Here I summarise a few of my recent or upcoming publications: An art review, an academic paper and news about the new book.
I created a programme for a Journalism course which I found interesting to share.
I wrote a short piece for The Conversation UK about the so-called evangelical news in Brazil.
As What's App becomes the standard chat app, I ponder on the app inevitability based on a few McLuhan's insights.
After my PhD, part of my 2018 was dedicated to ensuring that all the research I did in the last three years could come to life.
I believe this is one of the most underresearched aspects of social media. The extent to which poverty and inequality could mirror different kinds of self-representation, either by selfies and short text posts on the Internet.
I took on the example of Brazil’s favelas. First because of the past of these communities in the media. They are since a long time de-humanised, de-personalised, and stereotyped; either in telenovelas, films, and in popular discourse. Based on this background, I could check whether the Internet could allow fresh images to flourish and influence the mainstream society.
I first approached the possibilities of new online ‘subjectivities’ from favelas a few years ago for the Discovery Society. Now, I deepen in how these subjectivities can fructify. I discuss the opportunities surrounding the online favelado in a more practical sense. What can they make it of themselves by being online? Below I clarify some of the conceptual tools I used in this research.
What is personality?
I simplified the understanding of such deep psychologic notion by limiting my interest in a generic form of media expressions on the Internet as models for personality.
Despite so many definitions, my aim was to accept the common sense of organised forms of “accounts”, “patterns of feelings.” In my perception, textual references or imagery could embed many of the attributes of personality:
Personality is a system of parts that is organized, develops, and is expressed in a person’s actions.
Personality is about many things: perception and attention, cognition and memory, neurons and brain circuitry…We try to understand the individual human being as a complex whole…[and] to construct a scientifically credible account of human individuality (McAdams, 2006, p. 2).
Personality is the organized, developing system within the individual that represents the collective action of that individual’s major psychological subsystems (Mayer, 2007, p. 14).
Personality refers to those characteristics of the person that account for consistent patterns of feelings, thinking, and behaving (Pervin, Cervone & John, 2005, p. 6)
Social media and ‘personality’
I placed the existence of online personality in contrast with the persistence of past stigmas related to these communities. So I oppose an external inheritance (representation) to a notion of ‘personality’ that stemming from within; from the sharing of everyday experiences on Facebook or Twitter. To what extent could this internal process of self-representing is enough to unmake a background of inherited stereotypes?
I qualified personality also based on social media interactions. It is true that what we call ‘IT skills’ involve a range of socially-approved behaviours and goals that point to a rather limited form of consensus; But it is possible to look, for instance, at the occurrence of likes as exercises of personality without believing that those who don’t like it on social media wouldn’t have done it if they could.
Another conceptual difficulty of studying poverty within social technology is to go against these platforms’ design. Its commercialism is embedded in tastes and possibilities of its participants. However, even if the use of filters and geotagging are ways to “show off,” which is not in the best interests of the poorest, it could still reveal if poverty is likeable or accepted.
In the end, I targeted the display of personality directly from the content of users’ publications. On the one hand, this approach has not allowed me to extrapolate to the whole issue of social media usage by favela-based users. On the other, it was not possible to assume that every social user was living de facto in a favela, I had to be limit my use to references to the geographical favela. Let’s see some results.
Representing and self-representing
This repeated display of personality could be captured through practices of representing or self-representing.
Representing on a media perspective exists in the well-watched telenovelas, for example, which has mirrored the life of millions as soft, sympathetic and suburban-like in Avenida Brasil. Internationally, favelas could be stages for drug dealing and violent police Films such as in films such as City of God or Elite Troop. Those are representations.
Then, self-representing appeared as the opposite of these generalist portraits. If not entirely contradicting this past of injustice and violence seen in the favelas, self-representing constantly pointed to the unmaking of the hegemonic face of poverty. In this sense, I tried to build
not only how poverty defines online personality, but how it leads to other roles and responsibilities assumed by such producers.
