Inside Networked Movements: Interview with Jeffrey Juris
Inside Networked Movements: Interview with Jeffrey Juris
by Geert Lovink
Jeffrey Juris wrote an excellent insiders story about the “other globalization” movement. Networking Futures is an anthropological account that starts with the Seattle protests, late 1999, against the WTO and takes the reader to places of protest such as Prague, Barcelona, and Genoa. The main thesis of Juris is the shift of radical movements towards the network method as their main form of organization. Juris doesn’t go so far as to state that movement as such has been replaced by network(ing). What the network metaphor rather indicates is a shift, away from the centralized party and a renewed emphasis on internationalism. Juris describes networks as an “emerging ideal.” Besides precise descriptions of Barcelona groups, where Jeff Juris did his PhD research with Manuel Castells in 2001–2002, the World Social Forum, and Indymedia, Networking Futures particularly looks into a relatively unknown anti-capitalist network, the People’s Global Action. The outcome is a very readable book, filled with group observations and event descriptions, not heavy on theory or strategic discussions or disputes. The email interview below was done while Jeffrey Juris was working in Mexico City, where studies the relationship between grassroots media activism and autonomy. He is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University.
GL: One way of describing your book is to see it as a case study of Peoples’ Global Action. Would it be fair to see this networked platform as a 21st century expression of an anarcho-trotskyist avant-gardist organization? You seem to struggle with the fact that PGA is so influential, yet unknown. You write about the history of the World Social Forum and its regional variations, but PGA is really what concerns you. Can you explain to us something about your fascination with PGA? Is this what Ned Rossiter calls a networked organization? Do movements these days need such entities in the background?
JJ: I wouldn’t call my book a case study of People’s Global Action (PGA) in a strict sense, but you are right to point to my fascination with this particular network. In many ways, I started out wanting to do an ethnographic study of PGA, but as I suggest in my introduction, its highly fluid, shifting dynamics made a conventional case study impossible. A case study requires a relatively fixed object of analysis. With respect to social movement networks this would imply stable nodes of participation, clear membership structures, organizational representation, etc., all of which are absent from PGA. However, this initial methodological conundrum presented two opportunities. On the one hand, it seemed to me that PGA was not unique, but reflected broader dynamics of transnational political activism in an era characterized by new digital technologies, emerging network forms, and the political visions that go along with such transformations. In this sense, PGA was on the cutting edge; it provided a unique opportunity to explore not only the dynamics, but also the strengths and weaknesses of new forms of networked organization among contemporary social movements.
At the same time, PGA also represented a kind of puzzle: I knew it had been at the center of the global days of action that people generally associate with the rise of the global justice movement, yet it was extremely hard to pin down. Participating individuals, collectives, and organizations seemed to come and go, and those who were most active in the process often resolutely denied that they were members or had any official role. Yet, the PGA network still had this kind of power of evocation, and, at least during the early years of my research (say 1999 to 2002), it continued to provide formal and informal spaces of interaction and convergence. In this sense, it seemed to me that figuring out the enigma of PGA could help us better understand the logic of contemporary networked movements more generally. On the other hand, the difficulty of carrying out a traditional ethnographic study of PGA meant I had to shift my focus from PGA as a stable network to the specific practices through which the PGA process is constituted. In other words, my initial methodological dilemma opened up my field of analysis to a whole set of networking practices and politics that were particularly visible within PGA, but could also be detected to varying degrees within more localized networks, such as the Movement for Global Resistance (MRG) in Barcelona, alternative transnational networks such as the World Social Forum (WSF) process, new forms of tactical and alternative media associated with the global justice movement, and within the organization of mass direct actions.
In other words, the focus of my book is really these broader networking practices and logics, although these were particularly visible within the PGA process. Methodologically, then, I situated myself within a specific movement node—MRG in Barcelona, and followed the network connections outward through various network formations, including but not restricted to PGA. However, it is also true that the ethnographic stories I present are largely told from the vantage point of activists associated with PGA. This is because MRG happened to be a co-convener of the PGA network during the time of my research, but also because PGA activists were particularly committed to what I refer to as a network ideal.
