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Anarchism & Social Technology: Contextualising the (non)-Field

Anarchism & Social Technology: Contextualising the (non)-Field

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Published by Simon Collister

The purpose of this short paper is two-fold, firstly it seeks to contextualize the origins of this particular conference stream and set the scene for an investigation of the fields of technology and social change – interpreted largely, although not exclusively, from an anarchist or libertarian communist perspective. Secondly its ultimate goal is to kick-start a wider debate about the role technology plays (and the potential it possesses) in political resistance and social struggles as well as to stimulate renewed theoretical as well as practical engagements with the topic.

The purpose of this short paper is two-fold, firstly it seeks to contextualize the origins of this particular conference stream and set the scene for an investigation of the fields of technology and social change – interpreted largely, although not exclusively, from an anarchist or libertarian communist perspective. Secondly its ultimate goal is to kick-start a wider debate about the role technology plays (and the potential it possesses) in political resistance and social struggles as well as to stimulate renewed theoretical as well as practical engagements with the topic.

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Published by: Simon Collister on Nov 18, 2012
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09/20/2014

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Anarchism & Social Technology: Contextualising the (non?)-field?
Simon Collister, Royal Holloway, University of London3
rd
September, 2012
Paper presented in the
Anarchism and Social Technology Stream
at the 2
nd
AnarchistStudies Network conference: ‘Making Connections’, Loughborough University, 3
rd
-5
th
September 2012.
Simon Collister, Doctoral CandidateNew Political Communication Unit, Department of Politics and InternationalRelations, Royal Holloway, University of London.Email:simon.collister.2010@rhul.ac.uk 
 
The purpose of this short paper is two-fold, firstly it seeks to contextualize the originsof this particular conference stream and set the scene for an investigation of the fieldsof technology and social change – interpreted largely, although not exclusively, froman anarchist or libertarian communist perspective. Secondly its ultimate goal is tokick-start a wider debate about the role technology plays (and the potential itpossesses) in political resistance and social struggles as well as to stimulate renewedtheoretical as well as practical engagements with the topic. To begin, then, somebackground: this conference stream came about following discussions with a numberof individuals interested or involved in technology theory and practice with a personaldesire to bring about transformations at the social level. It seemed apparent to us thatthere was a distinct lacuna within the Anarchist Studies Network’s annual conferenceprogramme regarding the role technology has played or can play in driving anarchiststudies and practice in the contemporary networked age (Deleuze and Guattari 1987;Castells 1996; Latour 2005). This absence was particularly problematic given that theconference call for papers made use of ongoing events in the middle east and theglobal #occupy movements – movements making extensive, if complex andcontested, uses of technology - as lead points to highlight the relevance of anarchistsocial struggles and studies to contemporary politics.This prompted us to a) submit a proposal for a conference stream dedicated totechnologies, with an emphasis on more recent iterations of ‘social technologies’ (seebelow for a more detailed clarification of terms) and b) reflect on whether there is afield of anarchist studies engaged with issues surrounding socialtechnology or social media. At a first glance it would appear that there is nosubstantial engagement with issues of social technology and emergent forms of praxisor theoretical evolution among anarchist scholars.
1
For example, while far from anexhaustive indicator of the present academic state of affairs, a Google Scholar searchfor “anarchism” and “social technology” throws up little relevant research.
2
 Such results, however, prompted us to believe that there is scope for an initialinvestigation of the issues of social technology and anarchism, even if we were forced

1
Of course, it is highly probable that a number of scholars engage with issues of technology – and evenmore recent iterations of social technologies – and social change without using the banner of anarchism. While such papers may potentially reflect on issues and directions broadly aligned withanarchism’s position we are focusing here on overtly anarchist or libertarian communist politics.
2
This evidence also risks missing non-academic publications about social technology and anarchistpractice, such as personal reflections from within social movements, which are arguably equally asvaluable in efforts to expand the knowledge base.
 
to conclude that further investigation along the trajectory would be fruitless.Furthermore, we discovered an anarcho-Lolcat which gave us hope that somebody,somewhere, was interested in the field! (see
Figure 1
).
Figure 1 – Anarcho-Lolcat (image taken fromhttps://twitter.com/d150b3y/status/254303835768635392Social Technology and Struggle
The starting point for our investigation then is the seemingly powerful and ubiquitousadoption and
adaption
of technologies, in particular the recent developments in
socialtechnologies
, as tools within political resistance and social struggles. By way of ashort detour into terms and definitions ‘social technology’ in considered ‘social’ inboth senses: 1) as technology which connects users primarily according to socialrelations and facilitates dialogic, asynchronous communication and 2) any technologythat can be appropriated for social purposes – that is purposes intended to build andfoster associations between individuals or collective groups, predominantly outside of commercial relations
3
. Crucially, this definition can include, for example, Facebookas a specific technology platform enabling peer-to-peer dialogue as well as moretraditional technologies, such as fax machines or landline telephones when applied inthe relevant context. Such technologies and social practices and contexts have been

3
 Although, as this paper develops I will argue that within contemporary society it is impossible toacknowledge hierarchical strata between reductive concepts such as capital, social, etc.

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