I wish I’d read Zizek’s Trouble in Paradise before writing my fragile movement’s paper, because this is exactly what I was trying to explore: how does this ‘imaginary unity at its most sublime’ inform popular perceptions of the mobilising potential of social media? From pg 97:

The ongoing events in Egypt provide yet another example of the basic dynamics of social revolts, which consists of two main steps traditionally designated by pairings like ‘1789/1793’ (in the case of the French Revolution) or ‘February/October’ (in the case of the Russian Revolution). The first step, what Badiou recently called the ‘rebirth of history’, culminates in an all-popular uprising against a hated figure of power (Mubarak, in the case of Egypt, or the Shah, in the case of Iran three decades ago). People across all social strata assert themselves as a collective agent against the system of power which quickly loses its legitimacy, and all around the world we can follow on our TV screens those magic moments of ecstatic unity when hundreds of thousands of people gather on public squares for days on end and promise not to go anywhere until the tyrant steps down. Such moments stand for an imaginary unity at its most sublime: all differences, all conflicts of interest are forgotten as the whole society seems united in its opposition to the hated tyrant.

I take him to be saying, from pg 104, it must be the case that a ‘we’ is invoked in order to mobilise across divisions, but that in an oppressed and divided society this ‘we’ cannot be anything other than imagined. The real work starts with the building of a substantial ‘we’, something that happens through the transformation of the social order.

It is only after the first enthusiastic unity disintegrates that true universality can be formulated, a universality no longer sustained by imaginary illusions. It is only after the initial unity of the people falls apart that the real work begins, the hard work of assuming all the implications of the struggle for an egalitarian and just society. It is not enough simply to get rid of the tyrant; the society which gave birth to the tyrant has to be thoroughly transformed. Only those who are ready to engage in this hard work remain faithful to the radical core of the initial enthusiastic unity.

As I too often find myself doing in these situations, I’ve been browsing hashtags and newspaper comments about the tube strike. The most obvious recurring theme concerns the putative comfort of the striking tube workers: how do they justify striking when they’re already so well off?

In actuality, salaries of tube workers range between £24,000 and £50,000. The Telegraph’s chart shows how this compares to other public sector workers. Much as public sector workers as a whole must have their pay and conditions beaten down because it would be unfair to private sector workers, this perverse conception of fairness demands that the same race to the bottom be conducted across the public sector itself.

chartHowever only a couple of months ago, a well publicised KPMG report concluded that first-time buyers needs to earn £77,000 per year to get on the housing ladder in London. The average annual wage in the capital might be £27,999, in relation to which many of the tube workers do indeed seem to be secure, but this shows how far wages across London lag behind the continually sky rocketing cost of living. Surely the message from the RMT needs to be: we’re not paid too much, you’re paid too little? Or will this seem too crude?

Left to its own devices negative solidarity (“why should they have to struggle less than I do?”) will corrode what little capacity for collective sentiment that remains within a world city rapidly becoming a playground for the super-rich comparable to anything else in history. What discursive strategies can be used to combat it? The other manifestation of it I noticed is in the sentiment “I can’t strike, so why should they be able to?”. I’ve encountered this a few times, though much less frequently than the ‘greedy tube workers’ notion.

There’s a great article on the THE, in which Caroline Magennis reflects on the success of the conversation she started recently about being an academic from a less privileged background:

It’s worth reading in full, as is the associated Storify. I’m going to write about it in the final chapter of Social Media for Academics as an example of how social media can allow the emergence of new forms of solidarity, in which public discussion of what had previously been private issues leaves  people with a new or renewed sense of shared and systemic problems.

4th International Conference

Cultural Difference and
Social Solidarity Network

Differences, Solidarities and Digital Technologies

Hosted by
Middle East Technical University
Northern Cyprus Campus

Tuesday, 1 July through Friday, 4 July, 2014

The 4th International Conference of the Cultural Difference and Social Solidarity Network aims to examine the influence of the spread and growth of digital technology on constructions, concepts, and perceptions of difference and solidarity. By “digital technology” we mean any combination of electronic devices and digital communication including the devices themselves (from smart phones to servers), software and applications, and communication networks. Approximately two thirds of the world’s population (according to the World Bank) has limited access to digital technologies, yet the remaining one third of the population who use these technologies are arguably reshaping concepts of difference and solidarity that have broad implications for all people, their social and cultural institutions, the environment, economic systems, etc. As an example of an area of contested solidarity and difference within that one third of global users, are the broad claims from academia, the market, and digital technology proponents regarding the use of digital technology and devices to promote solidarities, virtual and real, and create an easing of difference through democratizing constructs such as increased access to the internet and communication devices. Contrary arguments assert that solidarities in a virtual world are not possible; that the democratizing effect of the internet, or even wireless service, is an illusion constructed by large corporations that control many of the on-ramps and consumer interfaces of the web in neoliberal societies; and that the growth of use of digital technologies creates new differences and increasingly solidifies existing ones.

