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Art and Political Conflict

A public debate at Framer Framed, Tolhuistuin, Amsterdam,
Sunday July 6, 2014 – 14.00 – 17.00 hrs

The relationship between art and political conflict has been significantly reshaped by the proliferation of digital media and the internet as a means of instant dissemination of images, texts, and audiovisual expressions. Artistic /activist actions intervene via these digital means into an expanded symbolical space that is no longer the sole sanctuary of artists and art audiences, but instead has become the ‘neural fibre’ of everyday life.

NYT SE Iraq War Ends

‘Special Edition’ of the New York Times, July 4, 2009 – “Iraq War Ends”. A spoof edition by a coalition of artists and activists, distributed in print and online.

At first sight this seems to have simplified the task enormously of art that wants to intervene in daily life, not least in urgent political affairs. However, the intervention of art in political conflict has turned out anything but uncomplicated in recent years. The idea that art can address pressing social, ecological and material issues in a wider public domain to some extent presupposes a democratic context that is willing to absorb and respond to this criticism. When this context is absent, in the face of authoritarian rule, amidst tightening ideological domination, the efficacy of artistic/activist intervention is called into question, while unpredictable detrimental results of actions further complicate the situation.

Recent outpourings of artistic/activist protest for instance in Turkey and Russia seem to have amplified the tightening of authoritarian rule. The hopeful beginnings of the uprising in Syria (once dubbed the “Syrian Cyber-Revolution”, suggesting the image of a bloodless revolution) have descended into a nightmare. The rise of violent sectarian religious fundamentalist movements in the wake of the various crises in the Middle East have rendered the arts all but speechless. How can artists respond to such extreme deployments of brutal political force, and what responsibilities do they face in staging political dissent? How can art, as a predominantly secular ideology, produce a counter-weight to the ideological closures of fundamentalist religious (mass-)movements?

This public debate is organised at the occasion of the Tactical Media Connections research meeting at the Tolhuistuin, which marks the start of a public research trajectory tracing the legacies of Tactical Media and its connections to current forms of artistic / activist media practices. Tactical Media had been identified in the 1990s as an emerging practice at the intersection of art, media, political activism and technological experimentation. Tactical Media are media of crisis and opposition. Tactical Media crack open the media, cultural, and political landscape. Completely without innocence their operations are never uncontroversial or straightforward.

The debate will be staged inside the exhibition Crisis of History
( ), which presents the works of young artists from the Middle East that investigate the Modernist dream and what is left of it. The exhibition includes, inter alia, the provocative Jihadi Gangster series by Aman Mojadidi (Afghanistan), the video Children of the Left by Urok Shirhan (Iraq), and the demolition of Mecca in the installation Ground Zero by Ahmed Mater (Saudi-Arabia).

With: Brian Holmes (writer, art critic, translator, activist), Robert Kluijver (Curator of Crisis of History), Paolo Gerbaudo (Researcher, writer, lecturer King’s College London),  Simona Lodi (director Share Festival Torino), Ozge Celikaslan (Video Vortex Istanbul)

Moderators: David Garcia (artist, researcher, co-founder Next 5 Minutes) & Eric Kluitenberg (writer, theorist, editor in chief Tactical Media Files).

Framer Framed at the Tolhuistuin
Buiksloterweg 5c, Amsterdam.
Sunday, July 6, 2014 – 14.00 – 17.00 hrs.
Admission: free

For updates on the Tactical Media Connections public research please refer to our blogs:

Documentation of the evolving practices of Tactical Media is collected at:

Further materials are collected in the website of Brian Holmes’ ‘Tactical Media Generation’ project:

This debate is organised in collaboration with Framer Framed
( ) and the Tolhuistuin (

Tactical Media Connections is supported by the e-culture program of the Creative Industries Fund NL.


