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Mediated Emotions and Politics of Dissent

Kassandra D. Rothenstadt
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

Abstract: The present research study seeks to analyse theoretically and empirically the role of emotion and
affect in politics of dissent and the extent to which new media technology impacts and/or reconfigures the
dynamics of both emotional processes and political activism. Specifically, the study seeks to critically
assess the widely celebrated claims about the online mediums democratic and liberating potential along
with the role that has been assigned to emotion and affect in political activism on and offline. This exercise
will permit to evaluate the possible consequences for the emotion-action dynamic that is so essential to
political engagement.
Since emotions play such an important role in decision-making, how political online networks modulate
human collective emotional states and direct them towards desirable ends (e.g. offline political implication)
has become a matter of considerable scholarly interest in view of the recent wave of global protests. But the
most important question that is now being increasingly asked is how institutionalized powers appropriate the
medium, thereby subverting its liberating potential. McLuhan (1967) in his day warned against the numbing
effects of the media, while many contemporary academics, observers and political commentators (e.g.
Chomsky 2002-2003; Keen 2008, 2012; Morozov, 2010; Virilio 2009) insist that it might be another form of
opium for the people and a social control tool used to placate dissent by homogenizing and manipulating
emotions, thought, and ultimately behaviour.
In light of this, investigating the role of emotionality and online technology within the context of political
dissent carries wider ethical-existential implications for the notion of authentic human existence as defined
by Kierkegaard (1846/1941), Heidegger (1953/1996) and Sartre (1934/1948; 1983/1992), and as applied to
identity politics by Giddens (1991). The research takes as its case study the Occupy movement, in which
the emotional and digital aspect played prominent roles and which the study aims to examine from a cultural
perspective, rather than from a political science perspective.

Keywords: emotions, online political activism, occupy movement, manipulation, authenticity


The year 2011 has been labelled the year of the indignant as protests swept the globe in a new
exercise of people power and in which media played an undeniable part. Indeed, the emergence of new
and interactive communications technology has reshaped media environments and cultural space in a
meaningful, profound way. Mediated experiences circulate in space and time at an unprecedented speed,
and spaces for collective emotions have increased and are no longer territorially or politically bound. This
new media technology offers new transnational ways of participation and activism with new spaces for
construction of communities, identities and shared experiences.
The last couple of decades after the fall of communist system in the former Soviet Union have also
witnessed an increased proliferation of the neo-liberal logic, which culminated in a profound crisis of
capitalist ideology. In this same period a multitude of factions of dissent have come to the fore, one of which
is the Occupy movement, which seek to problematize and challenge the neoliberal hegemony and strive to
find creative spaces for alternative visions of the future. These creative spaces, however, have been
catalysed at their inception by powerful emotions of moral outrage and discontent. Thus, the Occupy, like
the other movements in the past year, can be said to have been born out of two elements: powerful
emotions of political indignation and the affordances of virtual technology.
But while these demonstrations of political indignation and discontent have prompted a crucial debate
on the nature and potentiality of an alternative civilization, these protests have also prompted another
debate on the nature as well as the social and political potentialities of the Internet. Amidst increasing
doubts about the Internet and new media as tools of liberation and democratisation, and the tendency of
institutionalised powers to use any available medium to exert their influence as a means of manipulation and
social control, the connect between emotion and action within the context of online political activism must be
readdressed. At this stage, this is a theoretical article that aims to contribute to wider debates within new
media theory as it pertains to a more nuanced understanding of digital activism and its place in the shifting
landscapes of power, involving larger implications for the ethical-existential dimension of human existence.

Emotion and rational judgement

Emotion, its nature, function and role, has been studied since antiquity by many political thinkers, but
equally by philosophers in almost every domain of inquiry in the Western tradition. Aristotle (1954, 1983),
Plato (1974), Aquinas (2009), Hobbes (1968) and Descartes (1989/1649) among others, have all ascribed
an essential value to emotion if an understanding of human nature and our capacities for politics is to be
understood. The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, Hume (1739-1740) and Smith (1759), have explored the
relationship between emotion, morality and ethics. Hume (1751), for example, considered morality to be
related to fact, but determined by sentiment (p. 5). Contemporary ethical philosopher Stevenson (1944)
contributed to the development of emotivist theory, which sees ethical sentences not as expressions of
propositions, but of emotional attitudes.
The emotional aspect of human existence has, nevertheless, been historically relegated to obscurity
and suffered from a lack of systematic scholarship as it has been conventionally thought of as irrational,
instinctive, pertaining to our impulses rather than to our thoughts, thereby reflecting a traditional Western
gap in which emotions are separate from rationality and thought: the heart versus the mind debate (Wulff
2007). The emotional realm has also been notoriously difficult to define and study empirically. In this
respect, Elster (1999) provides a thorough account of how emotion has been historically understood in the
Western tradition.
In the political field, where a long-standing bias toward cognitive accounts has dominated, this fissure
has been further complicated by the prevalent view in political theory that progress and democratic politics
must rely on less emotion and more reason (Arkes 1993). The common practice, according to Marcus
(2000), at least since Madison (1961 [1787]), has been to treat emotion as an unavoidable factor in politics
that should be constrained and minimized so that reason dictates judgment with minimal distraction (Callan
1997, Holmes 1995). Scientists have nonetheless continued to explore the multivariate role that emotions
play in motivation and judgement. Recent social science research incorporated ideas from neurological and
behavioural science (Greene et al. 2001, 2004; Haidt 2001; Haidt et al. 1997; Prinz 2006; Schnall et al.
2008), establishing that emotions are central to rational choice making and social adjustment and involve
complex cognitive, evaluative and intentional content, thereby forming an essential part of our system of
ethical reasoning (Green & Haidt 2002; Blair 1995). From the cognitive philosophy perspective, De Sousa
(1987) considers emotions a perception mechanism that has a crucial role to play in rational beliefs, desires
and decisions by transgressing the gridlocks of pure reason. Emotions enable individuals to choose among
options none of which is rationally superior to others. Nussbaum (1999, 2001), coming from a cognitive
perspective, also contends that emotions are best understood as thoughts or cognitions and are in fact a
form of judgement informing intentional perceptions and beliefs (2001, p. 30).
While emotion has always been viewed as constituting subjectivity and thereby discredited because it
creates bias in a way that thought does not, the latter, in its turn, may also be subjective as it represents
individual and unique perception. However, it was in large part existential philosophy, and specifically
phenomenological existentialism, which not only rescued subjectivity from the disdain of all these phantoms
of objectivity (Kierkegaard 1996) but saw it as the only path to truth, to authenticity. Kierkegaard saw the
importance of the self, and the self's relation to the world, as being grounded in self-reflection and
introspection. He argued that subjectivity is truth and truth is subjectivity (1849/1941).

