Networking Futures

A version of this review will appear soon enough on Social Movement Studies:

The movement against corporate globalization came of age in Seattle at the end of 1999 during the mass demonstration that contributed to disrupt a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the following years it developed into an articulate global(ising) movement. From the initial demonstrations against WTO, World Bank, G8 and International Monetary Fund (IMF) it consolidated into the social forum movement. Spearheaded by the first World Social Forum held in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in 2001, it developed into a vast network of global, regional, national and local events gathering from few hundreds to over a hundred thousand NGO and social movement activists. Its global events have taken place in Brazil, India, Kenya, Senegal and soon in the Maghreb in solidarity with the revolutionary youth of the Arab Spring. What the alterglobalization movement and the revolutions in the Arab world have in common is their fluid nature structured around an intense use of social media, like Facebook and Twitter. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for movement organising has been central from the very inception of the alterglobalist movement. ICTs were crucial, for instance, to coordinate activist convergences in Seattle and global solidarity with the Zapatista uprising in Mexico against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. These technologies are not only instruments of communication, states Juris, but they have contributed from the very inception of the alterglobalist movement to defining it both organisationally and with respect to political values and practices.

Juris has been involved in the alterglobalisation movement for over a decade. In Networking Futures he develops convincing and robust theoretical arguments on globalization and social transformations and on the role of activist networks in structuring the former by influencing the latter. Moreover, he engages crucial methodological issues on researcher’s presence in the field, evidence collection, discourse articulation, participation, observation and engagement. Juris develops a militant ethnography that not only describes the ‘objects’ of research but, by taking ethical and political stands, participates in shaping them and the contexts in which they act and that, eventually, can contribute to the transformation of society at large. Let me address these three aspects — theoretical, methodological and political — in turn.

Networking Futures concerns itself, first, with the relationship between ICTs and the forms of organisation and the daily practices they elicit and, second, with the way in which political values are inscribed in those organizational forms. At a broader theoretical level it contributes to three crucial debates in anthropology and the social sciences: globalization, networking and social movements. By studying transnationally networked social movements Juris articulates a theory of globalisation as multidimensional and pluridirectional; a globalization, therefore, not merely imposed ’from above’ but an outcome of conflictual dynamics at different scales. In these dynamics the new forms of technologically defined activist networks play a critical role and contribute to constructing a globalization ‘from below’.

The fieldwork for the book was conducted both in a situated and networked manner through a methodology that closely mirrored the nature of the activists networks that Juris was part of and was investigating. Network ethnography, according to Juris, should be both place-based and acutely aware of the transnational ramifications of the social movement rhizomes. His research was therefore both long-term place-based fieldwork with the Movement for Global Resistance in Barcelona Spain and multi-sited, as he followed the activists in the protests and gatherings in which they participated such as, among others, the Prague protests against the World Bank and the IMF of September 2000, the Genoa protests against the G8 in July 2001, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2002 and a meeting of its International Council in Barcelona later that year, the No Border Camp in Strasburg in July 2002, the People’s Global Action Conference in Leiden in September of the same year. Moreover, and crucially according to this reviewer, Juris’ ethnography is both embodied and acutely aware of emotions and aspirations at play in mass protests and in transnational networking among activists. ‘I never imagined’ he writes ‘the intense feelings of power, freedom, and solidarity I would experience on the streets of Seattle’ (p. 3).

While contributing to scholarly theorization on the nature of global societies and their transformations, Juris also contributes to the very developments of the movements he writes about making its theorization and its activist work indissolubly linked and mutually constitutive. Juris’ engaged scholarship aims, on the one hand, at contributing to theorize global transformations and, on the other, at reformulating the global political imaginary and the notion and practices of global citizenship. In this sense, his militant ethnography transgresses the boundaries between research and engagement and challenges the separation between analysis and action for change, between theory and practice.

The militant ethnographer, according to Juris, continues her engagement with her partners also after her research is concluded. This engagement is articulated at three levels and illustrates the transformative implications of militant ethnography: as a collective reflection on visions, practices and organisational forms; as a collective analysis of social structures, forms of power and strategies to confront and change them; and collective ethnographic description of social movement organisations, networks, practices and possibilities of outreach. Through these different yet interrelated collaborative efforts the militant ethnographer makes sense of global social structures, recognises social and environmental injustice and contributes towards ‘a powerful and broad-based movement in support of peace, democracy, environmental sustainability and social justice.’ (302) Finally, Networking Futures is an excellent tool both for social movement scholars and students (at both introductive and advanced levels) and for activists and engaged citizens as well.

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