My book project, tentatively titled “Appropriate, Negotiate, Challenge: Activist imaginaries and the politics of digital technologies” examines the relationship between contemporary social movements and digital media, by considering how activists think about the politics of digital technologies and how they imagine the role of technology in their struggles for social change. I develop the term “technological imaginary” to study how social movements construct discourses about technology and its political implications.
The book argues that activists’ technological imaginaries are shaped by and shape the politics of contemporary movements. On the one hand, this means that technologies are imagined through a political lens, which is specific to each movement; this imaginative work takes into account the ideology of these movements and the political context in which they are embedded. On the other hand, technological imaginaries influence the political action of these movements, enabling some options, and constraining others. In particular, I suggest that although social justice-oriented movements are pushing back against Silicon Valley, their reliance on corporate digital technologies seems to limit their ability to imagine political and technological alternatives.
The premise of the book is that activists are exposed to a mainstream, dominant technological imaginary, deployed by Silicon Valley actors, which connects digital technologies to social change, and which is embedded in the technology created by these actors. The book examines how activists make sense of this dominant technological imaginary and of Silicon Valley technologies (such as Facebook and Twitter), by looking at how movements create their own technological imaginaries.
Through an empirical analysis of three contemporary leftist movements in Hungary, Italy and the United States, based on interviews, field observations, and a novel creative research method I created, the visual focus group, I propose a typology of activists’ technological imaginaries, based on how they respond to Silicon Valley’s imaginary: imaginaries of appropriation, negotiation, or challenge. In so doing, I show that movements’ imaginaries are shaped by the political ideology of activists and by the political context in which they exist, and that they shape how activists think about the political possibilities available to them.