In my book, I distinguish between two ideal organizational logics: a vertical command logic and a horizontal networking logic, both of which are present to varying degrees, and exist in dynamic tension with respect to one another, within any particular network. Whereas vertical command logics are perhaps more visible within the social forums, PGA reflects a particular commitment to new forms of open, collaborative, and directly democratic organization, thus coming closer to the horizontal networking logics I am most concerned with. In this sense, PGA is definitively NOT a 21st century avant-gardist organization and has been particularly hostile to traditional top-down Marxist/Trotskyist political models and visions. PGA does reflect something an anarchist ethic, although this has more to do with the confluence between networking logics and anarchist organizing principles than any kind of abstract commitment to anarchist politics per se.
Rather than a networked organization, which refers to the way traditional organizations increasingly take on the network form, PGA is closer to an “organized network” in Ned Rossiter’s terms, a new institutional form that is immanent to the logic of the new media (although in this case not restricted to the new media). The network structure of PGA thus provides a transnational space for communication and coordination among activists and collectives. For example, PGA’s hallmarks reflect a commitment to decentralized forms of organization, while the network has no members and no one can speak in its name. Rather than a traditional organization (however networked) with clear membership and vertical chains of command, PGA provides the kind of communicational infrastructure necessary for the rise of contemporary networked social movements. The challenge for PGA and similar networks, given their radical commitment to a horizontal networking logic, has always been sustainability. This is where the social forums, with their greater openness to vertical forms, have been more effective. In this sense, I find PGA much more exciting and politically innovative, but it may be the hybrid institutional forms represented by the social forums that have a more lasting impact.
GL: We’re 3 or 4 years further now. What has changed since you undertook your research? The post 9-11 effect has somewhat leveled off, I guess, but the anti-war movement is also weaker. Is it fair to say that the worldwide “Seattle movement” has weakened, or rather, exhausted itself? Please update us.<
JJ: If you mean the visible expressions of movement activity, particularly those associated with confrontational direct actions, then I think it is fair to say the worldwide anti-corporate globalization/anti-capitalist/global justice movement has weakened. But it is not entirely exhausted. As I argue in my book, mass mobilizations are critical tools for generating the visibility and affective solidarity (e.g. emotional energy) required for sustained networking and movement building. However, activists eventually tire and public interest inevitably wanes. In this sense, movements are cyclical and the public moments of visibility necessarily ebb and flow. In terms of the global justice movement, events such as 9-11, or the repression in Genoa, certainly put a damper on the movement, but it would have slowed anyway. That said, mass actions have continued throughout the post- 9-11 period, while the anti-war and global justice movements have largely converged, although more so outside the United States. What we have seen is a shift toward the increasing institutionalization of movement activity combined with a return to “submerged” networking, to borrow a term from Melucci.
If we think about social movements in terms of these less visible, spectacular forms of action, then in many ways, the global justice movement has proven remarkably sustainable. In this sense, global justice activists have continued to organize mass actions, but at regularized intervals (every two years against the G8 Summit, for example, or every four years during the Democratic and Republic National Conventions in the U.S.). The massive 2007 anti-G8 mobilization in Heiligendamm, Germany, which I was able to attend, was a particularly empowering experience for many younger activists. At the same time, the global social forum process has continued to provide a more institutionalized arena for networking and interaction. Although the WSF itself has attracted declining media coverage, tens of thousands people continue to attend the periodic centralized global events (every two years or so), while local and regional forums have expanded in many parts of the world.