Conceptual definitions of emotions

What can be constituted as emotion, in contrast to other states, and where it can properly be located
in the psychological, physiological, cognitive, biological, neurological or behavioural realm has been
widely contested without a definitive consensus reached on the subject. And how can emotions be
distinguished from other aspects of experience, such as feelings, desires and appetites? Although there is
no wider accepted taxonomy of the inner-life, scholars have attempted to delineate a conceptual
demarcation that has greater explicative power and promotes greater understanding of the nature of
emotions. They have often combined several perspectives, defining, for example, emotions as temporary
transformative roles, comprising behavioural, cognitive and psychological aspects, but which are essentially
social in nature (Averilll 1982, 1983; de Rivera 1977, 1984; de Rivera & Grinkis 1986; Parkinson 1995, 1996;
Parkinson et al. 2005).
Myers (2007) quotes Averill, who defines emotions as socially constituted syndromes (transitory
social roles) which include an individuals appraisal of the situation and which are interpreted as passions,
rather than as actions (1982, p. 6). Thus, three central features are attributed to emotions. First, these are
fundamentally social, which is dually manifested: on the one hand emotions are socially constructed in
which cognitive, behavioural and psychological aspects are channelled by societal (and organizational
norms), while comprising in themselves a transitory shift in social relationships. Otherwise put, emotions are
transformed by societal agents, while at the same time are agents of transformation themselves, a way of
organizing the relation between the person and the other (de Rivera 1977: 35-36).
The second aspect of emotions is that these include appraisals, that is, interpretation or evaluation of
a situation. And while Parkinson (1996) sees these appraisals as part of the actual shift in social role of
which the emotion itself consists, the cognitive position contends that emotions are caused by prior appraisal
(Lazarus 1982; Roseman & Smith 2001). This function refers to the cognitive/evaluative dimension of
emotions, which influences human rational thought processes. The third aspect of emotion is one which, in
Averills conception, holds an opposite function to rational cognition. He contends that emotions are roles
that are interpreted as passions, not actions, in the sense that they are involuntary. Thus, emotions are
interlaced passion-interpretation processes and as Averill (1982) and Solomon (1976) have observed, much
of the language used to discuss emotions conveys this absence of will or volition: people lose their temper,
fall in love, burst with joy or with pride, etc. In this respect, it is best if the nature of emotions is understood
as multidimensional, according to Burkitt (1997) and Sturdy (2003):

In this view, emotions are more than just inner (psychological or biological) states
or processes. Rather, emotions are mostly experienced in and shaped by
interactions with others; they are framed and reproduced through language and
social practice. Furthermore, the ways in which emotions are experienced and
displayed are coined by understandings, valuations, and social structures that are
themselves historically and socioculturally grounded. In this sense, emotions are
tied to and also shape relations of power and interdependence (Sieben, 2007, pp.

Political activism and emotions as empowerment

By connecting the subjective and the rational in our system of ethical reasoning, emotion is, thus, a
necessary precondition for a conscious existence because emotion can confer agency by continuously
questioning, evaluating, critically assessing and checking against its inbuilt exigencies the legitimacy of a
priori constructions or newly offered propositions. Consequently, emotions are a fundamental element in
political activism where knowledge alone, according to Mestrovic (1996), is not enough to result in action.
Action based on information assumes a connection between the emotions and the intellect. There is a vast
body of research that demonstrates the active presence and role of emotions not only in politics of dissent,
but in all political processes (Marcus 2000). Lasswell (1930, 1948) has argued long ago that politics is the
expression of personal emotions. Emotions in politics have generally been studied from two perspectives:
use of emotions by political leaders (Rogow 1963; Langer 1972; Janis 1982; Greenstein & Destler 1983;
Volkan & Itkowitz 1984; Barber 1985; Greenstein 1987, 1994; Blight 1990; Steinberg 1996; Volkan et al
1997; George & George 1998), and the way in which individuals experience various emotional reactions to
contemporary circumstances. Within this category, there has been a shift in focus from emotions inherent in
the personality of the individual to emotions attached to external events, situations, symbols or other stimuli
intended to provoke a reaction in the audience (Sears & Citrin 1982; Glaser & Salovey 1998; Ottati 1997,
In the specific domain of political activism, social scientists have increasingly recognised, especially
over the last decade or so, the importance of emotions to the functioning of social movement activism.
Since then, there has been an ever-increasing scholarly research that aims to bring emotions into social
movement studies (Aminzade and McAdam 2002; Flam and King 2005; Goodwin et al. 2001). Juris (2008)
points to the fact that emotion is not an incidental aspect of activism, but that it is strategically deployed and
cultivated by organisers to incite sufficient commitment amongst activist collectives so as to maintain their
on-going participation. This can be fostered through the formation of affective attachments to the cause as
well as among activists, and to produce particular emotional moods during protests and other activists work.
Pulido (2003) similarly considers emotions, psychological development, souls and passions as comprising
the interior dimension of social movements (p. 47). Kim (2002) warns that any account of social movement
activism that ignores the emotional dynamics risks a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of
collective action (p. 159). As Eyerman (2005) states, social movements are often involved in transforming
as well as articulating values, and in the process, creating new and alternative structures of feeling (p. 42).
In attempting to identify the emotions most relevant to politics, Goodwin et al. (2001) urge emotions
scholars to consider the more constructed, cognitive emotions (p. 13), not automatic responses when
analysing social movements. However, there is a danger in attributing more importance to some emotions
over others and to disregard emotions from the personal and quotidian spheres, thereby countering the
notion that the personal is political. There is some evidence, however, that political activism, is sustained
through emotional reflexivity (Brown & Pickerill 2009), conceptualised as being consciously aware of
emotions, of paying attention to emotions (individually and collectively) and of incorporating what Barker et
al. (2008) call skillful emotion self-management (p. 25). The latter is conceived as including practical acts
such as constructing collective rituals as well as mindfulness, that is being consciously self-aware of the
present and of ones feelings, and to act non-judgementally. Yet, movements that sought to challenge the
status quo often relied on reflexive emotions as well as on automatic emotional responses. In typifying
emotions, Jasper (1998) distinguished between transitory responses to external events (anger, indignation,
fear), from underlying affects (loyalty to family, friends or nation; or fear of others) that play a role in shaping
those responses. In other words, not only are emotions part of our responses to events, but they also in
the form of deep affective attachments shape the goals of our actions (p. 398). He argues that emotions
may not only inspire and sustain activism, but that they may shape individuals preferred organisational
forms and movement tactics (p. 420).
There is a long history of popular political mobilisations as responses to expressions of rage, anger
and fear at the actions of others (Goodwin and Jasper 2006; Hercus 1999; Holmes 2004; Jasper and
Paulson 1995). Significantly, Jasper (1998) stated that activists and social movement organisers invest
considerable effort to convert inchoate anxieties and fears into moral indignation and outrage towards
concrete objects and targets in order to recruit new participants and adherents to their cause (p. 409).
Recent research has focused on the moral conduit to collective action. Group-based feelings of anger about
collective injustices are an important motivational force in collective protest participation to defend collective
moral principles (Leach et al. 2006; van Zomeren et al. 2004; Van Stekelenburg et al. 2009). This
assumption is based on the idea that anger is characterized by an agitated phenomenological experience
which should galvanise or incite group members motivation to fight back when injustice is perceived (see
Leach et al. 2006, p. 1234). Moral principles inform the extent to which social and political situations are
perceived as unjust, functioning as reference points that reveal discrepancies between actual and ideal
situations (Stitka, et al. 2005; Van Zomeren et al. 2011; Zaal et al. 2011).
If in several early theoretical approaches to collective behaviour suggested that individuals in a crowd,
due to its deindividuation and deinhibation effects, are prone to violence and irrational destruction (Le Bon
1947; Zimbardo 1969), modern social psychological approaches have refuted this idea as distorted and
theoretically ill premised (e.g. Turner et al. 1987; Klandermans 1997; Simon & Klandermans 2001). Not only
do collectively shared emotions of anger about a perceived injustice serve as catalysts for mobilisation or
politicization (Simon & Klandermans 2001; Kelly & Breinlinger 1996; Leach et al. 2006), but protest
behaviour typically results from rather mindful, conscious and deliberate decision processes, such as
weighing costs and benefits of participation, acting upon an inner obligation to enact politicized collective
identity) (Strmer & Simon 2009).
The Occupy movement, in this respect, can be described as a thoroughly emotional movement
because it erupted spontaneously, impelled by profound indignation and moral outrage directed at the social
and economic inequality, the growing disparity of wealth, the injustices of finance capitalism and the
complete bankruptcy of such concept as democracy. Inspired by the events in Tahrir square and the
Spanish Indignados, Occupy started out by flooding lower Manhattan and occupying Wall Street, but went
on to spread worldwide because in todays society, organised and interconnected on a global scale, it
means that the issues about which protesters in US became outraged and against which they decided to
protest were similar to those experienced in other nations around the world. Increasingly, there are
discussions about the need for global governance and the real danger of global capitalisms tendency to
suspend democracy (Zizek 2012). In this respect, the Occupy movement could hardly be considered an
irrational uprising of discontented socialists who wish to bring down the free enterprise system (Snyder
2011) or defective and disqualified consumers (Bauman 2011) who are not able to express their acquisitive
desire properly, namely, by shopping. As Zizek (2012) astutely pointed out:

Beneath the profusion of (often confused) statements, the OWS movement thus
harbours two basic insights: (1) the contemporary popular discontent is with
capitalism as a system the problem is the system as such, not any particular
corrupt form of it; (2) the contemporary form of representative multi-party
democracy is incapable of dealing with capitalist excesses; in other words, that
democracy has to be reinvented (p. 87).

American philosopher Cornel West called the Occupy movement a democratic awakening (2011), the
primary value of which is raising political consciousness, so that it spills over all parts of the country, so
people can begin to see whats going on through a different set of lens (2011).

Notions of power and counterpower

Being indispensible to action, it is evident then that emotions are an important means of social control
by those holding power in the social structure of society. Castells Grounded theory of power (2009), which
provides the background for the understanding of such contemporary social movements as the Occupy, is
based on the premise that power relations are constitutive of society because those in positions of power
fashion the institutions according to their values and personal interests. Power is exercised either through
coercion (the monopoly of violence controlled by the state), or through construction of meaning in
individuals perception. Coercive power is directed at the domination over another thorough physical means,
thereby being ultimately not as effective because it is unable to subvert the individuals capacity for moral
judgment. Symbolic power, on the other hand, functions by persuasion, by altering the cognitive and
emotional perception and reasoning of the individual and directing them towards desired ends. This has
proved the most effective means to dictate the fate of the institutions, norms and values on which societies
are organized, explicating why the fundamental power struggle is the battle for the construction of meaning
in the minds of the people (Castells 2012, p. 5).
Within a collective, the production of meaning is effectuated through the process of socialised
communication with ones natural and social environment. Symbolic or meaning construction depends on
and is conditioned by the communication environment, which in turn affects the forms of meaning
construction and the ensuing power relations. As McLuhan famously noted, environment, is not just a
container, but is a process that changes the content totally (McLuhan & Carson 2003: 304-305). In the
contemporary network society (Castells 1996), power is multidimensional and also organised around
networks, which exercise their power by influencing the human mind predominantly (but not solely) through
multimedia networks of mass communication. Thus, communication networks are decisive sources of
power-making (Castells 2012, p. 7). Those who wield power are, therefore, those who have the capacity to
set the agenda, identified by Castells (2012) as the programmers and the switchers. The former manage
the programming of each of the main networks on which individuals depend (government, the military,
finance, science and technology, media, etc.), while the latter exploit the network connections (interactions
and reciprocal action between financial, political, media, business and academic elites, etc.)
However, seen that any human collective entities are contradictory and conflictive, the power
exercised by programming and switching networks, is challenged by counterpower, which seeks to
deliberately change these power relationships by disrupting existing networks so as to reprogram them
around different values and goals and establish new networks of resistance and social change (Castells
2012). But for social movements to form and mobilise in order to effectively challenge the status quo, the
theory of affective intelligence (Neuman et al. 2007) states that two fundamental conditions are necessary:
the transformation of emotional sentiment over a perceived injustice into action, and the creation of an
autonomous communication channel, which would permit to connect to others, create a symbolically
meaningful community of sentiment and establish a public sphere of debate.
Throughout history, social movements have been dependent on the existing communication
mechanisms by whatever means of communication were available in a given context. Today, however, with
the advent of online digital communication technology donning unique and unprecedented affordances, the
processes of communication and interaction have resulted in a reconfiguration of time and space, opening
doors of perception and new spheres of action to mankind (McLuhan & Carson 2003, p. 66-67). The
formation of the emotion-action connection that is so essential to political engagement, it is argued, has
been facilitated by the Internet and new media through their many affordances: widely accessible public
sphere permitting to express ones views, connect with the likeminded and organize activist events, thereby
lowering the threshold for political participation and, in turn, altering the power dynamics of participation.
After twenty years of living with online media, however, there is ever increasing doubt amidst the hitherto
celebratory assumptions that the Internet, credited with great democratising and liberating potential from
disinformation and domination, is going to be the catalyst of change and an agent of glorious revolution.

