I spoke to @chunkymark on Tuesday. The discussion is available here. Mark has 25,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and at time of writing he has had just over 6 million views. He also has over 20,000 Twitter followers and over 4,800 friends on Facebook with these two platforms being the distribution network for Mark’s videos (I am happy to be corrected on this by Mark).
A few points to clarify and build upon what we discussed in the video.
1) The tools that Mark is using are readily available to everyone. The videos are taken with an IPhone 4 (I believe) but nearly all phones now come with reasonable cameras as standard. Ever declining costs of data storage etc means that such trends, as has been the case over the last decade, will only continue. Mark recorded the interview with his phone and uploaded it straight to YouTube. From the beginning of the interview to its uploading and availability online was around 20 minutes.
2) These trends increase the 'bandwidth' of individuals. While they do not make organisations obsolete they massively impact their composition and can make incumbent ‘legacy’ organisations such as unions appear incredibly unresponsive. While this was nearly always the case in practice there is now an evident difference, for everyone, in how the tools they use to organise their social lives and communicate intuitively feel at odds with the communicative infrastructures for what are shown to be as obsolete organisations.
3) This does not mean that ‘networks beat hierarchies’. The best ‘hierarchical’ incumbents will instrumentalise these trends to their own advantage - one example being the use of social media in the 2008/2012 Barack Obama campaigns. At the same time many ‘networks’ will bureaucratise in order to not see a drift in their message - one example being UKUncut (this has its own comparative advantages and disadvantages). The big trend is that the very essence of an ‘organisation’ is very much up for grabs. The costs of engaging in (wait for it) ‘multi-directional channels of communication’ [Benkler 2006] are dropping by the day. This has profound implications for the kinds of people able to act towards collective goals. The kinds of capital and resources required to do this have massively dropped - while they still exist this means that many groups and individuals, previously incapable of acting collectively, now can.
4) Just because everyone can hear you doesn’t mean anyone does - the internet provides a space to speak to a global audience. Nonetheless performance and content are as important as ever. For those groups and individuals (like Mark) now engaging in multi-directional communication channels this is imperative. Meaning and narrative now shifts from the formation and defence of collective identity to identity formation in relation to others. The morphology of the network society is the binary between the network and the self. This gives rise to new kinds of singularity and autonomy, which in turn lead to experiments in togetherness and group formation - both online and offline.
5) As ever organisations have choices as to how they achieve their goals, activists have choices about what kinds of organisational forms they wish to develop and experiment with, and people have choices about what organisational forms they wish to engage with and contribute towards (Bimber, Flanagin and Stohl 2012). If anything the present moment can therefore be characterised by such choices expanding at every level rather than contracting. Furthermore it is beyond doubt that some incumbent organisations will remain and even thrive in the new conditions. An abundance of organisational forms are subsequently implicated within this landscape, a state of affairs which Crowley and Skocpol (2001) have referred to as “organisational fecundity”. This fecundity includes organisational hybrids (Chadwick 2007), federated network structures (Flanagin, Monge and Fulk 2001) networks of organisations (Bennett, Breunig and Givens 2008; Stohl and Stohl 2007) and altered organisational strategies in public life (Bimber 2003). Further to these there are spontaneous and large scale manifestations of collective action without any identifiable organisational forms at all. One might include within this category high school walkouts in LA in 2006 and perhaps more controversially the large-scale rioting that has returned to Europe in the first decade of the 21st century with France in 2005, Greece in 2008, England in 2011 and Sweden in 2013.
6) Communication is not distinct from ‘organisation’. Both foster sustained relationships between individuals, establish shared antagonisms and grievances and identify appropriate tactics and responses. Current trends mean a very permeable relationship between communicating and organising (The Daily Kos in the United States offers one very evident, established example of this.)
So what is to be done?
1) We should not think that organisations are over and that we can organise for political change without organisations - at the same time to imitate organisational forms of the past which were adapted to entirely different communicative conditions is insufficient and…stupid. It is very capital intense and produces comparatively poor results. The fact that those on the ‘left’ seeking to start a new political formation immediately attempt to reproduce the party-form illustrates a poverty of imagination and a preference of strategy based on fetishes over contemporary conditions, the tools to hand and the kinds of possibilities these now provide.
2) The scope for new kinds of organisation around mutual aid - in court support, monitoring police transgression, fighting changes to the welfare system - are exploding. A great deal can be achieved by a small group with few identifiable resources over several years. Real Democracy Ya! which led to the 15M movement in Spain (which came to have 2-8 million people claiming they had participated in some way) was initially a Facebook Group and Blog. It was this small group which led began a process where the PSOE (the socialist party) became obsolete overnight. Get in touch with existing groups like Defend the Right to Protest, South London anti-fascists, GBC legal, Boycott Workfare and Local Foodbanks to identify how you may wish to participate or contribute to their excellent work. If this can be tied in with local organising then mores the better. An effective online community only requires several people to operate and it can exercise very interesting and powerful relations to offline action - the two are not mutually exclusive.
3) Write, blog, talk, record - as already said the current moment is characterised by the broadening of individual’s ‘bandwidth’. If you believe in prison abolitionism, no borders or if you think work is shit - talk about it, and in a medium of your preference. No-one can represent your grievances better then you can. There are very large and growing communities of interest where you will be listened to, where you can contribute and, over time, where you can act collectively. ‘Theoretical’ output should not be seen in opposition to practical organising - there is a profound need for ideas that focus on dealing with the crisis, elderly care, a world without borders and prisons.
Communication is not distinct from organisation; joining groups is an increasingly permeable process; no activist group is going to fight on your behalf - you have to; incumbent organisations such as political parties care very little about your needs and desires - but we know that, criticism is always useful but we must also create organisations, networks, friendships and ideas that can overcome them, transform them and make them an artifact of history.
Let a hundred thousand ChunkyMarks bloom!