The Human Agency of Revolution

FistScholar Tarak Barkawi argues revolutions are caused by human agency; not telecommunications technologies, in Al Jazeera:

To listen to the hype about social networking websites and the Egyptian revolution, one would think it was Silicon Valley and not the Egyptian people who overthrew Mubarak.

Via its technologies, the West imagines itself to have been the real agent in the uprising. Since the internet developed out of a US Defense Department research project, it could be said the Pentagon did it, along with Egyptian youth imitating wired hipsters from London and Los Angeles.

Most narratives of globalisation are fantastically Eurocentric, stories of Western white men burdened with responsibility for interconnecting the world, by colonising it, providing it with economic theories and finance, and inventing communications technologies. Of course globalisation is about flows of people as well, about diasporas and cultural fusion.

But neither version is particularly useful for organising resistance to the local dictatorship. In any case, the internet was turned off at decisive moments in the Egyptian uprising, and it was ordinary Egyptians, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, who toppled the regime, not the hybrid youth of the global professional classes.

For more information, see original article.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, agency really is the underlying principle in any revolution, isn’t it? Revolution represents the tipping point when an enfeebled elite is no longer able to suppress the frustrated energies of the constituents it supposedly serves.

    People just want to be heard. I think It’s a relatively small handfull (albeit the most violent handful) that feel an actual need to run the whole show themselves.

    As elementary as that would seem to be, it doesn’t really get said often enough. I suppose that’s why we fritter away good air time ascribing the transformations to the mere existence of the tools used rather than contemplating the enduring intensity of People’s need to be heard and the depths of ingenuity they employ to acheive that end.

    The tactical implications of technology for revolutionaries, their availability and deployment, deserves serious study. But probably not, as this article suggests, complete attribution of the revolution itself. Apart from being just plain silly, it does rather come off as an advertisement. Can’t wait for Twitter to be running ads on television:

    “Twitter: Twevolutionize Your Life”

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, agency really is the underlying principle in any revolution, isn’t it? Revolution represents the tipping point when an enfeebled elite is no longer able to suppress the frustrated energies of the constituents it supposedly serves.

    People just want to be heard. I think It’s a relatively small handfull (albeit the most violent handful) that feel an actual need to run the whole show themselves.

    As elementary as that would seem to be, it doesn’t really get said often enough. I suppose that’s why we fritter away good air time ascribing the transformations to the mere existence of the tools used rather than contemplating the enduring intensity of People’s need to be heard and the depths of ingenuity they employ to acheive that end.

    The tactical implications of technology for revolutionaries, their availability and deployment, deserves serious study. But probably not, as this article suggests, complete attribution of the revolution itself. Apart from being just plain silly, it does rather come off as an advertisement. Can’t wait for Twitter to be running ads on television:

    “Twitter: Twevolutionize Your Life”