Self-representing, whether by expressions, images, and roles described in this content, led me into three main roles that emerge as the contemporary possibilities of the favelado once he or she assumes the control of its authorship. In my First Monday article, I described these roles in its entirety. Below I give you a brief description:
Favela media producers as leaders
Personality in favelas is historically tied to past models of community leadership. While calling themselves journalists, bloggers, and content producers, media producers from favelas distance themselves from the image of these leaders. In other words, there was no evidence that the former individuals have had any influence over interviewed producers through any platform.
In reality, much of what producers have mentioned is about being themselves with their personal habits and tastes. This ‘individuality’ comes up as opposed to speaking on the citizens’ behalf. Fewer producers have said to feel proud of the individuals that used to speak on behalf of the favela, but in a memorialising way.
Favela media producers as journalists
I did not sight that what I conceptualised as ‘self-representation’ is still an advanced affordance that might not be available for all the citizens, as it was for the interviewees. However, those which have voiced it out had positioned themselves as if belonging to a fusion of journalist and amateur content producer.
In fact, media studies literature has said much on the re-invention of alternative media producers as journalists, as well as on how fluid are the barriers of the profession. But as a self-representation, being a journalist has meant a range of things, from informing (in partnership with the mainstream media or not) to finding what to do, organising events, claiming importance. Poverty as a topic of their practice has been directly associated with each producers’ publication.
Favela media producers as culture promoters
Some content has indeed displayed personality in a more conventional way. By doing what they call ‘showing off’, favela media producers could not escape from posting pictures of their stay in whatever hotel rooms they were in (some of whom do it for the first time), or underlining their consumerism habits.
By doing so, they try to bridge their personality with the average middle-class person personality. The difference is that they also open space for burst pipes leaking water, or for the shootings in their communities. There is much of sharing of the Sunday’s barbecue or the pagode in the middle of the streets as it has of bodies lying on the pavement.
Conclusion: New forms of personalising the periphery
The approximation of poverty from social media platforms happens to the extent that these platforms allow these interspersions between the soft and hard aspect of life; whether the favela personality is based on rap, hip-hop, funk, and on transgender singers or personality as a range of constraints faced on first hand (although it is evident that this is persistently their ‘real’ life.)
Thanks to social media, I argue, personality exists in individuals’ well-known hardship, but as different forms of authorship spread through the Internet, the narrative of pleasure and power mingles one of oppression and fear, being the latter increasingly losing ground to the former.
This phenomenon I called the “personalisation of the periphery” which praises individualism and merit but also allows leadership, journalism, and culture amid an increasingly mediatised battle against urban chaos and violence.
In sum, the online favela tends to reduce the cult of the charismatic community leader. This image might still echo on the mass media, but it says more about the mainstream media inability to truly engage with dwellers’ emerging personalities than it denies the existence of more nuances of the process (the new soap operas do not necessarily address these individuals, as seen in other studies.)
In this way, even under several limitations of social media as a representational tool of poverty, this contrast between soft and hard aspects of the discourse has the fluid personality from these communities as the main phenomenon, which deserves a further exploration.
In times of political crisis, could this favela personality change towards a more politicised self? Could it forge a political voice amid the current right-wing turmoil? Could it stop the capture by consumerist forces? All these questions demand scholars’ engagement in methods and scope.
Stuart Hall’s considerable influence in the UK and abroad stems from his cultural, sociological and political trajectories (Back & Moreno Figueroa, 2014; Roman, 2015; Zhang, 2017), as these areas perfectly articulated throughout his life (Solomos, 2014). Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Penguin, 2017) is an excellent opportunity to glance over them in both personal and academic terms.
For those who aim to engage with the thought of the famous sociologist, Hall’s memoirs provide available, panoramic guidance. For those, like me, who seek in him the Jamaican immigrant, it is refreshing to see that the man has, in fact, lived in and out the establishment.
In reality, by centring the book’s narrative like that of a “stranger”, an image that Hall kept of himself until later life, editor Bill Schwarz allowed that a stream of conversations could unfold logically. We go through many of the doubts and concerns that spring from Hall’s move from Jamaica and become a witness of his awakening as an immigrant in Britain.
Kind, but mind-blowing, the emotional portraits of Jamaica appear to depict a place stuck in time. Many of these snapshots show how life in the colony is far from an assimilated narrative. Britain continued, by many senses, “present” in modern Jamaica.
