Flickr, Protest, and “Vernacular Creativity:” A Report on Hate 2.0 Research

Post by Erica Fagen

This past month was a busy one in terms of familiarizing myself with literature related to Hate 2.0. I dedicated the month of June to reading up on theoretical and methodological approaches to Flickr and social media more broadly, while engaging with the literature on online protest, creative forms of opposition, and the role, place, and function of emotion, camp, and performance in demonstrations.  This research was critical background reading for how we plan to conceptualize the work of Boeseraltermann (@Boeseraltermann), PM Cheung (@pm_cheung), and Thomas Rassloff (@ThomasRassloff), amateur activist photographers who document neo-Nazi demonstrations and the counter-protests of their opponents. Drawing on this literature, and combing through the hundreds of photographs taken by these three men, I feel well-equipped to begin co-writing our collaborative article on what historians can do with social media. In the subsequent paragraphs, I will discuss what scholarly work I found particularly interesting, as well as highlight plans for the Hate 2.0 article I will be piecing together — here — with Jen Evans.

In terms of scholarly approaches to Flickr — the photosharing, photo album-like utility that came on the scene in 2006 — the work of Jean Burgess and “vernacular creativity” is as fascinating as it is illuminating. Burgess, a media scholar at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, argues that vernacular creativity — the term she gives to the capturing, uploading, and sharing of images, the use of hashtags to connote themes, and posting of comments  —  “drives the development and produces much of the value of the online creative networks that form part of the ”Web 2.0” model of online participatory culture” (Burgess, 118).  Flickr’s photosharing capabilities, then, are as much about the archiving of events as a commitment to the sharing of ideas in diverse and public fora. Vernacular creativity is a useful way of understanding the work of people who share photographs on Flickr.  Although most people on Flickr are not professional photographers, Burgess argues that they are “creative practitioners” who use Flickr because it allows them to be creative with their photographic work. That this creative work is also politically charged and relevant as a form of strategic opposition is an important part of the Hate 2.0 project, and will serve as the backbone of our blog entries and article in development here.

Beyond the literature on Flickr, I also looked at a variety of more traditional historical themes including the history of protest culture, the nature of online protest, avant-guard imagery and popular opposition, and the emotion and performance of protest in situ as well as online.  I read about online participatory culture and the links to real time opposition in Thomas Poell and Erik Borra”s article on the #g20report hashtag, which activists used during the G20 protests in Toronto (Poell and Borra, 1-19).  Written by a historian and data scientist, respectively, this article examines the use of this hashtag on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.  Their findings will serve a good base for our introductory remarks about what connects online events will everyday forms of opposition.  Another interesting article I read was Paul Routledge’s “Sensuous Solidarities: Emotion, Politics and Performance in the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army,” which looks at CIRCA, an organization which used clown costumes to protest the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. He argues “that sensuous solidarities constituted a series of complex, contradictory and emotive co-performances and resonances with police, other protestors and the public…” (Routledge 428). Analyzing protest through the lens of “sensuous solidarities” and emotion will no doubt be useful and will provide us with an alternative framework to look social media”s role in structuring emotional as well as online communities.  CIRCA”s subversive and creative form of protest will encourage us to think deeper as to why activists who combat hate and neo-Nazism use humourous imagery to prove their point.

In the coming weeks, Jen and I will post excerpts from our article-in-development, with the intention of garnering interest and comments from the wide Web 2.0 community.  Be sure to check this website for blog posts on digital humanities research methodology, vernacular creativity, and emotion and performance in anti-Nazi demonstrations.  If you would like to provide commentary and feedback about our work, we encourage you to do so and might just incorporate your thoughts into our manuscript. Our next post will be on how we located our data set and found photographers like PM Cheung and Thomas Rassloff, together with a discussion of the benefits of using digital humanities tools for this research project.

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