Computer-mediated emotional activism

As todays social life is increasingly mediatised (virtualised), the political and the public sphere are
also virtual; and the virtual, by consequence, is political and public. Thus, a study of contemporary social life
is always a study of (virtual) media. Internet and new media have ushered in revolutionary changes to the
processes of communication and interaction in the digital age, and ever since Lazarsfeld and Merton
(1969[1948]) have conceptualised the question of media effects as the effect of the existence of media
institutions as such, media scholars have suggested possible answers to this classic question within a range
of methodological paradigms. Two of these are most pertinent to the present study of mediated protests
the concept of mediatisation (Hjarvard 2004, 2008; Krotz 2001; Mazzoleni and Schulz 1999; Schulz 2004)
and the concept of mediation (Couldry 2000, Martin-Barbero 1993; Silverstone 1999).
Mediatisation theory stresses that to understand the importance of media in contemporary society and
culture, it is no longer possible to rely on models that conceive of media as separate from these spheres.
Contemporary society is pervaded with media to such an extent that it is characterised by a new social
condition the mediatisation of culture and society (Hjarvard 2008). This process is understood as a wider
transformation of social and cultural life through media operating from a single source and in a common
direction a media logic (see Couldry 2008, p. 376). In this respect, mediatisation is related to McLuhans
media theory, encapsulated in his famous assertion: The media work us over completely. They are so
pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social
consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage
(McLuhan & Carson 2003, pp. 180-181). Mediatisation of politics, consequently, is defined by Mazzoleni
(2008a) as a complex social change process that is closely linked to the presence of a media logic
(Couldry 2008; Mazzoleni 2008b) in society and in the political sphere and through which the media have
become increasingly autonomous from political processes and institutions while at the same time increasing
their influence over them. The idea of mediation, conversely, is a neutral media process of conveying
meaning from communicators to their target audiences. To define politics as mediated is a simple truism, in
that communication and mass media are necessary prerequisites to the functioning of political systems
(Mazzoleni & Schulz 1999).
Applying mediation and mediatisation concepts to grassroots political dissent movements, which have
swept the globe in the past year, the latter are then conceived of as the outcome of a co-evolution between
human and social forces on the one hand, and media technology on the other (Lievrouw & Livingstone
2002). Online media enable, it has been widely claimed, the construction of autonomous communication
spaces, free from the control of institutional power (Castells 2012), in this way empowering and rendering
more effective social and political activism. They are not solely an instrument in organising traditional
activism, cyber enthusiasts proclaim, but a new context that is changing the very character and possibilities
of political activism. In an increasingly mediated and mediatised world, it has been repeatedly declared,
online communication media increasingly play a role as catalysts and tools of change (Beckett 2011a,
2011b, 2011c; Castells 2012; Ingram 2011a, 2011b, 2011c; Shirky 2011; Tufekci 2011). There is extensive
evidence to these proclamations. The democratizing potential of the Internet has been studied in numerous
theoretical and empirical studies (Agre 2002; Dahlberg 2001; Jenkins & Thornburn 2003; Street 1997),
where it has been found to facilitate the direct form of democracy (Adonis & Mulgan 1994; Dutton 1999), its
community-centred model (Brants et al. 1996; Edwards 2004; Etzioni 2003; Nip 2004; Schuler 1996) as well
as its deliberative model (Coleman & Gtze 2001; Ess 1996). Studies have also established that the
Internet confers agency and prompts individuals to appropriate the medium and take action (Feenberg 2009;
Feenberg & Bakardjieva 2002; Bakardjieva 2009); it facilitates the emergence of counter publics made up
of antiglobalisation and other radical alternative groups, such as the Occupy, that are usually not
represented in mainstream public discourses (Dahlberg 2001); it enables subactivism or politics that
unfolds at the level of subjective experience and submerged in everyday life (Bakardjieva 2009). The
Internet was found to reinforce existing pattern of offline political participation, while at the same time,
mobilising a new pattern of online political participation (Nam 2012); it promotes political discussion, which in
turn leads to greater political and civic engagement (Brundidge 2006, 2008; Mutz & Mondak 2006; Price,
Capella & Nir 2002; Zhang et al. 2010), and most importantly, it overcomes distance and time barriers to
create communities, raise consciousness and mobilise people for offline activism (Harlow and Harp 2011).
But while the Internet has emerged as an important communication platform for the support of
collective action, there is still little insight into how it influences the psychosocial motives for participation. It
has been speculated that action might be fostered through the online media affordances, which enable the
creation of a sense of community (Blanchard and Markus 2004; Blanchard 2007; Koh and Kim 2003; Obst
et al. 2002a; Rheingold 1993; Roberts, Smith and Pollock 2002). Belonging to a common collective confers
a sense of collective identity (Simon & Klandermans 2001; Tajfel & Turner 1986), facilitates the
establishment of group norms of behaviour, further reinforcing the sense of community (Blanchard 2007;
Postmes et al. 2005; Cropanzano & Mitchell 2005), which, in turn, facilitates the exchange of affective and
social support (Baym 2010; Jones 1997; Blanchard 2007; Wong & Shoham 2011) and the development of
strong social bonds (Ren, Kraut & Kiesler 2007).
Emotional sharing done online is important in relationship formation and development (Chan & Cheng
2004; Derks, Fisher & Bos 2007; Mesch 2006; Nekrasova 2009; Lea & Spears 1995; Wood & Duck 1995).
In the context of online activism, emotions of group-based anger about collective injustices shared online is
an important motivational force in collective protest participation (Leach, Iyer & Pedersen 2006). But what is
less explored is whether and how online communication moderates the psychosocial motivations to
participate in collective actions. Alberici and Milesis (2012) qualitative study investigated this question,
found that psychosocial predictors, specifically politicized identity, anger, collective efficacy and morality
exercised greater influence in predicting offline collective action only when participants reported higher
(versus lower) participation frequency in online political discussion. The study also showed that anger,
however, did not predict collective action when it was possible for participants to express or vent this
Nevertheless, affective and discursive strategies were and continue to be deployed in contemporary
online activism. The Internet as a tactic is considered by Knudsen & Stage (2011) to be not simply an
additional appendage, but a fundamental shift in activists repertoire of actions. It is a new type of
mediatized and affectively charged [] activism, which uses the Internet to construct a new type of protest
based on affective processes motivated by geographically dispersed [] striking (emphasis in original, p.
2). But most importantly, as modern times are characterised by authoritarian capitalism, which relies on
manufactured sentiment and media, Thrift (2008) suggested that online political activism could provide an
alternative to this, a possible rematerializing and energizing of democracy through the creation of intensive
environments. Intensive environments as political scenes are not only ideologically pre-planned, but open to
a different kind of reactions/participation (p.4).
The Occupy movement has been perceived to embody precisely this rematerializing of democracy as
it attempts to articulate an alternative vision for the future to authoritarian capitalism through the revival of
direct, community-based and deliberative models of democracy, employing affective and discursive
strategies organised over an online as well as an offline public sphere. Although the emergence of Occupy
Wall Street was a much messier process in terms of media use than it was presented in mass media
(Gerbaudo 2012), it was nevertheless, as Castells put it, born digital (2012, p. 171). Initially, it was set in
motion by emotional cries of outrage expressed in various blogs, namely, Adbusters, AmpedStatus and
Anonymous, among others. It took some time, however, to gather momentum from the time that the hashtag
#occupywallstreet was registered on June 9, 2011 to the first demonstration on September 17, 2011. The
initial turnout was disappointing of the 20,000 that were called to invade lower Manhattan, only 300
showed up. In fact, Gerbaudo documents,

the emergence of Occupy Wall Street was characterised by a tortuous

development in which social media were only partly responsible used as a means
for a choreography of assembly, setting the scene for public protest, and often
became more a kind of channel for the reverberation of events taking place on the
ground. Paradoxically, in the country where social media firms like Twitter and
Facdbook have their headquarters, campaigners initially failed to use them
effectively as a means to choreograph the movement before its materialisation in
public space (2012, pp. 102-103).