Re-reading de Certeau: Invisible Tactics

By David Garcia

In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis.”
Quentin Crisp –The Naked Civil Servant

The art and activist movements that arose in the wake of the internet revolution, have come closer than any of the avant-garde groups of the last two centuries to realizing the modernist utopian dream of universal collective participation in cultural production and the rise of a “mass intelligentsia”, attaining what romantic modernists from Novalis to Joseph Beuys aspired to when they declared “every one an artist”. The rise of social media and other so called “walled gardens” may be domesticating the internet but the drive to expand and intensify the ideal of democracy remains the “true north” of the internet revolution.

Although this drive for mass participation has been at the core of the utopian avant garde art for generations it was generally believed that this possibility of mass dis-alienation existed only as potential, a potential that the masses simply did not have the power to actualize. However an alternative view emerged with the publication in 1980 of “The Practice of Everyday Life”, in which the Jesuit scholar, Michel de Certeau proposed that an invisible world of mass cultural participation far from being a distant utopia already existed albeit surreptitiously in a twilight realm of what he called ‘the tactical’.

Michel de Certeau

Michel de Certeau

Although technology and communications were not a primary concern to de Certeau, it was he who substituted the term “user” for the less active “consumer” describing the purpose his work as bringing to light  “.. the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term “consumers“. [1] This substitution was influential in creating an alternative to academic cultural studies based on the politics of representation and shifting the emphasis instead towards a more active, practice orientated “user language”. This prescient inflection towards user participation contributed to the emergence of a new perspective in which the consumer came to be recognized as equally important as the worker and in which the primary power relations were analyzed in terms of a key dichotomy he introduced based on the relative positions of the strategic vis – a – vis the tactical.

The User Language of Every Day Life

Every day life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others” [2]. So wrote de Certeau “The Practice of Everyday Life”, a book which arrived at a much richer and more supple picture of the realities of cultural politics than were available as the staple diet of the Cultural Studies movement of the period. In place of an identity politics based on critiques of media representations, de Certeau introduced a less deterministic emphasis on the uses to which audiences put media representations, the multiple ways in which these forms are tactically appropriated and repurposed by consumers.

For de Certeau cultural production could only be fully understood as multiple acts of co-creation in which the consumer was never merely a passive recipient but rather an active though unequal, participant in the creation of meaning. Above all he saw the act of consumption as a form of production. “To a rationalized, expansionist and at the same time centralized, clamorous, and spectacular production corresponds another production, called “consumption.” [3] by convening a new discussion in these terms de Certeau provides a language appropriate to profound changes in social, economic, and power relations taking place “where the figure of the consumer takes center stage alongside (or even instead of) the worker, or better where these two figures are merged. Hardt and Negri thus speak of “affective labor,” [4].

At the core of “The Practice of Every Day Life” is the distinction between tactics and strategies. Although consumers are full participants in the creation of meaning it is nevertheless a highly unequal relationship. He defines strategy “as a calculus of force relationships when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an environment.” [5].… a place where it can “capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances.” [6] In contrast he describes the tactical in more labile, and poetic terms that suggest a distinctive style ” in which the weak are seeking to turn the tables on the strong. Tactics must depend on “clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, the hunter’s cunning, maneuvers, polymorphic simulations, joyful discoveries poetic as well as warlike they go back to the immemorial .. “intelligence displayed in the tricks and imitations of plants and fishes. From the depths of the ocean to the streets of the modern megalopolises, there is a continuity and permanence of these tactics“. [7]

When de Certeau began to write of tactics in the late 1970s he was describing a largely speculative and barely visible twilight realm. Invisibility and subterfuge was part of the point, to a degree he was making a virtue out of a necessity. As he put it “The making” in question is a production, a poesis – but a hidden one, because it is scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of “production” (television, urban development, commerce, etc)”….”it is dispersed, but it insinuates itself everywhere, silently and almost invisibly, because it does not manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.”  [8]

