The View from Away

Starting this September, Carleton’s very own Ottilie Grisdale (MA, EURUS, 2014) will report on the current state of play in Europe from her adopted home base of Amsterdam, where she is researching her thesis on the cultural production of Holland’s far right. In bi-weekly posts, she’ll reflect on a variety of subjects relating to the theme of this blog, from the struggle for a multicultural Europe to everyday acts of anti-racist opposition.

Welcome Ottilie!

Russia’s “Anti-Gay” Law: Local Implications and Transnational Connections

It has been twenty years since homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia under former President Boris Yeltsin. Yet instead of a celebratory commemoration of progress, the anniversary was marked this June by a new law targeting homosexual “propaganda”. Commonly referred to as the “anti-gay law”, the new legislation outlaws “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual relations for minors.

But what exactly is meant by homosexual propaganda? As noted in a piece by Der Spiegel, what constitutes propaganda under the law is ambiguous. This is especially dangerous because it leaves individuals vulnerable to unpredictable and broad enforcement. Same sex public displays of affection such as handholding or kissing, gay pride parades and pride symbols could all be classified as forms of “propaganda”. In essence, the law signals the government’s desire to eliminate homosexuality from public space in Russia.

A perhaps equally dangerous consequence is the inflammatory message the law sends to Russian society that homophobia is now officially condoned by the state. According to a recent article in the Guardian, Russian gay and lesbian rights groups have already reported an increase in “homophobic vigilantism” and the number of attacks against members of the LGBT community throughout the country. A particularly sinister dimension of the problem is that homophobic Russian (and also allegedly neo-Nazi) groups are using social media to seek out potential victims. Groups such as Occupy Gerontophilia are reportedly contacting individuals online via same-sex personal ads to set up a “date”, and then brutally attacking and humiliating their victims by posting the encounter online.

While many homophobic vigilante groups predate the propaganda law, in an interview with the Guardian Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LBGT network, said these groups are now using the “anti-gay” law to justify their actions. This signals a grim new security reality for the Russian LGBT community as groups or individuals acting alone now have good reason to believe they can carry out homophobic attacks with near impunity.

 In Russia, it seems then that social media is being used as a means to transcend online and physical boundaries, and create acts of physical violence with an online public record that could leave individuals vulnerable to further attacks. This manipulation of social media to carry out physical hate crimes -in addition to online hate – is a worrisome development that requires careful observation.

Unfortunately the use of social media to create acts of online-physical homophobia also contains an emerging transnational element. According to a recent post on the New York Times blog the Lede, earlier this month posters belonging to the Italian fringe far right group the National Front, were spotted around Rome with the message “Io sto con Putin” (“I stand with Putin”). The National Front’s Facebook page displays a follow up explication of support for the new legislation, stating they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin, “has taken a courageous position against the strong gay lobby, which, by widespread action, aims to almost guilt those who are not gay”.

However social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring, reporting, and challenging such instances of “hate 2.0”. In fact, according to the aforementioned Lede article, Reuters reporter Naomi O’Leary used Twitter to break the “Io sto con Putin” story. It also notes that Italian lesbian activist and politician Imma Battaglia challenged the poster campaign message via her Twitter account by urging Italians to take the posters down.

That Russia’s “anti-gay” law has become a rallying point for likeminded individuals is a problematic development further complicated by the location of the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  In February 2014, Russia will host the winter games for the first time, and this will ensure an international spotlight will remain fixed on Russian politics in the coming months. While the international community is (rightly) concerned about the implications of the “anti-gay” law for its own citizens attending or competing in the Olympics, care is needed to ensure that enforcement of the law during the Olympics does not become a red herring. The law’s implications for the Russian LGBT community will continue long after the 2014 games, and continued vigilant observation of the situation will be critical. At the best of times, the Olympics can encourage excessive nationalism, and unwittingly or not, the Russian government has likely laid the groundwork for an extremely hostile environment for its LGBT citizens in the years to come.

 

 

Olympic Hate: A Tale of Fine Lines

Post by Christiane Wilke

The Olympics Games are in full swing, and we at the Hate 2.0 project are watching. We are not only interested in the stellar performances by Gabby Douglas, Michael Phelps and others, but also in the forms of inclusion and exclusion that the Olympics practice.