Initially, Occupy was conceived as a Twitter movement, and in which Facebook was not seen as an
important communication medium. The messages, however, that were posted by the administration in the
initial phase were strictly informative that were unlikely to elicit an emotional connection with the public.
Only after a redefinition of its identity as a popular (rather than countercultural) movement representing the
99% (Gerbaudo 2012, p. 102) and the creation of the 99% Tumblr blog, which came to constitute a point
of emotional condensation: a wailing wall on which the identity of a new-born movement might coalesce
(emphasis in original, p. 118) that the movement started to gain momentum.
As he goes on to show, social media failed to turn sympathisers into actual participants and acquired
salience only in the subsequent sustainment phase being used to create interest in the occupations and
invoke a sense of solidarity between physical occupiers and internet occupiers. What triggered the
movement to go viral on social media was not the activity that was happening in the so-called twitter-
sphere, but the events happening on the ground, and which subsequently were taken up in Twitter
conversations (2012, p. 116). What these facts demonstrate, in Gerbaudos view, is that social media in the
Occupy case was a means of facilitating reverberation, rather than as a means of setting up the terrain
symbolically for the protests. The difficulty of turning sympathizers into active supporters already noted by
Klandermans (1984), is reinforced once again in the case of Occupy, namely that new forms of connection
facilitated by the use of social media and the increasing availability of information they offer does not
automatically translate into additional participation, unless organisers are capable of creating a powerful
emotional connection with these constituencies (Gerbaudo 2012, p. 127).
Another myth that Gerbaudos analysis dispels is the spontaneity and leaderlessness with which the
movement became associated. From its inception, Occupy was a carefully orchestrated campaign, whose
logo, copy and imagery had been professionally packed by the creative graphic team of Adbusters (p. 109),
while behind the campaign lay the work of two key people inside this organisation Kalle Lasn, the
magazines founder and main editor, and Micah White, a Berkeley-based activist and senior editor. While
social media permitted participatory conversations related to the movement, there were a core group of key
organisers that managed Facebook and Twitter accounts, acquiring a role of invisible choreographers as
they had unequal influence in shaping the manifestations.

The appropriation and subversion of emotional digital activism

As TIME named You as its 2006 Person of the Year, recognising the anonymous contributors of
user-generated online media content, Time's editors explained the rationale behind this decision by citing
the shift from institutions to individuals who are said to be emerging as the citizens of a new digital
democracy: It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how
that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes (Grossman 2006). In 2011,
choosing The Protester as its Person of the Year, TIME recognised the global protest movement in which
social media played a prominent, and for some, crucial part, prompting many to elatedly declare that digital
technologies enabled the dynamics of collective political action to have been fundamentally reconfigured,
shifting at last the power balance in support of human agency rather than of social structure. Others
remained sceptic about this new digital interconnectivity and have attempted to warn that such shifts in
empowerment are necessarily accompanied by a shifting landscape in the power structure, which
appropriates the tools for its own ends.
In the same 2011 year of the empowered protester, two of the most prominent technological
innovators and developers of Web 2.0 and 3.0 respectively Tim OReilly and Reid Hoffman debated what
we had to fear in the current digital world. While the former named the all-powerful corporations, the latter
opted for the government, but Keen (2012) stressed that there is a third spectre ourselves, due to the
pervasive personal data made public on social and other online media. Such digital exhibitionism
contributes to the proliferation of a surveillance society, where everybody is watching everybody
(Cammaerts 2012b), prompting a shift in power from a single omniscient twentieth-century Panopticon of
Big Brother to the vast cohort of twenty-first century Little Brothers (Keen 2012, p. 149). In terms of
corporations and government, Chomsky has repeatedly warned about the role of mass media as
propaganda tool for manufacturing consent in contemporary politics, stating that they are effective and
powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on
market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion (1988, p. 306).
He is also quick to point out to democratic entities, who think themselves immune to such tactics: its not the
case, as the nave might think, that indoctrination is inconsistent with democracy, rather [] it is the essence
of democracy (Achbar & Wintonick 1992).
Chomsky noted that while that model of analysis does not narrowly hold for the Internet, it is not
completely inapplicable. Internet can be used for liberatory ends, assist activism, provide access to
information which would otherwise be unavailable, but it can also be used for surveillance, coercion control
and propaganda by corporations as well as by government (Newsnight 2011). It must be remembered, he
underlines, that the Internet is not a free medium, but a private space that is owned by major corporations,
the entry to which is provided by a small number of portals, themselves handed over to private capital. He
provides as example the case of WikiLeaks, where private entities did exert that control by blocking the
funding channels of the site an action which Chomsky argues, represents private censorship of a very
serious kind, and one which eventually drove WikiLeaks underground. He warns that similar tactics can be
deployed to suppress politics of dissent of any type and there are many devices available to direct the
public towards particular options (Chomsky 2011). In his recent book on the Occupy, Chomsky reiterated
that power is in the hands of the governed and the only way that rulers can overcome that is by control of
opinions and attitudesThere are massive efforts to control the general population by less force today
because of the many rights that have been won. Methods now are by propaganda, consumerism, stirring up
ethnic hatred, all kinds of ways (2012, pp. 82-83).
The Internets privacy and security is, consequently, increasingly questioned. Internet politics from
below, in their collective as well as individual practice, such as those emblematically practiced by bloggers
and social networks, has suffered from increasing processes of market colonization and corporate
concentration deployed on the Net. McLuhan was probably among the first who recognised the developing
pattern of commodification of privacy, stating privacy invasion is now one of our most important knowledge
industries (McLuhan & Carson 2003, p. 335). Implications of ever-greater market appropriation and
concentration have been in terms of the privatisation of privacy as well as censorship policies, implemented
with and without state intervention. As Cammaerts (2012a) analysis of potentials and constraints of
mediation in the cases of such online political sites as WikiLeaks and Anonymous exposes serious
structural constraints to the over-reliance of (radical) protest movements on market-based internet or mobile
platforms. These platforms are not secure and the companies that run them can, for whichever reason,
decide to close down an account, delete the content, withhold funds and/or violate the privacy of their users
(p. 16).
The use of Internet as a tool for manipulation and control has been closely investigated by Morozov
(2011) in his book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, where he critically assesses the
intellectual sources of the growing excitement about the liberating potential of the Internet. Morozov argues
against the ideas of cyber-utopianism that is, the inability to see the Internets darker side and Internet-
centrism the growing propensity to view all political and social change through the prism of the Internet.
As has been shown by Feenberg & Bakardjieva (2004), the online medium is a flexible communicative
space that can be construed and bent in an infinite number of ways by sufficiently motivated groups of
people (p. 40). Morozov makes a similar claim: the Internet can and is used by certain governments to
sustain authoritarian regimes, mastering the use of cyberspace for propaganda purposes. He calls this
tactic spinternet a combination of spin on the one hand, and the Internet on the other. In politics of
dissent, Morozov warns that online media can be used to gather open source intelligence about activists
intentions and planned events.
The democratic role of the Internet as a public sphere has also been shown to be controversial at best
because it can be either a new space to facilitate participation of those alienated from offline politics, or
merely replicate the existing offline power relations. Studies in the cyber-sceptic stream of research
demonstrate that not only the existing pattern of face-to-face participation is taken up in the online realm, the
Internet can, in actuality, aggravate elite-dominated discussions (Jankowski & van Selm 2000; Lunat 2008;
Moore 1999; Papacharissi 2002; Poster 2001; Salter 2004). Thus, despite the Internets potential to create
space for new participation, prior findings show that it is no guarantee that the Internet would be a fairer,
more representative and egalitarian than traditional constructs of the public sphere. In addition, there are
also structural constraints that prevent democratic participation (commercially-owned Internet access) as
well as constraints pertaining to the democratic divide, where the socio-demographic inequalities of political
participation in the offline world tends to reproduce into the online one, and the media/digital literacy divide.
The Internet is a great maze, where centripetal and centrifugal forces are equally at work. Zizeks
description is especially poignant: I stumble around in this infinite space where messages circulate freely
without fixed destination, while the whole of it remains forever beyond my comprehension. The other side of
cyberspace direct democracy is this chaotic and impenetrable magnitude of messages which even the
greatest effort of my imagination cannot grasp (2006). The Internet seems to merely harbour an illusion of
openness. Technological innovations may render participation in the public sphere technically more
convenient, but do not hallmark active participation (Nam 2012, p. 591).
In terms of mobilisation, the same Janus-faced polarity exists: competing hypotheses claim that the
Internet either has the potential to mobilise online participation among offline non-participants or that it
mainly reinforces existing offline activism, thereby replicating the reality of politics as usual (Margolis &
Resnick 2000). Recent works testing the two conflicting theses have found more evidence for the
reinforcement effect. Due to the online political participation being mirroring the established offline pattern of
participation (Chen & Lee 2008; Krueger 2002, 2006), the findings indicate the Internet does not play a
pivotal role in transforming stratified patterns of political participation (di Gennaro & Dutton 2006; Park &
Perry 2008). Online spaces for political participation reinforce and sometimes intensify the existing social
inequalities in offline political participation by marginalizing those belonging to low socio-economic groups.
Tellingly, Gibson et al. (2005) cautioned that digital democracy is an over-vaunted hype with the rise of the
normalisation effect, and the Internet is neither an agent of glorious revolution nor apocalypse now, but a
bolster for the status quo (p. 563).
Furthermore, activism practised on the Internet, according to many authors, is of questionable value
(e.g. Eaton 2010; Zuckerman 2001; Gladwell 2010). Eaton (2010) analysed the activist online group and the way in which it strategically manufactured a sense of community by using top-down
information flow and by hindering member-to-member communication features. Thus, technological
affordances, in the context of the capitalist system, not only provide the medium through which imagined
communities could be realised, but also enable the capacity of manufacturing communities.