The range of everyday situations that derive from Hall’s background is essential reading for anyone interested in seeing how colonialism works. Primarily because it is neither monochrome nor solemn: it was the White British man mocked on the streets of Kingston for its colourful clothes and excessively formal gestures; it was the Jamaicans’ detailed reproduction of the old British class order.
Indeed, Hall refuses to assess colonialism on binary grounds. Instead of “pessimism” (Jhally, 2016), one finds in his accounts a sophisticated dynamic that stirs a set of unrecognised identities. Colonialism is the drainage of other people’s culture and wisdom, as it is a lengthy collection of myths that will serve to probe the invader’s superiority.
The voice of the immigrant that underpins all this is the same of the academic. This is indistinctively a feature of Hall’s work (Ang, 2015). But we cannot stop perceiving how the former overshadows the latter. Tales of his life illustrate much of his theoretical points much more efficiently. For instance, his perception of physical difference, which manifests since his early stages of life (he was “the darkest” of his family). That context can clarify why he struggles in seeing himself as the “bursary-holder, Oxford student”, highlighting the “young colonial” who came to struggle with the vast collection of imperial icons.
This active consciousness of being “the other” while putting his efforts into developing familiarity with the concepts of this adopted nation creates an ambiguous scenario-setting throughout the book. The ability to accept and refuse the status-quo is something recurrent: on one side, Hall contradicts his otherness by engaging with British society at length; on the other, he enlists differences that do not go away.
Questions emerge on the nature of colonial or post-colonial taxonomy, if only for its epistemic view to be challenged. Hall quotes his wife Catherine (Hall) to ask: is Kettering a city in Northamptonshire or the little coast town in Jamaica of his memory? Allegorically, this sort of comparison also serves him to go back and analyse his family’s past behaviour, so black and yet so colonial.
Like many foreigners living in the so-called global cities of our time, Hall stashes away “colonial” moments to disclose them in crucial moments. For him, this continued ambivalence of an immigrant’s consciousness mustn’t reach the level of cynicism but as a by-product of diaspora: “I characterise my particular brand of being ‘out of place’ as the product of a ‘diasporic’ displacement.” Bhabba’s “in-between” or Du Bois’s “double consciousness” are two of the thought-inspiring theories on which he draws during the conversation.
To break away from the early colonial life, to join the ex-Empire, then find himself moving towards a “re-birth” amid post-colonialism are phases of Hall’s life that – amazingly – did not lead to resentment, or at least we don’t know it from the book. Despite the fact that he became the political protagonist and member of the academic elite that we know, his experience seems to have been one of discomfort, mainly when his political life had led him to tacit negotiations that entailed the racial, economic divides in Britain.
Familiar Stranger covers, for instance, the strategic ‘forgetfulness’ of the ex-Empire when new generations of Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean immigrants arrived in the 1950s. For Hall, nobody could have possibly revived the memory of the British hosts, as they seemed to ask: “Who are these people? Where are they from?” The “disavowal of a collective force” has clashed with the long-dreamed expectation of millions who saw the British land as the promise, as in reality, it was the big “illusion” (a feeling also carried by Hall’s? it does not become not clear).
That the settlement of the colonial experience fails, Hall is aware, but where he dwells more often is on the link with the following decades of hardship, racism. Quoting the late 1950s’ riots as a response, Hall remembers how the “Windrush” generation would find itself continuously reacting to the most blatant racism in the media as a result. Readers might wonder what Hall would have made of 2017’s Grenfell Tower in flames.
Furthermore, the last two chapters of the book try to harmonise this back-and-forth journey from colonial to postcolonial, finding a possible projection of England as “home”. Hall lays out the case of Henry James, the White American author. James is one of the few literary names to grasp a broader diasporic side of living in Europe. James’ loyalty to his origins appears in his sense of impersonating a kind of immigrant that fearlessness assesses his position at the heart of the colonial heritage.
Again, we are back to discuss taxonomic choices. Hall’s prefers “British” over “English”, as he sees the latter term being “denied” for someone of his skin colour. By making these exercises of meaning, Halls settles his condition in British society, perhaps as a neutral element. Partner to a white woman; member of UK’s “radical” New Left; a protagonist in academia, these were his safe ports, as he categorically asserts: “I wanted to change British society not to adopt it”.