From Invisible Tactics to Tactical Media

Although de Certeau’s ideas became influential among cultural studies theorists of the 1980s it was not until the early 1990’s that mass access to cheap and easy to use media put these powerful expressive tools in the hands of users. It was this fact that propelled de Certeau’s twilight world of barely visible tactics into the light of day. With visibility came the reflexivity that enabled a new and increasingly self-conscious form of cultural practice to emerge. A constellation of distinctive but overlapping practices: artists, hackers, political activists, independent media makers coalesced into a previously un-named movement which a network of artists and activists associated with the Amsterdam based festival The Next 5 Minutes, dubbed tactical media. [9], which successfully exploited the cracks that had already started to appear in the edifice of traditional broadcast media as the internet began to take hold.

Tactical media gave a home to a growing number of artists who whilst repudiating the politics of the contemporary “art world” were unwilling to relinquish the utopian legacy of the avant garde which (in contrast to the disciplinary regimes of party politics) placed a high value on the liberating power of expression in politics. This “Expressivism” can be traced back to the eighteenth-century Romantic rebellion against the rationalist utilitarianism of the Enlightenment and was the first major social movement in which artists played a central role. In part this was because of the inspiration drawn from the movement’s founding philosophers particularly Herder and Novalis whose writings gave a new significance to the power of language (or expression), proposing that “in a world of contingent horizons, our sense of meaning depends, critically, on our powers of expression…” and “that discovering a framework of meaning is interwoven with invention” [10]. . The centrality of the expressive dimension in Romanticism accounts for the important role played by artists, but with the important caveat that the expressive freedom and possibilities of self-creation enjoyed by artists were also the rightful legacy of all human subjects. Connecting these deeply rooted historical aspirations of universal expressive participation to new media is a key factor in understanding how the ideal of democracy has been transformed ever since its fate became linked to the internet.

de Certeau would have been initially gratified by the degree to which the tactical ‘user’ he championed has emerged as the ‘prime mover’ of the social web era. He would however have noted that not only is his dichotomy between the tactical and the strategic positions still intact, it also continues to be accompanied by the familiar asymmetrical balance of power. But he would also have encountered a world in which the Internet’s distributed architecture has changed the rules of engagement, creating new spaces for both a vastly increased level of tactical user agency along with instruments providing unparalleled levels of command and control.

The network theorist and free culture activist, Felix Stalder’s recent work helps us to revise an re-locate the position tactical and the strategic domains for the era of the social web in what he calls the front end and the back-end. The front end where the actions may be “decentralized, ad-hoc, cheap, easy-to-use, community-oriented, and transparent” and the back end, which are “centralized, based on long-term planning, very expensive, difficult-to-run, corporate, and opaque. If the personal blog symbolizes one side, the data-center represents the other.“…” there is a growing tension between the dynamics on the front-end (where users interact) and on the back-end (to which the owners have access).” [11]

We see this in many conflicts taking place between Stalder’s strategic back end and the tactical front end. An illuminating skirmish took place during the media coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. In which the Los Angeles based journalist Guy Adams, reporting for the Independent, an important UK national daily, tweeted about the poor coverage given to the opening ceremony by NBC. Adams concluded his tweet by transmitting the corporate address of the boss of NBC urging people to send tweets and e-mails. Twitter immediately suspended his account. It later emerged that Twitter had alerted NBC in order to trigger the complaint that legitimized the suspension. Behind this apparently trivial conflict was the fact that Twitter and NBC had established a commercial partnership to transmit the Olympics. It was the first content partnership Twitter had ever established with a broadcaster of this size. The kinds of tensions on display are clear enough, the avowed commitment of Twitter to being an open platform committed to free speech trumped by the need to keep an important commercial partner happy. The immediate consequence of the suspended account was an uprising from the Twitter user community with hash tag, “NBC fail” or “fail NBC”. As a result three weeks later the account was reinstated along with an apology in a Twitter blog post saying “we apologize we did alert NBC officials and that was wrong”.