Manufacturing of communities follows the logic of Andersons imagined

communities, but expands upon this idea by showing how technology within a
consumer capitalist system can be used to produce an imagined community itself,
not simply produce the medium through which citizens can then develop a sense
of imagined community.

Eaton (2010) calls the activism practised on the Internet as fast activism because it takes less time
and effort, and at the conceptual level, the term resonates the model of fast food services common in
contemporary society. It is the consumerist approach to life that is also infiltrating the social movement
sector, in which the latter is adapted to the former. Zuckerman (2001) identifies it as slacktivism, that is,
support for a cause with minimal effort and, by giving the illusion of being affiliated to a cause, it renders
individuals more complacent and, in fact, serves to devalue the meaning of activism. By lowering the cost
involved in activism, one also lowers its value in the public eyes, discrediting the voices of activists and
cheapening the significance of the actual cause.
Gladwell (2010) countered that high-risk social activism requires deep roots and strong ties and that
weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism. He dismisses the argument that social networks are effective at
increasing motivation by observing that social networks are effective at increasing participation by
lessening the level of motivation that participation requiresIn other words, Facebook activism succeeds
not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do
when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. In a more recent article in the New Yorker
(2011), Gladwell wrote that people protested and brought down governments before Facebook was
invented. They did it before the Internet came along.
For Fenton (2008), online political activism is plagued by a number of challenges: the ephemeral
character of online groups, the risk of fragmenting social movements and the abandonment of collective
discussion in a common public sphere, among others. The pivotal question for Fenton, when evaluating the
potential of online activism, revolves around the question whether the online activist groups have the ability
to create a solid movement and actually foster social change or does it function as a kind of radical ghetto?
Consequently, Knudsen & Stage (2011) ask through their study: Will then the online environment only be
used as a room for a quick uprising of energy and indignation that will not affect the broader social structures
of society in any way?
Given their importance in political mobilisation and politicization, emotions of indignation and outrage
represent a chief threat as they challenge the legitimacy of established power relations and threaten their
authority. Consequently, emotions have commonly been the primary target of manipulation and concerted
attempts of subversion. The Frankfurt School legacy consisted precisely in identifying the ruling
understandings that are prevailent in society and how these function to justify or legitimise domination (Jay
1973). In this respect, Adorno and Horkheimers (1979) analysis of the homogenizing power of the culture
industry refers to the social control and the collective numbness to reality through mass media. The concept
of numbness can be attributed to many dimensions in media theory: to the individual versus the collective
and to the cognitive mind versus the physical senses (Benjamin 1939; McLuhan 1967). Others (e.g.
Chomsky 2002-2003; Morozov 2011; Mestrovic 1995; Virilio 2009; Beaudrillard 1995; Jameson 1990) insist
that media might be another form of opium for the people and a social control tool used to placate dissent
by homogenizing and manipulating emotions, thought, and ultimately behaviour.
Illouz (1997, 2007) reiterates that emotions are not just individual, embodied responses to external
factors; emotions are also political and can be utilised to maintain the status quo. Irvine (2008) brings to
attention the fact that sometimes the issues and causes that we contest through activism are themselves the
result of emotional political configurations, in which emotional reactions can be strategically produced
through discourse to shape public opinion. While global political protests of 2011 demonstrated how
emotions can also be a powerful force for positive social change and can be cultivated to effectively
challenge the unjust status quo, there are constant speculations debating to what extent have those
uprisings been deliberately orchestrated for the execution of covert political and/or economic strategies.
The Occupy Wall Street has certainly not been spared the controversy surrounding its origin, key
objectives and ultimate aim. As Zizek pointed out (2012), over the last few decades, we have witnessed a
whole series of emancipatory popular explosions which have been reappropriated by the global capitalist
order, either in its liberal form (from South Africa to the Philippines) or in its fundamental form (Iran) (p. 74).
Similar concerns have been voiced regarding the Occupy Movement, namely, that it is in fact, a communist
movement run by socialists having as sole intention to bring down the free enterprise system (Snyder
2011). US political commentator Glenn Beck has proclaimed it the SEIU-driven (Service Employees
International Union) world Marxist revolution, funded by the non-profit organization Tides Centre, which is
partly funded by Soros (Beck 2011). Reuters reported of Soros connection to Adbusters, the magazine that
launched the Occupy movement (Klein 2011).
It has also been suggested that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been co-opted by
an American public policy advocacy group that is said to be raising campaign funds for the US Democratic
Party for Obamas re-election (Horn 2011). In this respect OWS was interpreted to represent the Liberal
Democrats response to the Republican Tea Party movement. A mixture of populism and libertarianism, the
Tea Party gave voice to a variety of indignant opposition to Obamas government. But it eventually became
clear that the movement was bankrolled by Koch Industries, among other corporations, and captured by the
right of the Republican Party as storm-troopers to be sacrificed in the final stage of the electoral process
(Castells 2012, p. 158). Still others have seen the Occupy movement as the promise of a new world order
or a Third Way that would be neither capitalist nor socialist, but bridge between the two. Such prominent
figures as economist Joseph Stiglitz (Klein 2011) and former Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev as well as
the late Pope John Paul II (Gorbachev 2011) have expressed their support for a new world order one that
would constitute a more stable, more human, and more just (2011). All these controversies suggest that
observers of the Occupy movement, as of similar protest movements in the past, are distrustful and are
aware that astroturfing the creation of fake grassroots organisations usually sponsored by large
corporations to support any arguments or claims in their favour, or to challenge and deny those against
them (Cho et al. 2011, p. 571) is a widespread historical practice.

