Presentation Format

I had the idea to present our research as an instagram account, @translationacrossdisciplines, after a meeting where Zhui Ning discussed the ineffectiveness of traditional media and academic research in the face of climate change and also from Maryam’s work about the power that words and imagery have together. It would also follow the recent trend of introducing more academic perspectives onto social media in order to pull academia down from its ivory tower.

One example of this is Maggie Matić’s instagram secondary instagram account @maggiematic connected to a google drive where she shares resources and articles that she has found interesting whilst completing her PhD in Contemporary Visual Feminist Culture. She also posts about certain articles/books she has found useful and also provides her own resources in order to make academia more accessible such as a glossary of terms about feminist theory.


Another more extreme example of academia being integrated into social media is the account @ripannanicolesmith where Kristen Cochrane, a PhD student studying Film and Moving Images Studies at Concordia University,combines critical theory with internet meme culture and pop culture icons. They are amusing yet somewhat jarring as she is freely mixing what some would regard as high and low culture, making the academia accessible whilst also adding criticism and analysis to pop culture.

For our research project, I thought that it would be interesting to present it via and instagram account because even though we have this blog, it would be good to have a record of our presentation that would be freely accessible to others interested in how social media can be used to mobilise people in the face of climate change, perhaps even utilised by activists currently in XR and Youth 4 Climate. This releases our research into the public sphere in a quick and accessible format. However as the slides are primarily for the purpose of a presentation rather than for the sole aim of informing an instagram user some areas are less coherent than others but if we had more time I would have liked to have designed a more informative cohesive account that could be understood entirely without the need for it to be presented. Yet despite its flaws it does introduce some theorisation and sources that would be valuable to others doing similar research projects in the way that Maggie Matic’s instagram account is. I think that it is an interesting way to present research as personally I often feel like a lot of the work I do enters into an academic abyss after I have handed it in and gotten my grade back never to be thought of again. I am not so arrogant as to think that my undergraduate essays would make any significant contribution to the discourse. Nevertheless it is satisfying to have something ‘to show’ for the work we have done on the project and something that is so easy to share with friends and family who are outside of the bubble of King’s College London, so that they can see what Liberal Arts actually is and the interdisciplinary work we produce.

Social Media and Mobilisation Reading

Philip N. Howard et al., ‘Social Media, Civic Engagement, and the Slacktivism Hypothesis: Lessons from Mexico’s ‘El Bronco’’ in Journal of International Affairs, 70(1), 55-73.

An article that debates to what extent social media can result in meaningful mobilisation of people. Although it is speaking about political engagement, with a case study on a Mexican state governor candidate, I think it raises points that can be applied more broadly to the role of social media in creating activism.

  • Slacktivisim hypothesis: if citizens use social media for political conversations, those conversations will be fleeting and vapid – supposition that if internet or social media use increases, civic engagement decline

Pro-slacktivism hypothesis:

  • Most political and activist groups are still in the dark on how best to mobilise people
  • Main difficulty arises because citizens’ decisions about how much to participate in a cause depend on how they perceive the efforts of the leader/organisation
  • Among advanced democracies, social media seems to have resulted in only modest forms of activism, such as petition signing or sharing political content from affinity groups over networks of family and friends
  • Content shared over social media relating to politics usually consists of short messages shared by people with short tempers in short conversations – conversations are often anaemic, uncivil or polarising
  • During major political events/when an issue is a particularly topical, social media users will use platforms to learn about and interact with issues, but they tend to acquire new knowledge that is favourable to their preferred viewpoint – digital echo chamber
  • Social media use causes people to turn their social networks into ‘filter bubbles’ that diminish the chance of exposure to new or challenging ideas
  • Questions how much new information can be found? On the other hand, topics and subjects you are interested in are easier to find e.g. facebook events
  • Now the importance of social media is clear: multiple examples of traditional social movements that have scored impressive victories through their effective use of social media, as well as new social movements that have originated online and become stable civil society actors
  • Complicated by the growing problem of algorithmic control over social media messaging: automated programmes can be used to activate citizens or to discourage their engagement
  • Evidence that young adolescents’ use of social media – in conjunction with the intent to participate and the consumption of TV news – creates a virtuous circle of civic engagement