For example, the first U.S. Social Forum was held in Atlanta last summer, representing a key moment of convergence for a movement that was particularly weakened by the climate of fear and repression after 9-11. At the same time, countless networks, collectives, and projects that arose in the context of the global justice movement continue to operate outside public view, including local organizing projects and new media-related initiatives such as Indymedia. In sum, if we think about movements as those relatively rare periods of increasingly visible and confrontational direct action, then the global justice movement has perhaps run its course, at least for now. However, if we take into account the submerged, localized, routinized, and increasingly institutionalized (by which I mean the building of new movement institutions, not the existing representative democratic ones), then the movement remains alive and well, perhaps surprisingly vibrant after so many years.p>
GL: We can’t say that many practice “militant ethnography.” There is a limited interest in media activism but the life inside radical movements is not over studied. In the past decade this was, in part, also due to rampant anti-intellectualism. What is the intellectual life inside social movements like these days? What are the main debates and critical concepts?
JJ: The lack of “militant” ethnographic approaches to life inside radical social movements has to be understood not only with respect to anti-intellectualism among activists, which varies from region to region, but also the dominant academic traditions for studying social movements. For the most part, what many refer to as “social movement theory” has been the province of sociologists and political scientists, many of whom are committed to positivist theory building, using quantitative or qualitative methods, and thus tend to view social movements as “objects” to be studied from the outside. These scholars may support the political goals of the movements they study, but their theory and methods are directed toward other academics, not movements themselves. There has always been a significant counter-tradition, of course, including anthropologists who have used ethnographic methods to study popular movements around the world and a few politically engaged scholars who have gone deep inside the heart of radical movements, such as Barbara Epstein’s study of the U.S. direct action movement during the 1970s and 1980s, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution, or George Katsiaficas’ book on German autonomous movements, The Subversion of Politics.
Meanwhile, critiques of positivist approaches to social movements have become more frequent within the academy, while the recent push for a more public or activist anthropology and sociology have led to a more conducive environment for “militant” approaches to the study of social movements. At the same time, there has also been a noticeable trend toward self-analysis and critique among activists themselves. In my book, I suggest that contemporary social movements are increasingly “self-reflexive,” as evidenced by the countless networks of knowledge production, debate, and exchange among global justice activists, including listserves, Internet forums, radical theory groups, activist research networks, etc. There is still a great deal of anti intellectualism, although as mentioned above, this varies by region. For example, in my experience, activists in the Anglo-speaking world, including the UK and the U.S., tend to be more suspicious of intellectuals, while those in Southern Europe or the Southern Cone of Latin America are more open to abstract theorizing.
There has been a general surge in activist research and radical theory projects linked to the global justice movement over the past decade, many of which have been associated with the social forum process. In this sense, there has been a blurring of the divide between academic and movement-based theorizing as evidenced not only in my own work, but in many other spheres, including the volume edited by Stephven Shukaitis and David Graeber, Constituent Imagination, the online journal Ephemera, or the newly created movement newspaper Turbulence. In terms of the main debates and critical concepts these vary widely depending on the particular network, region, or project. Given that we are dealing with a “movement of movements” or a “network or networks” the particular issues and ideas of concern to activists are shaped by the specific contexts in which they are embedded. My own work is no exception, as I was particularly influenced by the interest in networks, digital technologies, and new forms of organization among activists in Barcelona. It was through hours of collaborative practice, discussion, and debate that I began to see the network as not only a technical artifact and organizational form, but also a widespread political ideal.
It was fascinating to see how the concept of the network popularized by theorists such as Manuel Castells or Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri had seeped into activist discourse itself. Indeed, by the end of my time in the field the “network” had emerged as one of the key unifying concepts among global justice activists around the world, and many of the movement debates surrounded the pros and cons of network organizing, the divide between the so called “horizontals” and “verticals,” the struggle against informal hierarchies, the role of new technologies, etc. In other words, the theoretical concerns addressed in my book reflect the concepts and debates I encountered in the movement itself. At the same time, the specific theoretical languages and traditions through which these issues have been addressed vary greatly. For example, many Italian activists associated with the occupied social centers, and those influenced by them elsewhere, were particularly influenced by the Italian autonomists and concepts such as the multitude, immaterial labor, and precarity found in the writing of Hardt & Negri and Paolo Virno, among others. Some of the more UK-based radical theory networks have been particularly influenced by Gilles Deleuze as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the rhizome.