The continued tactical resistance of users, whether as temporary ad hoc interventions or more sustained organized networks such as wikileaks or Avaaz require an approach founded on perpetual experiment “Install, update, crash, restart, de-install,” a digital version of Becket’s dictum “Fail, fail again, fail better“.


1. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Every Day Life 1984 University of California Press.
L’invention du quotidien. Vol. 1, Arts de faire’ (1980). P. xii. (Originally published in French as L’invention du quotidian in 1980 it was perhaps not until its translation by Steven Rendall in 1984 that his ideas started to gain wider influence.)
2. ibid P. xii
3. ibid P. xii
4 . Steven Shavero’s Blog – The Pinnocchio Theory – Blog entry title: A Mcluhanite Marxism? Posted April 17th5.
5. Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Every Day Life, P.xix
6.  ibid P. xi .
7. ibid P.xii
8. ibid P.xii
10. Charles Taylor – Sources of the Self, The Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge University Press, P.22
11 Felix Stalder, Between Democracy and Spectacle:  Front-End and the Back-End of the Social Web, The Social Media Reader, 2012, New York University Press. P.248

‘Tactical Media as Virtuosic Performance’ by Rita Raley added to Tactical Media Files

With kind permission of the author and publisher we have added the introductory chapter of Rita Raley’s book ‘Tactical Media‘ (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) to the Tactical Media Files resource.

You can find it here.

The introduction is included as a pdf document and includes the table of contents, cover, and bibliographic data.

Below some more information about the book by the publisher:

Raley_Tactical_Media_coverUniversity of Minnesota Press: “In Tactical Media, Rita Raley provides a critical exploration of the new media art activism that has emerged out of, and in direct response to, postindustrialism and neoliberal globalization. Through close readings of projects by the DoEAT group, the Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Civil Disobedience, and other tactical media groups, she articulates their divergent methods and goals and locates a virtuosity that is also boldly political. Contemporary models of resistance and dissent, she finds, mimic the decentralized and virtual operations of global capital and the post-9/11 security state to exploit and undermine the system from within.

Emphasizing the profound shift from strategy to tactics that informs new media art-activism, Raley assesses the efficacy of its symbolic performances, gamings, visualizations, and hacks. With its cogent analyses of new media art and its social impact, Tactical Media makes a timely and much needed contribution to wider debates about political activism, contemporary art, and digital technology.”

Rita Raley is Associate Professor of English, with courtesy appointments in Film and Media Studies, Comparative Literature, and Global Studies. Her primary research interests lie at the intersection of digital media and humanist inquiry, with a particular emphasis on cultural critique, artistic practices, and language (codework, machine translation, electronic literature, and electronic English).

Rita Raley’s faculty page:

Tracing the Ephemeral: Tactical Media and the Lure of the Archive

This short text was co-written by David Garcia and Eric Kluitenberg  at the occasion of the start of the Tactical Media Files Blog, which was launched a short while ago. The text repositions some ideas about the Tactical Media phenomenon and the relevance of the term today, as well as its inherent contradictions. We focus in particular on the aims of the Tactical Media Files as a documentation resource for the practices of tactical media, and the problems this inevitably invites.


Tracing the Ephemeral: Tactical Media and the Lure of the Archive

by David Garcia and Eric Kluitenberg

Tactical Media emerged when the modest goals of media artists and media activists were transformed into a movement that challenged everyone to produce their own media in support of their own political struggles. This “new media” activism was based on the insight that the long-held distinction between the ‘street’ (reality) and the ‘media’ (representation) could no longer be upheld. On the contrary, the media had come to infuse all of society.

To challenge dominant (strategic) structures in society, it was necessary to
develop new (tactical) means of producing and distributing media. Not a
specialised task separate from the social movements, but a key activity
around which social movements could coalesce.” [1]

(From “About the Tactical Media Files“, October, 2008)

Tactical-Media-Blank_on_WIn 2003 media theorist McKenzie Wark wrote “Tactical media  has been a productive rhetoric, stimulating a lot of interesting new work.  But like all rhetorics, eventually its coherence will blur, its energy will dissipate. There’s a job to do to make sure that it leaves something behind, in the archive, embedded in institutions, for those who come after.” [2]

The Tactical Media Files, operating as a repository of “traces” of experience,  knowledge and tactics goes some way to answering this call for “something to  be left behind in the archive”.

