Digital Resistance: Political activism and protest online

(Honors Program AY21 Fall 2020)

Short course description
This course studies the proliferation, and implications, of digital technology in political resistance. The goal is to provide students with analytical tools and skills for understanding the strengths, weaknesses of contemporary digital resistance. The course’ perspective is on the resistance that is played out in the ‘everyday life’ of ‘ordinary’ people: a resistance that might be widespread and diffused, individual or small scale, implicitly political, disguised or even hidden. It brings to light how the ‘private’ or ‘personal’ can be political and explores the creativity of ‘cultural resistance’.

Particular interest will be payed to the study of new sources of power and their ability to subvert or censor acts of digital resistance. By taking this course the participants will gain a sophisticated understanding of the role played by technology, and technology providers, in the performance of, and resistance to, power. Course participants will develop a critical understanding of the nature of technology and its implications for local, regional, and global justice.

Examples of included texts, projects, topics, or themes
Through the study of large contemporary acts of resistance such as Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, participants will better understand classical theories of social movements and activism, while developing an understanding for the ways in which digital technologies are challenging both theoretical and practical understanding of political resistance. The course consists of introductory lectures and literature seminars. The more practical element of the course entails hands-on data collection and analysis on a contemporary case (or form) of digital resistance being carried out via social media platforms.

Fit with the mission of the Honors Program overall
In order to successfully bring about social and political change activists need to reach out to, and convince, a majority of the legitimacy of their demands. In a predominantly digital environment this means the efficient use of digital tools for social and political resistance. Any discussion on justice requires an understanding of how our relationship to justice is mediated by technology. Digital platforms provide the potential for resistance to injustice and spreading activist messages to a broader public. At the same time, they play an integral part in deceiving publics and/or sowing discord, propaganda and hate. We need to better understand the ways in which digital resistance both functions and may be subverted if we are going to knowledgably discuss justice in our digital age.

Messy Resources

Beyond the hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter, and the online struggle for offline justice By Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark | February 29, 2016

Lila Abu-Lughod (1990) The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power Through Bedouin Women, American Ethnologist Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 41-55 (15 pages)

Scott, J. C. (2008). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. yale university Press.

Scott, J. C. (1990). Domination and the arts of resistance: Hidden transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vinthagen, S. & Johansson, A. (2013). Everyday resistance: Exploration of a concept and its theories. Resistance Studies Magazine, 1(1), 1-46.

Mukherjee, R., & Banet-Weiser, S. (Eds.). (2012). Commodity activism: Cultural resistance in neoliberal times. NYU Press.

Hands, J. (2011). @ is for activism: Dissent, resistance and rebellion in a digital culture. Pluto Press. Chicago

Dery, M. (2017). Culture jamming: Activism and the art of cultural resistance. NYU Press.

Treré, E. (2018). From digital activism to algorithmic resistance.

Malchik, A. (2019) The Problem With Social-Media Protests The Atlantic, May 6, 2019

Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). # Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United StatesAmerican ethnologist42(1), 4-17.

DeLuca, K. M., Lawson, S., & Sun, Y. (2012). Occupy Wall Street on the public screens of social media: The many framings of the birth of a protest movementCommunication, Culture & Critique5(4), 483-509.

Tufekci, Z., & Wilson, C. (2012). Social media and the decision to participate in political protest: Observations from Tahrir SquareJournal of communication62(2), 363-379.

Breuer, A., Landman, T., & Farquhar, D. (2015). Social media and protest mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian revolutionDemocratization22(4), 764-792.

Valenzuela, S. (2013). Unpacking the use of social media for protest behavior: The roles of information, opinion expression, and activismAmerican Behavioral Scientist57(7), 920-942.

Milan, S. (2015). When algorithms shape collective action: Social media and the dynamics of cloud protestingSocial Media+ Society1(2), 2056305115622481.

Baer, H. (2016). Redoing feminism: Digital activism, body politics, and neoliberalismFeminist media studies16(1), 17-34.

Kaun, A., & Uldam, J. (2018). Digital activism: After the hypeNew Media & Society20(6), 2099-2106.

Graeff, E., Stempeck, M., & Zuckerman, E. (2014). The battle for “Trayvon Martin”: Mapping a media controversy online and off-line. First Monday, 19(2).

Videos