Although some movement pockets in Barcelona were in line with the Italian tradition, many of the Catalan activists I worked with were more familiar with Manuel Castells, and there was a general concern for emerging forms of participatory democracy. To the extent that there have been intellectual debates within the U.S. context, these have tended to revolve around direct democracy, on the one hand, and issues of race, class, and exclusion, on the other. The other critical arena for intellectual discussion and debate within the global justice movement has revolved around the social forum process. Here the key concept has been “open space,” which I view as a reflection of a horizontal networking logic inscribed within the organizational architecture of the forum. Proponents of open space see the forum as a new kind of organization, an arena for dialogue and exchange rather than a unified political actor. Critics argue the open space concept neglects the multiple exclusions generated by any political space, and undermines the ability of the movement to engage in the kind of coordinated actions needed to achieve tangible victories. The open space debate thus incorporates many of the concepts and tensions that are important within the movement, including networks, the rise of a new politics, participatory democracy, and tension between networking and vertical command logics.
Finally, activists have also widely debated alternative models of social change, particularly within and around the forums. Although traditional sectors of the movement are still committed to state-centered strategies of reform or revolution, there has been a keen interest, particularly among younger and more radical activists, in more autonomous forms of transformation based on “changing the world without taking power” to borrow a phrase from John Holloway. These emerging political visions involve a complex mix of traditional anarchism, autonomous Marxism, Deleuzian post-structuralism, and the post-representational logic of organized networks. The intellectual life within many (though not all) parts of the movement continues to thrive, and in many respects represents a far richer and more complex set of ideas and debates than those found within many academic circles.
GL: It is not hard to notice that you left the Italian intellectual influences outside of your writings. One could easily state that the bible of Seattle movement has been Negri/Hardt’s Empire (with Spinoza hovering in the background). No traces of Virno or Berardi either, no Lazzarato, not even an Pasquinelli or Terranova. How come?
JJ: I do address Hardt & Negri’s work, but not so much the others. This is perhaps more of a reflection of my particular approach to theory, as well as my anthropological concern for “staying close to practices,” as Chris Kelty puts it in his recent book on free software, Two Bits, than a statement of my affinity (or lack thereof) for Italian theory. Analytically, I take the emergence of distributed networks associated with post-fordist, informational capitalism (as analyzed by Hardt & Negri, Castells, and others) as a starting point, but I specifically examine how network forms are generated in practice and how they relate to network technologies and imaginaries. I use ethnography to generate another series of concepts that are closer to the networking practices I encountered in the field, such as the cultural logic and politics of networking. In this sense, I try to descend from the realm of abstract theorizing about networks, immaterial labor, capitalism, and so forth, to consider the complex micro-political struggles and practices through which concrete network norms and forms are generated in specific contexts, as well as the links between network norms, forms, and technologies more generally. Hardt & Negri are thus in the background, particularly their emphasis on the networked form of contemporary resistance, but I am concerned with a more concrete level.
At the same time, it is true that I am less convinced by the more ontological, Spinozan dimension of Hardt & Negri’s writing, given my emphasis on practices, circulations, and connections—the rise of new political subjectivities certainly, but I’m not so sure about a new historical subject. A second, more contextual reason why the Italian theorists are not more prominent in my book has to do with the fact that the particular Catalan activists I worked with most closely were less influenced by this tradition than theorists such as Manuel Castells, general writing on participatory democracy, or ideas developed through their own grounded networking practices. In this sense, although Empire has indeed been influential within many global justice movement circles, and has had an important impact on my own thinking and writing; it would be a stretch to call it, or any other single book for that matter, the bible of the global justice movement. The movement is too diverse and there are too many political and regional variations. Finally, to be frank, I was not aware of Berardi, Lazzarato, Pasquinelli, or Terranova at the time of writing this book, which is partly due to the specific intellectual and political currents in which I moved. It would be interesting to go back and address some of these theorists now, particularly Terranova’s Network Culture, and Ned Rossiter’s recent book, Organized Networks, which more deeply engages the Italian tradition.