But the archival must feed a living stream of practice. And so McKenzie  Wark’s text requires some qualification, nearly two decades after its initial  articulation the rhetorical energy of the tactical has not entirely  “dissipated or blurred”. Though full of contradictions Tactical Media has remained strangely persistent. In part because it is more than a rhetoric it is above all a practice. In the era of WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring it is clear that rumours of its passing have been greatly exaggerated. The fusion of smart encryption, smart phone movies and social networks transmitting and receiving in real-time has redefined tactical media from “contingent and local” to being no less contingent but now, certainly global.

The opening sentence of The ABC of Tactical Media (1997)  remains accurate “Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap ‘do it yourself’ media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture“. Tactical media is literally “what happens”, it is factual, indexical, pragmatic, something that can be observed, an outcome of the way certain processes in society and culture connect to evolving technological infrastructures.

Tactical Media activities have the greatest impact when two apparently contradictory imperatives are, not so much resolved, as held in dynamic equilibrium. On the one hand there is the imperative to “engage the unbreakable link between representation and politics” (CAE) and on the other hand the recognition that the politics of representation “are badly adapted to an understanding of the increasingly infrastructural nature of communications in a world of digital media” (Matthew Fuller. Towards an Evil Media Studies). [3]

As for this Tactical Media Files  – it is a documentation tool for these ephemeral and fleeting processes – it is not an anthropological undertaking, because it participates actively in what it documents. It is not a science, not an institution, but much more of a tool, an intervention, but one with more long-term aims. More practically we want to create something of a memory, however incomplete, of the practices of  tactical media, knowing that these practices are always in a hurry to ‘move on’. .

Tactical Media has always existed in an uncomfortable space between a fluidity of practice that by its nature resisted or outright refused to be named, and the recognition of constantly being ‘saddled with designations’ by those who are uncomfortable with the unnamed (CAE). More than a desire this fluidity of practice has been recognised as a necessity to continue to be able to deploy a nomadic practice that can engage seemingly unalterable social and political practices, and avoid being captured or co-opted by the very forces that Tactical Media practitioners set out to critique and overcome.

CAE observe that “traces and residues are far less problematic than strategic products, which come to dominate the space in which they are placed“. ‘Monumental’ works are for them the ‘great territorialisers’, that refuse to even surrender space. For CAE they are the ‘great negaters of generative difference’, the ‘engines of alienated separation’ [4]. The operation of freezing living practice and everyday life in an authoritative archive embraces the monumental to impose its reading on history. It is the embodiment of strategic power and in every aspect the very anti-thesis of the ‘tactical operation’ and hence of Tactical Media. And yet we know from historical experiences that the monument can be appropriated to become a key-site for social struggle and transformative change.

Our ideal has been to be able to construct a ‘living archive for tactical media’, a task we have as yet not achieved and one we may never be able to fully live up to. With the notion of a ‘Living Archive’ we aim to create a model in which documentation of living cultural processes, archived materials, ephemera, and discursive practices are interwoven, drawing on the possibilities opened up by open source on-line database and content management systems, and digital audio and video technologies. Documenting the ephemera of Tactical Media thus becomes a dynamic open ended process that acts upon present and future events and is simultaneously acted upon and rewritten by these events and their outcomes. The Living Archive can never become an immutable repository creating a stable foundation for the ‘production of meaning, but instead acts as an active discursive principle emphasising the contingency of historical development.