Nonetheless, some questions remain: Is complete integration, as we know, as Hall knows it, still a viable or replicable experience? How do we remember a younger generation of colonial or post-colonial taxonomies and repertoires in the age of identity-based positions? What place has the immigrant’s truth amid the ever-reproducing colonial myths? Is Hall’s genuine independence of mind still available for us, 21st -century immigrants in the UK and elsewhere?
Living the adopted reality without “giving himself away” is Hall’s inspiring tale of his life as an immigrant, from which we learn his unique mode of diasporic thinking (Rizvi, 2015).
In times of turbulence for immigrants around the world, and migratory journeys to Britain made increasingly harder (to be worsened after Brexit), Familiar Stranger enlightens on the impossibility of integration. As Eric Hobsbawm also mentions: A Polish man migrating into the UK will be a Polish man in the UK, not a new arrival to the “community”.
In the face of a wide range of limits imposed to any idea of one’s insertion in contemporary, cosmopolitan society, within and outside cultural borders, Hall’s reassessments can inspire a broader reflection on the everlasting effects of colonial taxonomies. This is seen to this date: the detachment (or forgetfulness) of the British locals on crucial aspects of their legacy around the world, as well as the detachment of the new immigrants of their adopted nations’ past.
In both cases, Hall’s voice still tells us that settling down in a foreign land should not drive one’s acceptance of inherited meanings as a given, but an invitation to adequately and moderately challenge them as they manifest in the everyday routine.
Ang, I. (2016). Stuart Hall and the tension between academic and intellectual work. International journal of cultural studies, 19(1), 29-41.
Bhabha, H. K. (1996). Culture’s in-between. Questions of cultural identity, 1, 53-60.
Back, L., & Moreno Figueroa, M. (2014). Following Stuart Hall. City, 18(3), 353-355.
Hall, S. (1993). Culture, community, nation. Cultural studies, 7(3), 349-363.
Hall, S.; Schwarz, B. (ed.) (2017) Familiar Stranger: A life between two islands. London: Penguin.
Roman, L. G. (2015). ‘Keywords’: Stuart Hall, an extraordinary educator, cultural politics and public pedagogies. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 36 (2), 161-170
Rizvi, F. (2015). Stuart Hall on racism and the importance of diasporic thinking. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(2), 264-274.
Solomos, J. (2014). Stuart Hall: articulations of race, class and identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(10), 1667-1675.
Zhang, L. (2017). How to understand Stuart Hall’s “identity” properly?. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 18(2), 188-196.
Two fresh publications feature the life and work of academic and postcolonial thinker Stuart Hall: Familiar Stranger (Allen Lane) and Selected Writings (Duke University Press). Both were reviewed by Tony Jefferson for a recent edition of Theory, Culture, and Society. On Familiar Stranger we find:
“Originally conceived more than 20 years ago as a short dialogue outlining Hall’s intellectual trajectory, it grew to a manuscript of ‘over 300,000 words’(xiv) at the time of Hall’s death in 2014. Schwarz was then faced with a massive editing job and then, after discussing with the publishers, recasting everything ‘as a first-person narrative’(xv). The fact that it reads so smoothly is a testimony to Schwarz’s labour and his ability to ventriloquize Hall: ‘Some parts are verbatim, while many others have been constructed from fragments’(xv).”
Indeed, after reading this first book, it is evident that Hall’s depth and originality feels much untouched, even though Schwarz, the editor, admits in the preface to have worked hard to glue what were actually multiple excerpts. In fact, some parts were actually collected by email or during conversations, as Stuart Hall’s health deteriorated, delaying the book’s launch. The editor’s strategy has made the whole thing make sense as the book reads according to the sequence of Hall’s life in the UK. On Selected Political Writings, it is said:
There are seven essays on ‘The New Left and after’, eleven on ‘Thatcherism’ and three on ‘NeoLiberalism’, which are book ended by a concise contextualising ‘Introduction’ by the editors and an unfussily succinct ‘Afterword’ overviewing ‘Stuart Hall as a political intellectual’ by Michael Rustin. 54 years separate the first and last essay; but you would hardly know it. The themes are those thrown up by the changing political scene: changes in political parties (like post-war changes in the Conservative party, the birth of Thatcherism, the crisis of Labourism, the formation of a new social democratic bloc, New Labour); broader shifts (e.g. in class relations, political commitment, the New Left, racism, the growth of authoritarianism, new times, neoliberalism); and dramatic events (like the Cuban crisis). But the continuity in approach is remarkable.