GL: Do you see the networking practices amongst radical activists as something special? I mean, isn’t it terribly mainstream to use all these technologies? I understand that the network paradigm within the realm of politics is still something new, but as tools there is nothing that creative, or even subversive, about their cultures of use.
JJ: My contention is not that the networking practices I explore in my book are unique to radical activists, but they do form part of an innovative mode of radical political practice that has to be understood in the context of an increasing confluence between network norms, forms, and technologies. It is important to point out that, when I talk about networking practices, I am not only referring to the use of digital technologies, but also to new forms of organizational practice. Activist networking practices are both physical and virtual, and they are frequently associated with emerging political imaginaries. It is precisely the interaction between network technologies, network-based organizational forms, and network-based political norms that characterizes radical activism.
As I point out in Networking Futures, there is nothing particularly liberatory or progressive about networks. As Castells and Hardt & Negri show, decentralized networks are characteristic of post-fordist modes of capital accumulation generally, while terror, crime, military, and police outfits increasingly operate as transnational networks as well (see Luis Fernandez’ fantastic new book about police networks, Policing Dissent). What is unique about radical activist networking, however, is not only how such practices are used in the context of mass movements for social, economic, and environmental justice, but also the way radical activists project their egalitarian values- flat hierarchies, horizontal relations, and decentralized coordination, etc.- back onto network technologies and forms themselves. It is this contingent confluence that makes certain activist networking practices radical, not the use of specific kinds of technologies per se.
GL: One could easily write a separate study of Indymedia and the Independent Media Centers, which were erected during all these protest events. You have not gone very deeply into internal Indymedia matters. These days, almost ten years later, Indymedia is not playing an active role anymore, at least not the international English edition. How did it lose its momentum and is there still a need for such news-driven sites?
JJ: Although I do address Indymedia and other forms of collaborative digital networking, it’s true that the main ethnographic focus of my book revolves around broader global justice networks such as MRG in Barcelona or PGA and the WSF process on a transnational scale. Largely for that reason I was not able to provide more in-depth coverage of the fascinating and very important internal debates and dynamics within the Indymedia network. Tish Stringer’s dissertation on the Houston Indymedia collective called, Move! Guerrilla Media, Collaborative Modes, and the Tactics of Radical Media Making, comes closest to this kind of analysis. I’m not sure what you mean when you say that Indymedia is not playing an active role anymore. If you mean that the novelty of the network has worn off, that particular collectives are not as active as they once were, or that it is no longer on the cutting edge of technological and/or organizational innovation, you may be right. But if you mean that Indymedia has a lower profile on the web than it used to or that activists no longer read or contribute to the various local and international sites, then I’m not so sure. Indymedia is nearly ten years old and certainly much of its novelty has worn off. At the same time, it continues to fulfill a key role of providing a space for activists to generate and circulate their own news and information, facilitating mobilization and continuing to challenge the divide between author and consumer. There have been heated debates within the network about the need to generate more reliable and higher quality posts, and I think this goal still remains elusive. In this sense, Indymedia remains very good at doing what it was initially set up to do, but it has not advanced much further in terms of pushing the bounds of its grassroots collaborative production process to generate the kind of deeper and more insightful reporting that some might wish for. For example, there had been a proposal to develop a kind of open editing system that would generate more accurate, higher quality posts without the need for a more centralized editorial process, but that proposal has yet to yield any concrete results, as far as I know. If this is what you mean by losing momentum, then I suppose it is true. However, this might be expecting too much. In my experience networks are often good at achieving the specific goals they were established for, but efforts to reprogram them midstream are often extremely difficult. It is generally much easier to simply create a new project or network than try to retool an existing one. In this sense, I would expect that further innovation with respect to alternative, decentralized news production is happening elsewhere. Indymedia thus continues to play a critical role for grassroots activists in many parts of the world, and, in fact, I think it is one of the most important and enduring institutions the global justice movement has left behind. At the same time, I think the desire to see Indymedia become something else, resolve all of its internal tensions, or forever remain at the vanguard of innovation is misplaced. Indymedia will continue to fulfill a key role in terms of creating alternative, self-produced activist news and information, but I think it is important to look elsewhere for new innovations, practices, and strategies. In my own case, I have recently become fascinated with the burgeoning free media scene in Mexico, which includes not only online news sites, but also a rapidly expanding network of Internet/FM radio stations, web-based forums and zines, digital video collectives, free software initiatives, etc. (my current research focuses on the relationship between alternative media, autonomy, and repression in Mexico). Some of the most exciting developments are happening within the free radios, many of which combine FM and Internet broadcasts to reach out to activists on a global scale, while at the same time more deeply engaging local populations outside typical activist circles. Many of these projects combine an open publishing component on the web with live streaming as well as more focused and directed reporting about local issues and wider national and international campaigns.