Based on this ambitious and probably unattainable but nonetheless necessary theoretical starting point we accept that we can only move forward with small steps. We look upon the Tactical Media Files website as a inevitably incomplete documentation resource for tactical media world-wide, not a definite repository that crystallises or defines a field of practice. It was born out of the need to trace a rich interdisciplinary field of cultural and political practice that was fading fast amidst the violence of the ubiquitous real-time presence of the present and its destruction of (the possibility of) memory.

Creative imagination requires a degree of forgetting, but critical awareness equally requires a degree remembering. The Tactical Media Files has to navigate this precarious balance.


Modest steps towards an active engagement

We write this short text to mark the start of a new and rather unassuming extension to the Tactical Media Files, by starting up a Tactical Media Blog. This blog will allow us to trace  and indicate more flexibly relevant activity that connects to the sensibilities of tactical media’s evolving practices. The blog is also an appropriate space for commentary and personal observation, and perhaps for discussion.

The distinctive triangulation of hacker culture, experimental art and radical politics, and its manifestation in the streets, remains the essential circuitry from which tactical media draws its energy. The fact that “new media” are not new any more is precisely the point. Clay Shirkey was correct in pointing out that  ‘Communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get  technologically boring.’ The real political opportunities inherent in DIY media politics arise precisely at the moment that they appear most banal to those always anxious to move on to the next big thing.

The question remains how and where to construct a space for dialogue and social interaction, a dimension that a living archive would certainly require. As much as we believe that the distinction between the street and representation can no longer be upheld, we also do not believe that the ‘social’ can emerge through the purely disembodied and mediated encounter in electronic circuitry – we need physical interaction.

Scale and infrastructures

We have to tread carefully in order to be able to move in the direction of the living archive – we can organise smaller scale meetings and appropriate temporarily, in a continuous nomadic movement, existing infrastructures, but the real challenge is to build a sustainable infrastructure for the ephemeral.

One thing that has been learned is the importance of scale, of reaching  beyond the safety of true believers. WikiLeaks has demonstrated the power of operating globally, and engaging uncompromisingly with mainstream media,  reshaping their practices by beating them at their own game. But these gestures remain tactical in that they are temporary, nomadic and ultimately fleeting.

Felix Stalder has accurately described some of the inherent contradictions of the Tactical Media concept, pointing out that “providing  infrastructure for projects is a long-term rather than a tactical task that  quickly overburdens loose networks.” [5]  We must be aware that in tracing the ephemera of tactical media practices we can never beat the ‘monumental’ archive at its own game, nor should we want to do so. It is necessary to develop a sustainable space rather than a monumental one.  And this we would argue is our task, to build a strategically sustainable infrastructure in order to remain tactical….


1 – About the Tactical Media Files:

2 –  McKenzie Wark, Strategies for Tactical Media (2003)

3 – Towards an Evil Media Studies
(for The Spam Book, Jussi Parikka and Tony Sampson eds.,
forthcoming, Hampton Press, New Jersey)
Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey

4 – Critical Art Ensemble, Digital Resistance (2001)

5 – Felix Stalder, 30 Years of Tactical Media (2009)


Protest Camps – some reflections on a framework of analysis

This text is a response to the posting The Tactics of Camping by Eric Kluitenberg. It builds on ongoing research of the authors into the history of protest camps as an organisational form. Some further responses can be found in the web archive of the nettime mailing list for net criticism.

TMF editors


Protest Camps – some reflections on a framework of analysis
By Anna Feigenbaum, Fabian Frenzel, Patrick McCurdy

From Tahrir Square to Trafalgar Square, from the Puerto del Sol to the streets of Oaxaca, protest camps are a highly visible feature of social movements’ activism across the world. Protest camps are spaces where people come together to imagine alternative worlds and articulate contentious politics, often in confrontation with the state. Protest camps are global phenomena, occurring across a wide range of social movements and encompassing a diversity of demands for social change. They are spaces where people come together to imagine alternative worlds and articulate contentious politics, often in confrontation with the state.
Based on empirical research into a variety of protest camps, we have developed a framework of analysis for protest camps. Importantly we understand them as a unique organisational form that transcends particular social movements’ contexts.