Anti-slacktivism hypothesis:

  • Studying how an independent candidate from Mexico won the race for state governor through using social media to communicate with the public and eschewed traditional media outlets – triggered sustained public engagement well beyond election day
  • Demonstrates that social media can be used to sustain a large quantity of civic exchanges about public life well beyond a particular political event
  • Pro-democracy protests: activists and protest leaders say social media was essential to the organisation of the protests
  • When a leader and citizens are comfortable using social media, the impact is positive for both kinds of political actors
  • If candidates for elected office and the public use social media for political conversation, they can create new patterns of civic engagement that can last for months beyond an election
  • I think this can be translated into a climate change context: if leaders of groups, e.g. XR, can engage the public then they can maintain civic engagement that can last for months beyond a high-profile/high-turnout protest

Critical Literature on Media and Climate Change

‘Four cultures: new synergies for engaging society on climate change’
Authors: Matthew C Nisbet, Mark A Hixon, Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael Nelson
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Ecological Society of America (8.6, 2010), pp. 329-221
https://www.jstor.org/stable/25741227

Points:

  • A shift in societal attitudes towards climate change requires a multidisciplinary approach and cannot be managed only by scientists and the scientific community
  • Current state of matters:
    • Scientists tend to bring more and more technical information in response to slow societal reaction to climate change news
    • Top-down approaches tend to ‘fuel polarisation and public disengagement’ (329)
  • Four cultures of environmental sciences, philosophy and religion, social sciences and the creative arts – all required to work in synergy to convince the public to care about climate change
  • Communication research demonstrates that much of the public have no ability or motivation to be informed about the details of climatology, choosing to rely on social identity, cultural traditions, personal experience, localised knowledge and/or popular media to comprehend climate issues
    • Thus the most effective method to rouse action is when it is framed in terms of community values or a subject they are familiar and concerned with
  • One of the proposals was that a digital news community be formed, with the suggestion that social media tools are used to match up members from different disciplines to discover complementary expertise, and to plan and coordinate a diversity of communication and public outreach initiatives

‘Climate Change as Meme’
Author: Samir Nazareth
Economic and Political Weekly (46.2, 2011), pp. 17-19, 21
https://www.jstor.org/stable/27918007

Points:

  • According to Richard Dawkins, memes are ‘cultural ideas which include symbols and practices that can be transmitted through various forms of communication’ (17)
  • Three main memes examined: renewable energy meme, energy efficient meme, and transformation of the pollution meme
  • Memes do not only propagate ideas but act as ways to comprehend complex phenomenon and encourage climate change action

‘Climate change oppression: media production as the practice of freedom’
Author: Grady Walker
Consilience (9, 2013), pp. 97-106
https://www.jstor.org/stable/26476128

Points:

  • Use of participatory media as an effective tool for climate change education
  • Media scholar Henry Jenkins: ‘We are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced’
  • Paper argues that adaptation is as necessary as mitigation to combat climate change, using participatory video distributed online on social media platforms as the main example

Interview extracts

All respondants said that social media played a part in their attendance at the banner making event, with several mentioning the only reason they had heard about it was through a facebook event.

One of our questions was which social media did they think was most influential in informing their knowledge about climate change. Responses were varied, with most people (5) saying Facebook, 2 saying Instagram and 2 saying Twitter.

We also asked which social media platform was most effective in mobilising people to get involved in climate activism. Responses were similarly varied; 5 said Facebook, 1 Instagram and 3 Twitter.

Respondants voiced conflicting opinions about the platform Twitter. Some saw it as important in generating public interest and knowledge around important issues; “just seeing what’s trending gets you interested and knowing what’s going on. So that’s pushed me to be more active and involved in things like this.” However, one student stated that Twitter was “more of an opinion war, which is more dividing than uniting I would say.”