GL: Your research clearly shows that there is a direct and positive relation between autonomous social movement and network paradigms. However, on the Internet level this is no longer the case as of about five years ago or so. Activists worldwide have lost touch with the whole Web 2.0 wave and they tend to have neither a positive nor a critical attitude toward social networking applications, for example. There does seem to be a productive engagement with free software and perhaps wikis, but not even blogs have been appropriated. How come?
JJ: As I understand the question, you seem to be suggesting that the Internet has progressed over the past few years, but that activists from autonomous-oriented movements are not keeping up. They were once at the forefront of technological innovation, but this is no longer the case. Perhaps, but I’m not sure this is the most productive framework for looking at this, although the more specific question of why or why not certain groups of activists appropriate particular Internet tools is a fascinating one. This is a big question, though, and is also somewhat counter-factual. I can offer a few speculative thoughts based on my research and activist experience, but I suppose the best way to get at this would be to simply ask people why they do or do not use certain web tools. In general, though, if the argument in my book is right that contemporary activism involves an increasing confluence between network norms, forms, and technologies, I would expect that activists would be more likely to use those Internet tools that most closely reflect their political values and most effectively enhance their preferred forms of organization. In this sense, Internet listserves and collaborative on-line forums such as Indymedia facilitate decentralized movement organization and reflect values related to bottom-up organization, grassroots coordination, direct democracy, and the like. These sorts of early Internet tools facilitated movement organization and reflected the values of the movement. The question is whether more recent Internet tools, including social networking and video sharing sites, blogs, and/or wikis also enhance mobilization and reflect activists’ values. If they don’t, I wouldn’t expect activists to appropriate them, and thus would not be worried if activists are somehow not keeping up. In terms of free software and wikis, I think this is one area where, as you rightly point out, radical or autonomous-oriented activists have been deeply engaged. Both free software and wikis precisely reflect the kind of collaborative networking ethic that I explore in my book, and it should come as no surprise that so many radical or autonomous activists see their own struggles reflected in the struggle for free software or that so many contemporary activist collectives and projects use wikis- and the decentralized, collaborative editing process these tools allow. In my view, social networking sites are completely different. While non-governmental organizations, policy reform initiatives (such as those lil’ green mask requests to stop global warming on Facebook), political campaigns (look how many friends Obama has!) have arguably begun to make effective use of sites such as Facebook or MySpace, in my experience this has been less true of more radical movements. My book does have a MySpace site, which is linked to other books, projects, and organizations, and I do belong to an anarchist group on Facebook, but I don’t find much ongoing interaction and coordination on these sites. Many radicals I know use social networking sites in much the same way as other individuals do- to keep up with their friends and maintain interpersonal communication, but (and I might be behind the ball here), they are not as frequently used for collaborative kinds of organizing. It seems to me that not only are social networking sites extremely corporate, they don’t necessarily facilitate the kind of collaborative, directly democratic forms of organization and coordination that tools such as wikis or old-school listserves do. They do a good job of allowing radicals to keep in touch with their friends and broadcast what they are up to, but I don’t think they facilitate networked forms of organization or particularly reflect directly democratic ideals. I would say the same for blogs, which, with perhaps a few exceptions, are generally a personalized, broadcast medium, and thus not necessarily conducive to more collective, distributed norms and forms of organization. On the contrary, I would say video sharing sites such as YouTube (and similar non-commercial endeavors), do enhance decentralized, networked organization and do reflect radical activist values by facilitating the autonomous production and circulation of movement-related images, videos, and documentaries. Consequently, I have found, in my experience, that radical activists have made significant use of video sharing sites. The videos posted on YouTube from the No Borders camp last November in Mexicali/Calexico provide one concrete example. Rather than asking whether activists are keeping up with the latest Internet trends, a more useful question is perhaps whether the latest Internet tools facilitate distributed forms of networked organization and whether they reflect activists’ political ideals. To the extent they do, I would expect activists to enthusiastically take them up. To the extent they don’t, I would expect there to be limited interest beyond the individual level.