The good news: This is the first time that all participating countries sent female athletes. To be sure, Saudi Arabia was less than supportive of its two female competitors, runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wojdan Shaherkani. While these two women are challenging norms of femininity in Saudi Arabia and conservative Muslim communities, other athletes have breached racialized codes of who belongs where: Gabby Douglas has become the first African American and the first woman of colour to win a gymnastics all-around gold medal, and Cullen Jones made clear (to whoever needed proof) that black men can not only jump but also swim.

While this blog loves good news, we’re more interested in the mixed, messy and downright alarming news. Let’s focus on the share of the Olympics news that intersects with our work on hate and social media. So far, three Olympic athletes have either been sent home or left the Olympic village for reasons of racist behavior or associations. In two cases, the offences were committed on twitter, and in one case the long-standing association to neo-Nazi groups was exposed in a blog post.

The first athletes to leave the Olympics was Paraskevi Papachristou, the Greek triple jumper who tweeted (according to available translations) “With so many Africans in Greece… the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!” The Greek Olympic mission withdrew her from the competition and sent her home. Papachristou apologized on facebook, writing “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

The next athlete to pack up was Michel Morganella, a Swiss soccer player. After his team lost to South Korea, he wrote a racist message about South Koreans on twitter, was cut from the team, and apologized on twitter.

Finally (hopefully finally, that is), German rower Nadja Drygalla packed her bags and left the Olympic village. A blog based in her hometown Rostock revealed that her long-time partner Michael Fischer was a local Neo-Nazi leader. Fischer had been sighted at Neo-Nazi demonstrations, yelling, and taking photos of anti-fascist counter-protestors. He ran for parliament on the ticket of the rightwing NPD, he published and edited websites associated with the Neo-Nazi community.

Over the next few days, a few things happened: The German Rowing Federation and the Olympics Committee stood behind Drygalla, citing her departure from the Games as voluntary. Meanwhile a debate erupted in blogs and newspapers: are we blaming a woman for the views of her partner? Was she ever part of the Neo-Nazi network? Who knew what, and when? Who should have alerted whom, when, and why?

The facts are complicated. One newspaper published a blurry photo of a Nazi demonstration claiming that a woman in a white sweater was Nadja Drygalla. This is most likely not the case. More interestingly, it turns out that her partner Michael Fischer had been an elite rower who was at the same time known as a hooligan. He straddled the worlds of competitive sports and organized hate and violence for a few years. Nadja Drygalla has since claimed that she has never adhered to Neo-Nazi ideologies and that her partner has left the organization in May 2012. The latter statement seems patently untrue.

Why have these tweets, associations, and behaviours attracted so much attention? The initial reactions to all three events have emphasized that racism is contrary to the Olympic principles, to the oath that all Olympic athletes have sworn in the opening ceremony. According to the Olympic Charter, Olympians “place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Moreover, “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Racism is contrary to the official ethos of the Olympics.

A closer, more critical glance at the organization and practical ethos of the Olympics reveals something else. The Olympics organize athletes, events, and medal counts by country. They ask viewers not only to appreciate athletic achievements in general, but to take pride in the triumphs of athletes from their own country. The athlete stands in for the country, the flag, for the nation. True, there is the idea of the Olympic Peace: the cessation of armed conflict during the Games. But clearly, this is not happening in Syria right now. The Olympics, let’s put it this way, are replete with structural nationalism. They are the arena for competition between athletes and teams standing in for nations, dressed in uniforms with their national colours. Taking pride in one’s country during sports events might seem harmless, but it coincides with the devaluation of outsiders, as studies have shown. There is no such thing as harmless nationalism. The Olympics thrive on nationalism, and they fuel it. They want to be associated with pride in one’s country, but not with the devaluation of outsiders that tends to accompany such pride.

Viewed in this light, the reactions to the tweets and associations of the three athletes show that the Olympics are trying hard to draw a thin line between a “good” nationalism of pride and a “bad” nationalism of devaluating others that is to be expelled from the games. The triple jumper made horrific jokes about immigrants and the outbreak of a disease transmitted by insects. The soccer player did not contain his disappointment at losing in match, and expressed it in demeaning racial terms. We learn that losing is part of the Olympics, but it is to be done gracefully. The row about the rower also suggests, uncomfortably, that there is nothing inherent about sports that makes racists incapable of succeeding. Insofar as the rower had to deal with ethnic, religious, or racial diversity, it was not within her team of eight ‘vanilla’ rowers. The ‘others’ were competitors, not teammates. To be sure, this team make-up is a result of German immigration policies and sports recruitment, but the under-representation of migrants in many sports is a consistent problem. More generally, the virtues of elite sports are not incompatible with the world of hate: To be a good rower, one needs to have determination to succeed in competition, focus, and the ability to deal with pain and disappointments. These qualities have no necessary connection with democratic politics; they can also be the make-up of an extremist, of a warrior of a different kind.