Interestingly, people seemed to use Instagram more as an informative tool than a visual or aesthetic one, which is what the platform was designed for. One respondant said that she is particularly drawn to long captions as a source of information; “people put quite long captions [on Instagram] especially if they’re quite passionate. I feel like that’s where I get access to a lot of activist’s posts… I tend to just go to the caption especially if its really long.”

Many students stated that social media was a crucial organising tool and useful in inspiring people to take action. One respondant said that public interest and pressure from social media motivates others to get involved; “I think the reason that climate change has become something I’m so passionate about is because I see so many people on social media voicing why its important to show up.” She went on to say that social media is “the biggest thing in our generation that pushes people in my opinion. Because it’s where people talk to each other the most… you learn so much from it.”

Although social media clearly played a key role in the success of the banner making event, and also the popularity of the Youth Strike for Climate Justice on Friday, respondants also voiced doubts about the effectiveness of social media in generating political action. One stated that “sometimes it kind of paralyzes you, you don’t know which [event] to attend.” This sense of futility in social media activism was recognised by others; “it’s really easy to think you’re doing something by tweeting a thread about climate change and then not actually doing anything about it.”

Therefore, there seems to be a tension between social media as an informative and organisational tool which is necessary in building political movements, yet also as a tool which encourages apathy or ‘clicktivism’ without any real, meaningful change.

Facebook as an organising tool

Following on from the primary data collected at the banner making event regarding how social media mobilised peoples action in regard to climate change as well as reading ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ and considering Maryam’s findings about the role imagery plays in mobilisiation, I realised that my assumptions about the effectiveness of visual imagery in relation to mobilising against climate change were more of a personal opinion than a widespread feeling. I thought it was interesting that a significant number of interviewees mentioned Facebook and specifically the role of Facebook events in mobilising them.

I remembered a chapter of a book I read in a Second Year Geography module about the role of social networks (meaning personal relationships here, nothing to do with the social networks we now have on the internet) in leading to the formation of the punk movement in London rather than Manchester. I felt that despite being a very different case study some of the theorisation used may provide and insight into why facebook is an effective mobilising tool.

Climate Strike Banner Making Event

On Thursday 14th of March, Issey and I attended a banner making event for the Youth Strike for Climate Justice organised by some students at King’s. We took part in making banners and placards to hold at the protest, and also interviewed attendees in how social media has played a part in their involvement.

For most of the people we talked to, this was their first time engaging in climate activism at university. They had either come across the event on social media or had deliberately sought out events happening that they could attend. It seemed that social media was essential in popularising the event, particularly on Facebook. Several responses involved reflections on how social media has been a very effective tool in informing them about political actions and protests which has encouraged them to take action themselves, including the recent wave of youth strikes around climate justice.

There also seemed to be a general doubt in the authenticity of online climate activism. Some respondents questioned whether people were involved because they genuinely cared about the issue or just wanted to look like they care without taking real action. However, others said that online activists who share their concerns and actions on platforms such as Instagram are key in not only informing them about climate change but also inspiring them to get involved in similar movements. Therefore, perhaps “performative wokeness” can in itself be an important mobilising tool, as it popularises the idea that activism is something we should all be engaged in.

These issues raise interesting questions over the authenticity and usefulness of social media; is it a genuine organisational tool that can mobilise meaningful action and the transformative change necessary to deal with climate change, or an opportunity for people to appear to be involved in trending public concerns without having to engage in “real world” activism that brings about change? Are movements built solely on social media doomed to burn out as the population moves on to the next trending topic?

Clearly the bridge between social media activism and material, transformative political change needs to be gapped. From attending the climate strike in Parliament Square today, it seems that the youth have used social media effectively to enact this. Social media has been a crucial tool in popularising the protest, and the movement seems to be building every day.

Climate Change and Participatory Arts

I have been searching for more secondary sources on climate change and social media, and found this fascinating piece exploring several examples of case studies done in the global south.