GL: The “distributed” form of organization could also be read as just another expression of more individualism, and less commitment. There is a debate right now about “organized networks” and how organization can be strengthened in the age of networks. Do you think this is possible or should we drop the “network” in the first place?
JJ: I would say the distributed network form of organization reflects a particular strategy for balancing individual and collective needs, interests, and desires. Rather than less commitment, it reflects a broader shift toward what the Sociologist Paul Lichterman, in his book The Search for Political Community, calls “personalized commitment.” That said, it is true that diffuse, flexible activist networks have generally proven more effective at organizing short-term mobilizations and events than the kind of sustainable organizations needed to generate lasting social transformation. There is often a false debate between “movement” or “flexible networks” and “institutionalization,” as if there were only one way to institutionalize. Institutions are generally associated with the kind of centralized, top-down bureaucratic organizations inherited from the industrial age. However, if we see institutions more broadly as simply sustainable networks of social relations along with the organizational and technological infrastructure that makes such relations possible then there are many ways to institutionalize. In this sense, there is no necessary contradiction between sustainable organization and networks. The key is to create new kinds of sustainable institutions that reflect and incorporate the networking logics I explore in my book. For example, what would a political institution look like that is sustainable over time and able to generate more effective coordinated action, yet is still based on directly democratic forms of decision-making, bottom-up participation, decentralized collaboration, etc.? As I understand it this is the crux of what you, Ned Rossiter and others are talking about when you argue for the need to move toward organized networks, at least in the realm of new media. I agree that something similar is needed in the realm of political activism. I think there will always be a role for more flexible, diffuse networks to plan and coordinate specific actions. And there is nothing wrong with letting these networks fizzle out when they are no longer needed (in my experience old networks rarely die, they simply cease to provide a forum for active communication). However, I do think it is important that we build new kinds of networked institutions (contra institutional networks) that reflect the best of what distributed networks have to offer, but are more sustainable over time. At present, I think the social forums, with all their problems, are the best example we have of this new kind of organized network in the realm of political action. As I mentioned above the forums are hybrid organizations, combining vertical and horizontal organizing logics. Many radicals have criticized the social forums precisely because of the participation and influence of traditional reformist institutional actors. However, in my view, it is precisely at the intersection of these different sorts of political and organizational logics, and in the context of the associated conflicts and debates, that new kinds of sustainable hybrid networked institutions will emerge. This is why I have consistently argued over the years that more radical activists should engage the forum, even if from the margins, creating autonomous spaces to interact with the forum process while promoting their more innovative horizontal networking practices. Again, it is through this kind of ongoing interaction and conflict between different organizational logics and practices that new kinds of organized networks will emerge in the political realm. It is no accident that of all the projects, networks, and institutions that have been created by the global justice movement the social forums remain the most active and vibrant, despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the continued critiques. To go back to your first question, PGA remains closest to my heart, but the social forums may ultimately turn out to be a more lasting and influential organized network. One of the more interesting projects I have taken part in over the past few years, the Networked Politics initiative, has been an effort on the part of activists and engaged scholars to think more deeply about how to develop new forms of politics and institutions that are sustainable yet reflect the kinds of networking logics and practices that were particularly visible in the context of the global justice movement.
