Monday, November 14, 2011

Can A Decentralized Global Justice Movement Work?

Jeffrey Juris' article "Networked Social Movements: Global Movements for Global Justice" brings up a theme we've discussed in class on multiple occasions: decentralization. In his argument, Juris describes social movements of the modern day as reliant upon information communication technologies (ICTs) to effectively rally activists around the world for one particular cause. Juris notes that these transnational advocacy networks (which he actually refers to as global justice movements) have been revolutionary in the way connections are bridged via network-based technologies like list-servs, social sites and wiki-type open source software.

The crux of transnational activism, according to Juris, is that using networks decentralizes the process, yet communicates the message over a farther distance to a greater number of people, resulting in mass worldwide protests like the one against the World Trade Organization in 1999 in Seattle and subsequent anti-corporate protests, many of which take place at the same time as major economic forums or summits to gain more attention.

Juris cites many protests in the early Millennium, but perhaps the most current and (to be honest) blatant example of a worldwide anti-corporate global justice movement would be more fitting. I wonder what that could be? Oh, that's right. That whole Occupy thing.

Occupy is everywhere nowadays, with protests in nearly all US cities and many more across the globe including Rome, Brisbane, Paris and Cape Town. It seems to follow Juris' notion of a decentralized movement, gaining steam through networks of like-minded citizens around the world working together in a horizontal and autonomous fashion where there is no clear authority figure, just a "power of the people" so to speak. For some fascinating news on how this is happening in real time, check out an article about how Occupy is starting the Free Network Foundation to provide decentralize peer-to-peer Internet for the movement.

It all sounds idyllic, right? Concerned activists around the world join forces of their own volition and create a united front against global corporate control. Well, I'm afraid the success of the Occupy movement, or of any decentralized movement, will depend upon its ability to change from a decentralized state to a more organized, identifiable state.

I'll invoke the early sociological work of Herbert Blumer, who first identified the four stages of social movements: Emergence, Coalescence, Bureaucratization and Decline. If we look at the Occupy movement, we can see that it is somewhere between Emergence and Coalescence. In Emergence, there is no defined leadership of a movement and there are no clear goals, simply a rising sense of unrest. In Coalescence the movement begins occurring on a mass scale as more realize they are unhappy. However, in this stage there are some critical transformations, such as the election or appointment of leadership throughout the movement as well as a refining of what exact goals the movement is attempting to attain and exactly what targets they should be protesting against.

These are steps the Occupy movement hasn't reached, and according to Blumer many movements do not fully complete Coalescence before they fizzle out. I can make an inference and say that if the Occupy movement does not alter its decentralized global justice popularity and turn it into something more tangible it may suffer the consequences.

I understand what Juris is saying. It is very revolutionary that ICTs allow transnational networks to form and enabled globally united groups of people. However, I think when the information and communication processes speed up, the time we expect action and progress does as well. Is it really possible in the month or so the Occupy movement has really picked up steam that they could change their tactics enough to get all of its rabble-rousers to agree on points of change as well as leaders before the media fire dies? Will the decentralized nature of the Occupy movement even be able to change, as its supporters note its network approach to be one of its best traits?

I look forward to watching further coverage to see if Occupy goes by the wayside or puts on a different hat in order to stay afloat.

No comments:

Post a Comment