Most of our research so far has been strongly London-based and emphasises climate change’s effectiveness on the northern hemisphere and Western countries, but considering its cross-continental effects on the global south with a focus on Asia-Pacific is something worth thinking about too. Perhaps not for our presentation’s central point, but as an issue we can acknowledge – knowing that the effects on the global south, and the differences in social media usage and distribution of technology, will also create a divide in how people approach climate change and the urgency with which they do so.

I found it particularly interesting how social media is used as a tool for participatory arts practices and disaster documentation and archiving, as seen in the following source:

‘Screen Cultures in the Asia-Pacific’
Authors: Larissa Hjorth, Sarah Pink, Kristen Sharp and Linda Williams
Book: Screen Ecologies: Art, Media, and the Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region (MIT Press, 2016),  pp. 57-88
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1c2crsq.8

Points:

  • Social media (particularly mobile media and its platforms) allows users to become active members in the experience, management and aftermath of environmental disasters
    • Example: in Japan, in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in March 2011, mobile phones were used extensively to capture and disseminate images around the globe. For many people, Twitter messages and still and moving images taken with camera phones not only embodied the effect and affect of the disaster but also became the repository for various forms of personal and communal grief and bereavement (Hjorth and Kim 2011)
    • Note that national Japanese broadcaster NHK had deliberately withheld information from the public on the government’s orders
    • Social and mobile media act as both witness and alibi
  • In contrast, those without access to mobile phones had less opportunity to mobilise and take agency in the dissemination of information and media about environmental disasters
    • Example: in the Philippines an initial lack of images surrounding Haiyan was due to the fact that many affected people shared one mobile phone among a family, and most of these phones did not have cameras. Instead the images that emerged from the disaster were by professional photojournalists. They were well conceived in terms of the conventions of photojournalism, with attention to composition, and could be interpreted as being highly contrived. These were not the highly personal, intimate, DIY images associated with mobile media.
  • New media artists e.g. New Zealander Janine Randerson
    • In 2008, Randerson monitored the effects of climate change on animal and bird migration, then combined scientific data visualisation with found amateur footage from YouTube to create her video installation Cascade
  • Camera phone apps and images can be used for documenting, sharing, communicating, and critically commenting on environmental disasters to everyday experiences of the environment, but themselves contribute to the perpetuation of the consumer society that is a factor in climate change
    • Digital platforms break down parameters between the amateur and the professional, leading to a democratisation of media usage and dissemination
    • Camera phone as a critical part of the environment being an embodied and affective experience of place
    • Note that accessibility expansion via social media must be understood in relation to ways in which the technologies are part of globally distributed corporate and institutional power relations supported by national agendas and consumer cultures
  • Mobile media nevertheless still plays a significant role in the making of critical and participatory arts practice in relation to climate change
    • How can environmentally responsible uses of digital media engage in the mitigation of climate change through arts practice?

Week 8 – Meeting Notes

We met and how to address our research the question in relations to our individual research and how to make ties between them. We have worked out a general structure of our presentation and are meeting on Sunday to collate our research.

Looking at our question it is clear to see that the theme of the social media’s role in mobilising people chimes with our earlier intentions (see meeting 30/1/19) to discuss the role of the internet in climate change activism in regard to: Appealing to the public, manifestos and dispersing thier message but throughout our meetings and discussions we have narrowed down our scope of research to social media and mobilisation which is a more specific process that incorporates these themes.

The element of conflict in our presentation is that conflict is inherent in the work of activism, as it is protest against the state as a result of disagreement.

 

‘How can the spectacle of social media be an effective way to MOBILISE people in face of climate change?’

 INTRO

Why the use of social media > its borne out of inadequacy of traditional structures to deal with issue e.g. academia and policy. And using social media b/c it captialises on spectacular society. (Zhui Ning)

– Definition of mobilisation actually creating change.