GL: You got involved at the right time, and got out to write down your findings at the moment when the “other globalization movement” had somehow lost steam. Do you agree? There is a certain nostalgia for Big Event days, which makes Networking Futures such a fascinating read. Where do you see the movements heading? We can all see that they are not dead, but the urge to continue as if it still were 2001–2002 isn’t there anymore. Is the network form making it more bearable to see movements disappear? You seem to have no problem admitting that “social movements are cyclical phenomena.” What topics and social formation do you see emerging? Would it, for instance, make sense to come up with a radical movement inside the larger context of climate change?
JJ: Yes, I think that’s right. I was extremely fortunate to have gotten involved in the movement when it was becoming publicly visible in Seattle, and then lived through what we might call its peak years from a unique position in Barcelona. I think the movement lost some steam, or at least some of its confrontational spirit, after the repression in Genoa, and then 9-11 obviously had a huge impact, although more so in the United States then elsewhere. Somewhere between 2002 and 2003 I think the social forums began to replace mass actions as the main focus of the movement, which reflected a shift, in my view, toward a more sustainable form of movement activity.
At the same time, there was also a move toward more local forms of organizing rooted in specific communities. To some extent I think the turn away from mass actions and the change in emphasis toward local organizing resulted from the critique of summit hopping that had been around since Seattle (if not before) but became increasingly widespread as the novelty of mass actions began to wear off. At the same time, regardless of any internal movement debates, it is increasingly difficult to pull off successful mass direct actions over time. The sociologist Randal Collins hypothesizes that movements can only maintain their peak levels for about two years, which isn’t too far off in the case of the global justice movement (say late 1999 to mid-2001 or so). In this sense, the shift of emphasis toward the forums and local organizing, although not necessarily conceived in this way, was a strategic response to the cyclical nature of social movements. Mass actions continue of course, but as I pointed out above, even these have become more regularized and routine. The movement has thus traded some of its emotional intensity for greater sustainability. Given this strategic shift, I would say the movement remains surprisingly vibrant. In contrast, as Barbara Epstein has argued, the anti-nuclear energy movement petered out when activists failed to make the shift from mass actions, which began attracting fewer and fewer people and eliciting decreasing media attention, to an alternative strategy. In many ways, the global justice movement is well placed to pick up steam again if and when the next cycle of increasing confrontation comes around again.
The global justice/alternative globalization/anti-capitalist frame is a good one in that it encompasses an array of movements and struggles, while maintaining a focus on systemic interconnections. I think it would be an error to revert back to single issue politics and struggles at this point, as such connections would be obscured and the social, political, and cultural capital of the global justice movement would be squandered.
Rather than organize a radical movement around climate change, for example, it would make more sense to organize around this issue in the context of a global justice frame. This was done to great effect by the European anti-war movement, which was a really a fusion between the anti-war and global justice movements. This connection was never really made in the U.S., partly due to the absence of a national level forum process, and both movements were worse off as a result. In terms of what specific issues I see emerging, that is always a tough call, but I think you are right that global climate change will constitute a key site of struggle over the next few years, as will alternative energy, particularly given the spike in oil prices. At the same time, in light of the current global financial and economic crisis, a broad anti-capitalist critique remains as relevant and important as ever. Moreover, if the history of previous crises provides any indication, we may well see the rise of a global democracy movement to challenge the increasing repression and authoritarian trends in many parts of the world. Whatever new forms of struggle emerge, I think they will be stronger to the extent that they can link themselves to a broader anti-systemic critique such as that represented by the global justice movement.
Jeffrey S. Juris, Networking Futures, The Movements Against Corporate Globalization, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2008.
Promotional website of the book: http://networkingfutures.com/home.html.
ASU page of Jeffrey Juris: https://sec.was.asu.edu/directory/person/863914