Climate Camp Kent, Kingsnorth, 2008

In what remains an ongoing project, we would suggest that there are are four key attributes that appear generalisable to all protest camps. It is not our objective to develop a structuralist account of protest cams reminiscent of resource mobilization approaches but, instead, use these thematic areas as threads to tie together diverse sets of protest camps. This allows us to tell stories (across time and space) about how protest camps are created and set up, how they converge and diverge, and how they share similarities and differences. These four identified areas are: (1) domestic infrastructures (food supply, shelter, sanitation, maintenance of communal and ‘private’ space); (2) action infrastructures (direct action tactics, police negotiations, legal aid, medical support, transportation networks); (3) communication infrastructures (media strategies, distribution networks, production techniques); and (4) governance infrastructures (formal and informal decision-making processes). As these organisational dimensions dynamically interact, they enable and hinder each other, creating specifically configured protest camps.

This approach is allowing up to compare and contrast divergent camps and to argue for a new reading of protest camps as emergent, often radically democratic political spaces. Because of their specific character, we argue that protest camps have the potential to enable an experience of new and alternative forms of democracy for participants, although not all camps aim to produce this effect or necessarily have it. Showing how protest camps configure their infrastructures to enable the experiences of participation, collaboration, collectivity and mutuality, we hope to contribute to the understanding of alternative forms of governance and political participation.

Domestic infrastructures

Something which differentiates the protest camp from other place-based or space-based social movement gatherings and actions is activists’ willingness to forgo the comforts of a ‘normal home'; to brave the elements, living in muddy fields, up trees or on cemented city streets. From this perspective, the protest camp disrupts the very notion of what constitutes a home, and with it, our understanding of public and private, of domestic and undomestic space, as well as our attachments to property and permanence.

2pm, and vans full of people converged from secret venus all over London. By 3pn the site was secure with tripods and a circular fence.

2pm, and vans full of people converged from secret venus all over London. By 3pn the site was secure with tripods and a circular fence.

Of interest is how protesters engage in acts of home-building by examining the emotional, affective and interpersonal communicative dynamics that exist between people and objects in the everyday material-symbolic lives of protest. From cooking to cleaning, and shelter to sanitation, protesters and supporters work together to build temporary homes at these sites of protest. The scale of this domestic infrastructures ranges from semi-permanent wooden dwellings and cultural centres to the minimal necessities needed to sustain direct actions. How do activist generate–and fail to generate–domestic infrastructures for and through their everyday operations in relation to their differing objectives. We would argue that people’s perspectives toward each other, as well as towards objects and ideas, are largely shaped through collective acts of home-building that demand a great deal of both physical and emotional labour.

Action infrastructures

Protest Camps are often made to enable political action, and in particular direct action. To target political institutions, power plants or roads, camps form bases for attacks, enabling training and collective strategic planning of direct action. Our work examines how camps function as sites of preparation for action, both in a theoretical and in a more practical sense. Many protest camps are developed to enable action in remote locations, for example rural sites of road construction, mining or international summit meetings, where housing and feeding of non local activists needs to be provided to enable large protest mobilisations. This instrumental origin of some camps as enablers of protest continues in the set up of training sessions inside the camp. Here activists learn from each other how to do direct action, whether facing police lines or blocking access to contested sites. The logistics of actions are also prepared at camp, for example by distributing maps of key targets, or enabling the formation and co-ordination of affinity groups. Furthermore, the collective housing set up at camp also provides spaces for action debriefs, informally and formally, in which activists reflect on their experiences. As actions can be very intense both emotionally and physically–and often carry legal consequences–medical, psychological and legal support is sometimes provided within action infrastructures, taking on forms such as ‘well-being spaces’ and medical caravans. Beyond these forms of preparation, training and debrief, action infrastructures of protest camps often include a number of formalised and informal discursive spaces, whether planned workshops or everyday conversations around a camp fire. Here camp participants develop and exchange arguments that reflect on and justify their actions, sustaining the energy and focus needed for future confrontations with political adversaries.