HOW

– Contextual understanding of mobilisation > how to animate and audience with reference to literary effect of this and specifically look at essays on it. (Maryam)

– How > interview with XR > specificity of case study. (Issey + Ruby)

– Contradictions of how they use social media reflects the contradiction in their organisation/politics. (Ruby)

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

– Visual representation > Whether effective > Critical > if visual imagery if effective in mobilising people (Issey)

– Spectacle of performative wokeness, clicktivism etc.  > does it feed into action or is everything just on appearances with no concrete progress/resulting in change? (Georgie)

CONCLUSION

 All convene with our research on Sunday to discuss

A Case Study – glacier996girl

 

Previously I wrote about fashion and climate change and XR’s utilisation of fashion media’s obsession with the spectacle to increase awareness for their cause via increased media coverage. This week I will look at the work of climate activist Elizabeth Farrell and how she uses the medium of instagram to convey her message.

She uses visual imagery to raise awareness about climate change. She emphasises the important of making climate change visual (which we touched on in our discussion of climate change as a wicked problem and out inability to see if our action has any affect on the outcome). She also mentions ‘the importance of changing the ‘eco friendly’ aesthetic in order to appeal to younger generations to come’1.

Image from Polyester Zine

Like XR she dresses the importance of peer to peer conversation in mobilising about climate change:

“Since I’ve started, there’s been an increase in the amount of people talking about stuff. Young people are becoming more and more engaged. I think the main thing is really just to talk about it and have conversations about it, because it needs to be a political thing and if we are all communicating about what we want then hopefully, eventually that may happen.” 2.

“Communication is number one. The biggest most effective thing you can do is talk about climate change and create as many conversations about it3

It is interesting to see that because of her use of visual imagery her work has been picked up by fashion media and she has worked with with designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Gucci. However recently her activism pace has slowed down, it would be interesting to interview her to ask if this is a result of her workload (she is now studying Geography at Birbeck) or whether she is questioning the impact visual imagery can have in the fight against climate change.

ACTIONS

  1. Later in the week I will be co-hosting a cross-society banner making workshop for  King’s students attending the youth climate strike on the 15th of March. Whilst there I intend to interview the attendees about the role that social media played in their mobilisation/motivation to get involved in climate change protest.
  2. Ruby and I are also intending on interviewing members of the extinction rebellion media team at some point in the near future.
  3. Continue to read Susan Sontag’s ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ to learn more about how members of society respond to imagery.

Further Reading:

Glacier Girl is reinventing the eco friendly aesthetic for the tumblr generation 

Meet Glacier Girl: the hero the world both wants and needs 

The Glaciers: Introducing Elizabeth Farrel 

 

The Society of The Spectacle

A Situationist International detourned poster – I cannot find the artist behind the work.

Last week (26th February) we tried to finalise our research question and decided on:

“How can the spectacle of social media be an effective way to mobilise people in the face of climate change?”

In my essay I looked at the relationship between the spectacle and action/mobilisation in the context of the events of May 1968 in Paris as the concept of ‘spectacular society’ and the other work of the Situationist International movement is often cited as a key influence to the May 1968 movement. In our group project we will be applying the theory of spectacular society to social media and analysing how this mobilises the public in the face of climate change.

The concept of the ‘spectacular society’ was theorised in Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. In this text he formulates that, “The spectacle is not the domination of the world by images or any other form of mind-control but the domination of a social interaction mediated by images”1. As a result we have become ‘slaves to the spectacle of consumerism, entertainment, escapism, work, politics’ 2

The society of the spectacle results from the success of capitalism in fulfilling basic needs necessary for survival. In order to find new markets late capitalism  take a consumerist turn. Debord argues that “the present stage is bringing about a general shift from having to appearing – all having must now derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purposes from appearances.”, late capitalism makes us obsessed with image and appearance above all else. This can be seen in modern advertising however the society of the spectacle is not confined to media/advertising and ‘cannot be understood as a mere visual deception produced by mass-media technologies, it is a worldview that has actually been materialised’. It is propagated by everyone in society rather than imposed from above and is an identification of all human social life with appearances. 

It is clear that societies fixation with social media is symptomatic of the spectacle. Although some argue that the spectacle of social media serves to distract the public from important issues, we will instead be looking at how playing into societies obsession with the spectacle is in fact an effective way of mobilising the public and creating change. 

 

Further Reading: 

Guy Debord predicted our distracted society – John Harris

How Situationism changed history – Luke Haines