This is a draft of a paper currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
This is a draft of a paper
currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
‘If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him amobile phone, the story ends very differently’: Social media,
organisational cybernetics and non-
Thomas Swann (School of Management, University of Leicester), email@example.com
Paper presented at the 2
Anarchist Studies Network conference: ‘Making Connections’ held
at Loughborough University from the 3
to the 5
of September 2012.
The title of this paper, ‘If you take Frodo B
aggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a
mobile phone, the story ends very differently’, comes from a tweet by the journalist PaulMason. Now, I’ve not actually read or seen Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think you need to to
get the point of the tweet: social media, in the form of mobile phones or otherwise, changethe way people organise. I want to focus on the riots of last year as one example of how this
works, and try to provide a framework that helps understand exactly what’s happening when
people use social media to organise during protests and uprisings. One of the key points Iwant to argue for is for a connection between autonomist thinking on networks and anarchistideas about organisation.The riots of last year, along with other uprisings in 2011, can be seen as an example of thenew form that political action is taking. Rather than the hierarchical command form of traditional leftist political organisations, contemporary movements and uprisings are taking amore networked form. This is described by authors such as Manuel Castells (1997; 1999),Jeffrey Juris (2005), Walter W. Powell (1990) and Autonomist Marxists Michael Hardt andAntonio Negri (2004) as a set of interconnected nodes with no centre. Slime Mould is a goodexample of how networks operate. Slime mould works as a network of cells which, at certaintimes, group together to form clusters which work as a single organism. These clusters are
able to form without any special ‘founder’ or ‘pacemaker’ cells and are able to exhibit
complex behaviours such as avoiding hazards and reaching nutrients through decentralisedcontrol. Networks, then, are characterised by decentralisation, an ability to work effectivelywithout traditional leadership and the notion of emergence whereby a new form of