Camp Communications Infrastructures

While thirty years ago peace camp newsletters were often hand-written, mimeographed and distributed by post, today mobile phones come pocket-size with cameras and short-run video capabilities. Laptop computers and wireless internet access has enabled temporary autonomous media stations to be set up at protest sites, such as those run by Indymedia at Noborders camps, Climate Camps, and Global Summits. These offer live updates of text, photo and video, keeping both protest campers and the broader public informed. Likewise, some protesters seize and appropriate corporate and state-run media tools, such as Oaxaca women’s take-over of channel 9 during the teacher’s rebellion. At their best, these media stations create spaces for democratic, participatory news-making and skill-sharing, from which people offer a diversity of perspectives and outlooks.

Much has been written about alternative media and the role it plays in relation to social movements. However, little of this writing discusses how activists’ engage communication technologies and produce media at the physical sites of protest. We propose to discuss protest camp-based communication practices and media, including media stations and the making of promotional materials, press releases, newsletters and documentary video. We view each camps’ media as part of a broader historical trajectory of activists’ new media practices, expanding our focus to pre-internet and pre-digital cultures to argue that today’s communication practices and infrastructures are heavily shaped by past movement cultures as they came into contact with new devices and platforms.

Governance Infrastructures

How are camps run, how are decisions made? Often protest camps act politically as democratically run spaces. At times camps create clear infrastructures in the form of neighborhoods and spokes councils based on principals of horizontal decision making, while others are run less formally and spontaneously. Some of the larger camps develop further differentiation, creating roles in specific specialists groups like media teams, conflict resolutions committees and mediators. Generally, there is a wide variety of governance infrastructures observable in a variety of camps. These infrastructures are developed according to needs, largely based on national, geographic, economic and cultural contexts. They are frequently based on participants’ prior experiences with self-governance, and indeed camping.
While many differences exits between camps, it is possible to observe learning processes trans-nationally and over time as they occur both between camps and across different social movements. This makes it possible to identify successful approaches on how to run a camp. We argue that the formalisation of internal governance infrastructures is a key signifier of the ‘maturing’ of the organisational form of protest camps. Likewise, the importance of internal governance and its related infrastructures seems to increase when protest camps act less instrumentally as a tool to support action, and more towards larger goals of alternative world-building. In these latter camps, internal governance is explicitly organised as a form of radical democratic action, becoming a distinctly advertised quality and justification of the protest camp.

Alternative world building / Emergent political spaces

Climate Camp Heathrow, 2007

Protest camps are political spaces of high intensity, where democracy can be experienced and experimented in a live form. Often camps are only set up instrumentally to support action in remote locations, sometimes they occur spontaneously without a plan. But even in such cases, we can identify the emergence of four infrastructures, domestic, action, communications and governance. Highlighting these, we show the development of material cultures of protest, combined with new ways of living as they are formed in and by the camps experience. Concurrently we often found evidence of the development of strong collective identities within the camp, which triggered the creation of internal democratic processes. These processes are challenging and surely not always pleasant. They tend to create insider and outsider dichotomies between different camp participants, depending on their level of involvement. Indeed, internal divisions and conflicts are the key to understanding protest camps as alternative worlds and places of radical democratic experiences.

These experiences of alternative cultures and governance cannot be made in the regular political process. In the regular democratic process the pains and potentials of participation are limited by institutions that formalise the decision making process. Moreover politics is institutionally separated from life. Protest camps enable the development of alternative ways of housing, feeding, entertaining and living together, alongside innovations in political actions and democratic processes. This is why protest camps are more than just ephemeral places or instrumental strategies of particular social movements. They are laboratories of radical, tangible democracy that more often than not help to imagine and build blueprints for alternative worlds.