Ethical-existential implications

According to a number of scholars, the greatest challenge of human existence in postmodernity is the
realisation of the authentic self. Kierkegaard stated that it is impossible to exist without passion (1941)
meaning that it is only by entering into engagements whose fate can arouse the passions that we gain a
sense of our own identity and in that way become an existing individual attaining an authentic existence.

for a subjective thinker, imagination, feeling and dialectics in impassioned

existence-inwardness are required. But first and last, passion, because for an
existing person it is impossible to think about existence without becoming
passionateThe subjective thinker, therefore, has also aesthetic passion and
ethical passion, whereby concretion is gained. All existence-issues are passionate,
because existence, if one becomes conscious of it, involves passion. To think
about them so as to leave out passion is not to think about them at all, is to forget
the point that one indeed is oneself and existing person (p. 350-351).
He linked the passionate nature of human existence directly to the will, that is, to the subjects chosen
commitments. He saw a two-way relationship between ethics and subjectivity: not only are ethical questions
essentially first person, but the real subject is also an ethically-existing subject (1941, p. 281). Thus, we
cannot avoid first-person ethical questions, but Kierkegaard believed that we may lack a coherent
conception of ourselves by reference to which we can begin to answer them. A lack of self-knowledge
effectively precludes us from attaining an authentic existence. Heidegger (1953/1996) distinguished
between authentic and inauthentic living, stated that the more un-self-conscious our understanding of
ourselves and our existence, the more of an inauthentic life we live. Heidegger argued that it is through the
emotional experience of angst that we can learn what we basically are as human beings, in this way
becoming true autonomous individuals and attain authentic existence. Angst is a way of becoming aware
and coming to terms with the quality of ones own existence, choosing either to live authentically or to let
oneself passively fall back into a life where most things are decided by others.
Riesmans analysis of dominant character types only substantiated Kierkegaards centuries-old
conclusion. In his 1950 book The Lonely Crowd he identified three character types that dominated society
at its different developmental stages, arguing that with the advent of industrialisation and capitalism the
other-directed type became the dominant form of ensuring conformity. This form of society requires a more
socialized behaviour as the peer-group, under these conditions, and ones contemporaries (in ones
personal circle or in the mass media) are the source of direction for the individual. The other-directed is
related to the political sphere not as an independent, but via the veto group, thereby becoming an inside-
dopester. In other words, the latters political opinions are not felt to relate to his political function and serve
only as political counter in his or her role as a peer-group consumer of the political news-of-the-day. If the
inner-directed moralizer identified with his political interests and perceived them as matters of principle and
personal commitment, the other-directed inside-dopesters political activism comes to be characterised
more by a dispassionate performance plagued by personal detachment, apathetic irresolution and moral
relativism. Riesman concluded that although other-directed individuals are crucial for the smooth functioning
of the modern organisation, the value of autonomy is compromised and society dominated by the other-
directed faces profound deficiencies in leadership, individual self-knowledge and human potential.
Modern societies, hence, find it increasingly difficult to sustain emotional life (that is, that passion
which links the will and prompts us to seek authenticity) and as a consequence, there is a loss of what it
means to be an individual. In fact, Mestrovic (1995) argues that contemporary Western societies are
entering a new phase of development in which synthetic, quasi-emotions become the basis for widespread
manipulation by self, others and the culture industry as a whole (p. 57). The paradox of contemporary
cultures is that they simultaneously promote individualism as well as atomized reactions (as seen in
advertisements, politics, news, entertainment). The result is a postemotional complex mass society of
competing groups in which people do believe that they are individualists. Postemotional society is an
extension of the cult of the machine such that emotions have been McDonaldized, petrified, and otherwise
made artificial (1996, p. 146). Baudrillard (1995) contended that postmodern society has replaced all reality
and meaning with symbols and signs or what he calls simulacra, and that human experience is of a
simulation of reality. In his view, global society has lost its symbolic element, reducing reality to a simulated
version, a so-called hyper-reality. Jameson (1990) conceives of postmodernity as a flattened space linked
to a flattened affect or a loss of psychological depth stressing consumer capitalisms pervasive simulacra
and blunted affective dimension.
This state of affairs is further compounded, according to Virilio (2009), by the increased acceleration
of processes of communication and social interaction. The increased speed renders contemporary society
hyperemotional, characterised by what he terms le communisme des affects (2009). The current global
environment is defined by a synchronization of customs, mores, ways of reacting, but also of emotions and
sentiments. The most important consequence of this phenomenon, Virilio asserts, is that it impedes the
autonomy of the person and the maturity of the individual. To him, humanity has passed from a collectivist
society to a society of masses where individuality is also on a mass scale, in other words, a mass
individuality. The social control in such a society is thus made individual by individual, personality by
What these contemporary thinkers describe can be defined by Kierkegaards concept of levelling, a
process which he saw set in motion already in his epoch. The levelling process is an abstract power
wielded by the public an entity made possible with the advent of mass media (the printing press) this
process capturing the victory of abstraction over the individual (Kierkegaard 1962). If the dialectic of
antiquity tended towards leadership, the dialectic of the present age, he contends, tends towards equality,
and its most logical though mistaken fulfilment is levelling. In essence, the effect of this levelling
Kierkegaard describes by the fact that the individual no longer belongs to God, to himself, to his beloved, to
his art or to his science, he is conscious of belonging in all things to an abstraction to which he is subjected
by reflection, just as a serf belongs to an estate (pp. 25-26). A reflective and passionless age of his time is
further intensified and made more palpable in todays digital age, where the means of change are placed at
our disposal in the form of new media, but the emotional individuality, psychological maturity and moral
autonomy are essentially corrupted by the process of levelling, thereby preventing and impeding any
decisive action. Emotions might lead us astray, Kierkegaard discerned, but guiding ones action solely
according to prevalent, dominant ideological prescriptions annihilates ones independent will. Enthusiasm
[for action] may end in disaster, but levelling is eo ipso the destruction of the individual (emphasis in
original, p. 27).
The indication that humanity is gripped in this process of levelling is also to be found in the recent
work of Deuze (2012) who postulated that our life in media, rather than with media, has transformed us into
zombies. A society in media resembles a world after the zombie apocalypse and individuals, just like
zombies, lose their sense of ego and individuality, live in a reality which blurs distinction between private and
public, isolation and cohesion and in which media drives us in a dispassionate, discarnate way (p. xvi). Yet,
rather than by sui generis creativity, this mediated reality is characterised by the concept of the remake,
which subsumes individuality and which has, as the ultimate effect, the equalising of all differences as well
as distinction (p.165). Emotions are correspondingly affected and to such an extent that Deuze quotes
Kittler in his appeal for an ontology of media, where media both amplify and sacrifice affect in human
interaction, as emotions must submit themselves to the technological limits and languages of a machine
(Kittler 2009, p. 13).
In the context of political activism and protest, emotions remain an indispensible factor because as
has been mentioned earlier, action assumes a connection between the emotions and the intellect, but that
connection, according to Mestrovic and others, has been severed in postemotional societies. It is for this
reason that Hessels essay Time for Outrage! (2011), calling for individuals to once again get indignant, has
become today a bible for Occupy protesters all over the world as it tapped into popular anger against the
injustices of the finance capitalism. He asserts that the worst attitude is indifference and warns that in
being preoccupied with the material and pragmatic, authentic existence risks to be jeopardised if the basic
democratic values are not fought for. Hessel urges, these are the values on which, if they are violated, you
must protest. You must find the time for outrage when these values are not respected (2011).
In the Occupy case, mass media actively sought to discredit the movement by placing it within the
capitalist discourse: belittling its significance and undermining the legitimacy of protesters sentiments of
political indignation and moral outrage by accusing the movement of lacking a central authority, a single
unified ideology and a concrete set of demands. While a clear alternative boiled down to specific demands
might be unrealistic simply because the entire system is perceived to be in crisis and must presuppose a
revision on a holistic level, the actual articulation of change and alternatives is demanded to be formulated
within the discursive practices of capitalist universals universals that set the terms of the debate and
restrict the range of possible responses.
What Trouillot terms the geography of management, is accompanied by a management of
imagination (p.36) and a projection of North Atlantic universals through words like development, progress,
and modernity:

North Atlantic universals so defined are not merely descriptive or referential. They
do not describe the world; they offer visions of the world. . . . They come to us
loaded with aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities, religious and philosophical
persuasions, cultural assumptions ranging from what it means to be a human
being to the proper relationship between humans and the natural world, ideological
choices ranging from the nature of the political to the possibilities of
transformation. . . . North Atlantic universals not only prescribe: They seduce.
Indeed, they are always seductive, at times even irresistible, exactly because they
manage, in that projection, to hide their specific localized, and thus parochial
historical location. This power of seduction is further enhanced by a capacity to
project affect without actually claiming to do so. All ideas come with affect, but a
successful universal tends to hide the affect it projects behind a claim of rationality.
It makes sense to be modern, it is good to be modern. How could anyone not
want to be modern? Similarly, how could anyone not want to join the international
community? To be sure, these propositions mean different things to different
people. At the same time the number of divergent voices that use and abuse
these words verify their attraction. One might go as far as to say that the capacity
to seduce is inherent in such universals (p.35, 46).

Anna Tsing (2005), examining how the particular universals travel, concluded: This brings to light a
deep irony: Universalism is implicated in both imperial schemes to control the world and liberatory
mobilizations for justice and empowermentUniversals beckon to elite and the excluded alike (p. 9). Thus,
the emotions that made individuals question the proposed social system, discern injustices and moral
trespasses and become physically implicated in mass protest might have been genuine, but the widespread
awareness about co-opting practices, subversive elements by mainstream media and other power agents,
appropriation and manipulation of its initial effervescence by other interests and submitting its discourse
within existing capitalist cognitive frames has fed scepticism and distrust, thereby placing insurmountable
obstacles, which might effectively spell its defeat. It is once again victory of the abstraction over the
individual, pointed out by Kierkegaard, and the pessimism that he expressed, namely, that no age, and
therefore not the present age, can bring the scepticism of that process to a halt, for as soon as it tries to stop
it, the law of the levelling process is again called into action (1962, p. 27) also holds true for the Occupy
uprising. The most important impact that the enthusiasm and hope of the Occupy movement could be
expected to achieve was to contribute to an overall awareness of the global situation, to a redefinition of the
terms of the debate and to a delineation of alternative options for the future. In Heideggerian terms, the
Occupy might have prompted the reawakening of that angst which would prompt one to question the quality
of ones existence because a complete overhaul on a systemic level could not be expected since no society
or association can arrest that abstract power, simply because an association is itself in the service of the
levelling process (1962, p. 28).
Taking all these factors into consideration, it can be concluded that both the liberating potential of new
media tools as well as the power of human agency, carrying graver implications for authentic existence as
autonomous individuals, are undermined due to the fact that social control in the 21st century is effectuated
on an individual level through the emotional manipulation of the self, others and the cultural and political
industry as a whole. It is not the amount of communication and information technology that will liberate the
individual, but the revival of that angst that brings self-awareness and the desire for an authentic existence,
individual autonomy and passionate engagement with ones ethical reality.

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