This conference seeks to provide a space for scholars to take stock of the present global context and share knowledge – specific or general, empirical or theoretical, with a view to develop and explore the possible ways of understanding the impact of digital technologies on differences and solidarities. The conference is intended to be interdisciplinary and welcomes papers from scholars whose research crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. Papers and panels are sought for presentation at parallel sessions where each paper will have a strict maximum of 20 minutes presentation time on panels of 2 papers with 25 minutes per paper discussion time.

Initial starting points for paper topics on the 2014 conference theme are listed below. We will also consider papers on themes from previous conferences and/or previous participants who have on-going research on broader areas of difference and solidarity. All papers/presentations should in some way connect to, or address, Cultural Difference and Social Solidarity:

Social media:
Technology and hegemonies
Academia and technology:
New disciplines e.g. Digital humanities
Academic freedom
Inclusive/exclusive methodologies
Electronics production:
mining, manufacture, distribution, retail
Passive and active digital media
Ethics and digital technology
Art and Culture
Digital geography
Digital nativism
New media subjectivity
Digital literacy

These themes are not exhaustive and the organizers will consider other papers relevant to the conference subject of Digital Technologies and Cultural Difference and Social Solidarity. We expect to publish a post-conference edited book, derived from the papers presented and organized around themes that reveal themselves during the conference.

There will be two keynote plenary sessions with speakers to be announced. Reflecting the conference theme in the context of the conference venue, one of these sessions will focus on aspects of these themes in Cyprus.

Abstracts may be submitted anytime until March 31, 2014
Notification of abstract acceptances and rejections is on a rolling basis (within 3 weeks of submission)
Online conference registration open from March 17, 2014 to May 30, 2014
Conference Fees to be paid by May 30, 2014

The conference language is English and all papers and presentations should be in English.

The conference fee is 395 Euros (295 Euros for post-grad students and non-participants).
This fee includes:
Transfers  to and from Ercan Airport in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to METU-NCC Campus
4 nights at Campus Guest House with breakfast
4 lunches
2 Sunset Dinners (all drinks included)
1 Dinner Banquet (non-alcoholic drinks included)
Guided Historic/Cultural Excursion
Abstracts of no more than 350 words may be submitted online only – http://www.differenceandsolidarity.org/

For any questions or concerns please see our website, including the FAQ page, or contact the conference organizers at the email address below.
Conference Organisers:
Scott H. Boyd
Middle East Technical University – Northern Cyprus Campus
Paul Reynolds
Edge Hill University


Being slightly poorer might actually enrich our lives – Telegraph

How weird is this? I find Janet Daley’s columns morbidly fascinating given that, in a manner not dissimilar to Simon Heffer, she often seems like an unusually clear spokesperson for the neoliberal world view in the broadest sense of the term. So when she begins to write peans to declining living standards, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that a crisis of moral confidence is beginning to set in amongst the ruling class:

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe profoundly in the value of mass prosperity and the ability of free markets to deliver it: the personal freedom, self-determination and dignity that come with financial independence are transforming for individuals and for the societies in which they are generally available. And yet, and yet… through this very independence that comes with relative wealth, something has been lost.

She then goes on a bizarre trip down memory lane, recounting how a lack of affluence in her upbringing went hand-in-hand with solidarity and mutual aid (presumably now absent from her life in exchange for the ‘personal freedom, self-determination and dignity’ that she enjoys as a wealthy columnist and leader writer). Apparently the 1970s were a moral golden age for an ‘impoverished’ British middle class before renewed affluence inflicted a plethora of pathologies on a blighted people. Furthermore traditional working values were mysteriously ‘junked in favour of celebrity culture and materialism’ (as if cultural shifts occur in a vacuum). All in all it sounds like Janet Daley thinks neoliberalism has been a bit shit really, in spite of all the virtues she has spent a career imputing to it. So now, thankfully, we can recognise that ‘there might be a chance to recover something valuable that has been almost forgotten’.

Wow. The article is so weird that it’s almost difficult to know what to make of it (particularly when one reads it in terms of Charles Moore’s admission that he is starting to think the left might actually be right). I’ll have a stab at understanding it though: the rambling weirdness of the article is not a function of Daley’s intellectual vacuity (she is an extremely bright woman) nor ideological incoherence (on the contrary the ex-philosopher is a resolutely consistent advocate of neoliberal doctrine). It’s a sign that the empirical claim on which her entire political framework is founded is finding itself more trenchantly falsified with each passing day. With this comes disorientation, inconsistency and a vague nostalgia for the past – a reassertion of ‘traditional values’, imbued with a moral charge that she herself (possessed of ‘dignity’ and ‘self-determination’) escapes in daily life.

Anyone else get the feeling that the neoliberals are going to get really nasty and moralistic rather than let go of their dogmas?