistence on a more deeply sociological reading of ‘what goes on’ on platforms, but contextualized within a reformulation of the underlying social and political values at stake in not accepting corporate-owned platforms as the necessary spaces of political life. The resulting attempt to defend the value, for example, of autonomy in the face of the corporate reconstruction of the social domain offers, perhaps, a first move towards building a model of social change ‘from elsewhere’, that is, from a different conception of the political ‘now’ and ‘here’.

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