This remarkable political trajectory is another chapter of the complex genius of Hall’s. In the end of the books, the reader will have witnessed a kind, but profoundly aware individual on the limitations of life in the so-imagined metropolis. At the same time these limitations aren’t enough to stop what turned out to be a strong engagement and frenetic militancy, to the extent that it often overshadowed that of the native inhabitants of the ex-Empire. As Jefferson asserts on Hall’s multiple lives:
Add to this the ‘double consciousness’ of a diasporic intellectual and one can begin to see the origins of an expanded view of the political and impatience with reductive thought of any kind.
The full review can be accessed here. To complete Hall’s deserved revival in Brexit Britain of 2017, a podcast presented by Ben Carrington fleshes out the multiple impressions Hall has caused during his academic life. Here, there are debates on immigration, racism, colonialism, and conscious Marxism that emerge in the voice of his ex-work partners, colleagues, and admirers. It is really worth listening, delivered in a fine-cut radio show in accessible and didactic format for non-UK spectators.
As we witness phenomena such as Momentum, Labour’s digital assemblage that pushed for Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 General Election, we might want to remove digital activism out of commonplace. Beyond the rhetorics of the “phenomenon”, “social media-led change”, scholars have challenged the actual ICTs penetration in these activist realms by contrasting their relationship with digital capitalism. To what extent can they become bedfellows on what concerns commoditization, immediacy, and “digital labour”? These are central questions for Veronica Barassi in Digital Activism on the Web: Every Day Struggles Against Digital Capitalism.
This is an ethnography of three distinct groups of activists. First, she studies a UK-based initiative aimed at working for a positive image of Cuba, much connected to the UK left. The second one is a young collective battling for better public spaces in Milan. And the third NGO is based in Madrid, with the purpose of promoting politicized ecological discussions.
Barassi sees a gap in critical theories of the digital as they fail to address realistic settings. This could be solved by delving into the political roots of activists/users, inquiring into the self-referential language of the social networks. This failure at going deeper with what activists do, developing a closer look at their history and sense of strategy once on social media, for example. That could reverse the trend of having “thin” approaches to digital activism, as a “thick” approach would be one of more empiricism, cataloguing behaviours, mapping the real intention behind the use of digital assets in the everyday activism. To what extent participants are conscious not only of technologies, but of its implications, such as the evils from digital capitalism.
Indeed, digital capitalism can be a rather controversial concept. Barassi resolves it by furnishing her activist ethnography with three stable notions. By assigning categories such as the “self-centred communication and individualism”, followed by the “user-generated data to profit”, which leads to a discussion on “digital labour”, we are guided through the principles of her exploration. Aware that these areas are also objects of unresolved disputes among scholars, Barassi opens these concepts to further interpretations. In dialogue with similar explorations of networked activism, as seen in Castells (2011) or, more recently, in Gerbaudo (2012), Barassi’s attempt to rethink some of such meanings seems more settled as a kind of anthropological perception.
The author first focuses on activists’ self-projection through digital tools. The book skips normative divides such as the “new” and the “old”, “networked” or “non-networked” movements, as that would be to otherwise confirm a “thin” perception. Instead, We find the interesting idea of media imaginaries. While not necessarily connected with the digital capitalism discussion, we understand, for example, the reasons why a white-male group of activists from the UK has sought to transpose an “ideal” of Cuba to the heart of British politics. Crossing present, past, and future scenarios into the same media imaginaries appears as a key resource for them.
