London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship

13 December 2012, 17:30 - 19:30

Event Type:
Room 234 (Senate House)
Venue Details:

Senate House 
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU


Anne Alexander (CRASSH, University of Cambridge): 'Notes on an interpretative framework for understanding digital media and revolution: conversations between Vladimir Lenin and Walter Benjamin in Tahrir Square'

January 2011 marked the conjuncture of two historical processes: the eruption of open war between ‘the people’ and ‘the regime’ with the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt took place in the context of the accelerating adoption of digital communication technologies on a global scale. This paper will argue that while the Egyptian revolution was the result of a long-maturing systemic crisis of the Mubarak regime, the fact that it took place in a communications environment which was undergoing rapid change with the diffusion of digital tools, and particularly Web 2.0 technologies, created new, and often unexpected interactions between both processes.

The imprint of proprietary tools such as Facebook and Twitter has been a striking feature of the narrative of the Egyptian revolution which has often been projected to Western audiences. By contrast this paper will argue that the Tweets and Facebook postings of the revolution can only be understood within the wider context of a rapidly evolving revolutionary communications infrastructure which spans leaflets, newspapers, posters, stencils, films and live performance as well as myriad forms of digital content. This process also traced new circuits between print and digital – with images from Twitter recycled into revolutionary newspapers, to the digital afterlife of the ransacked archives of Mubarak’s State Security police on Facebook and the web, and the distribution of stencils for revolutionary graffiti via social reading platform Scribd.

Using insights from two 20th century theorists of media and revolution – Vladimir Lenin and Walter Benjamin – I will propose an interpretative framework for examining how some of the principal affordances of digital technologies (their capacity to create endless perfect copies, enable almost instantaneous and frictionless distribution of those copies, and converge all forms of information into a bitstream) interacted with the collective efforts of revolutionary activists and organisers in the workers’ movement to transcend the affordances of the existing political and social system.