Back to the digital problem, Barassi’s ethnography intends to avoid a techno-determinist approach. For that reason, details on activist organizations emerge here as a priority for the study, as well as discussions on their routines. This conscious focus on the “human” part to some extent contrasts when activists admit that the Internet has” radically changed every day practices” (54); it does not get clear how exactly this came to happen or to what degree their role as ordinary Internet users coexists with that of activists, or if both remain the same.
Barassi comes to later concede that activists switch between both receptors and participants of the technological agency. However, likening activists’ opinion on technology with ideas of adoptions or concessions with the digital capitalism discourse seems a bit of a stretch. We risk to naturalize the action of corporate Internet giants, such as Google, by assuming that some of its interventions over people’s lives are not our concessions (browse on it, for example), while other actions (advertising, marketization) are so. The premises according to which one considers what digital capitalism is and where it extends to, how it is perceived, would need a bit more of development, under the risk of becoming too arbitrary.
On the other hand, by interpreting the interplay between activism and digital life through ethnographic data, we learn that activists are prone to negotiate the technological agency along with other values. Technology is the advent that gives a contemporary shape to their gestures, but which does not affect a hard, long-standing political core. Barassi treats this duality very well by allowing the digital discourse to be a “contested space of meaning” (60). At one level the role of the corporate web is expected and pictured by the activists, at another, this is about each user’s idea of what the digital means to their lives.
Two final points approach the pressures from technology and its effects. The first one is about the “self-centred” nature of social media as an attitude-influencer. We realize that activists are rather critical of the “networked, individualist self” of the web, but that opinion seems to appear marginally, or on a case-by-case basis. In other words, activists might be self-centred, but a narcissist social media does not seem to affect collective processes of meaning and engagement, as they continue to acting as regular users.
On digital labour, insofar as no real consensus exists on this controversial topic, this book does not seem to side with the “techno-optimist” theses. Whether by clicking and liking exists as a type of work or not, digital labour embodies a rather virtual concern to the activists. Regardless of the kind of digital labour we are talking about, participants argue on the creation of a different type of “value”. Eventually, this particular kind of labour will not necessarily follow a capitalist logic, rather, it resembles a representational goal, aimed at mocking “social worlds”, not necessarily a sort of production system (96).
As seen, activists’ accounts can inform the limits of the digital media usage, but it also sets the limits to scholars appropriation of this topic because it leads them to conform with much subjectivy from each user. Social movements’ action suggest much more complexity of terms such as digital labor, individualism, or immediacy than one would imagine. Therefore I wonder if an ethnographic approach is still what best suits this study. In reality, conversations have better worked to show that discussions on technology happen at a different pace when consumerism and technology are confronted with the activism reality. The book could have been slightly bolder by trying to translate other adoptions or refusals by activists, yet it shows a good use of the ethnographic when it focuses on purpose, rather than to confirm patterns for use of technology.
It is noteworthy that the author can give a fascinating account from the ground. By visiting meetings, closely talking to activists, or relating to their past or present experiences, Barassi creates a valuable set of data that is captured under non-spectacular, media-oriented circumstances. Pity that the constant reference to “capitalist” discourses seems to lack echo in many of the activists’ testimonials. Instead of “digital capitalism”, activists seem to cope with the pressures of a generic “digital mind-set”, which may rival their old principles and offline loyalties.
The approach for activist magazines at the end of the book gives us a quick glance on how the legacy of struggle is far from being memorabilia. This part deserved to be further extended, perhaps by extracting more discourses from their past and comparing what we have in the present, if this doesn’t make another study. Overall, Barassi’s book has succeeded in demonstrating that, as far as activists acknowledge the pressures to adjust to a world of constant “new” digital capital, they also embody an ambiguous, slow-paced analogic side. In these negotiations, one must not assume that sides – pro or con – will be necessarily chosen. In that sense, Barassi’s book is a balanced and realistically grounded exercise.
Barassi, V. (2015). Activism on the web: Everyday struggles against digital capitalism. Routledge.
Castells, M. (2011). The rise of the network society: The information age: Economy, society, and culture (Vol. 1). John Wiley & Sons.
Downing, J. D. (2000). Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications.
Gerbaudo, P. (2012). Tweets and the streets: Social media and contemporary activism. Pluto Press.