The Olympics mirror a larger world in which the celebration of diversity and equality is at odds with the focus on achievements defined in a particular way: First, athletes are sorted by countries; and they have to settle on one country they can represent. This is bad news for stateless people, and makes for hard decisions for those with multiple nationalities. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could win the Olympics representing two countries, or no country at all?

Second, the competition is intensely skewed. Countries with many (young) people, a good sports infrastructure, a high GDP and strategic investments in sections of the sports “market” do well at the Olympics. Winning Olympic medals is a function of economic prowess and priorities as much as of individual physical achievement.

Third, the Olympic circuit itself does not promote an equitable or sustainable growth in infrastructure. Olympic hosts tend to go into debt, hyper-police the cities during the events, make housing unaffordable and then harass homeless people, and are later stuck with bizarre-looking reminders of the big party in the form of velodroms or ski jumps.

A sports event that sorts athletes by nationality and counts medals by country does not promote hate, but it fosters nationalism. The Olympic Oath, after all, asks athletes to compete “for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.” While competitiveness and striving for glory are ingrained in the social organization of elite sports, human rights and equality are merely add-ons: they are not structurally necessary to succeed, but they are socially desired in order to foster the Olympic spirit. The Olympics would like to show nationalism without hate. The three athletes that were made to leave the village because their actions crossed the line that the Olympic organizers anxiously seek to draw.

What can we do about it? First of all, let’s take note of the fact that the Olympics are structured to promote nationalism, that it could be otherwise, and that nationalism has side effects in the form of hate and devaluation of outsiders. Second, let’s draw lines and censor the athletes and coaches who cross them, but let’s recognize that there is indeed only a thin line between legitimate disappointment and racist suspicions about opponents, or between competitive zeal and the exclusions of others who are perceived to be lazy. Finally, let’s find ways of organizing sports and the world at large that are less conducive to hate, exclusion and devaluation.

Picturing the Everyday: How Social Media Helps Historians

Post by Erica Fagen

As historians, what can we learn from Flickr? This has been the central question of our article. The photographs of Boeseraltermann, PM Cheung, and Thomas Rassloff were analyzed through the lens of digital humanities tools, performance, and ”vernacular creativity.” (The post on vernacular creativity will be posted at a later date). All these ways of thinking are useful in terms of conceptualizing the photographs, as well as encouraging us to think about how activists use Flickr to voice their opposition against neo-Nazis. As we have also seen, the different photographers are networked to one another and make up a community of activists.[i] With all the innovative research done for this project, this section will show that Flickr is a resource which allows us new insight on protest cultures and online opposition in everyday life. Flickr tells us that activists like Boeseraltermann who document Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrations are networked, the details of which can be seen in the post “Search, Mine, and Collect: Our Digital Humanities Methodology.” It is a centre of connectivity – a place in which users can share and comment on each other’s photographs. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that Flickr is a centre for creativity, in terms of photo content and photo organization. Flickr is an open forum that allows photographers to share their work with the public at large.

Thomas Poell and Eric Borra, with their study of the “#g20report” hashtag used during the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, show that Flickr was the least influential of the four social networks examined, which also included Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They write that “Flickr is clearly the most strongly dominated by a relatively small number of users. The 20 percent most active users posted 69 percent of the selected photos.”[ii] Despite this small number, however, Flickr is still a network made up by a variety of users. It is important to look at Flickr through the lens of networking. Networking is worth discussing even further in the context of “networked publics,” as coined by danah boyd. She writes, “networked publics are publics that are reconstructed by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice. Networked publics serve many of the same functions as other types of publics – they allow people to gather for social, cultural, and civic purposes, and they help people connect with a world beyond their close friends and family. While networked publics share much in common with other types of publics, the ways in which technology structures them introduces distinct affordances that shape how people engage with these environments. The properties of bits – as distinct from atoms – introduce new possibilities for interaction. As a result, new dynamics emerge that shape participation.”[iii] To think of Boeseraltermann, PM Cheung, and Thomas Rassloff as part of a “networked public” is useful as it helps us conceptualize their presence on social media networks. Where boyd makes her most relevant point is when she discusses interaction – it that factor that differentiates networked publics and regular publics. Her main point of interaction can be taken beyond the understanding of people talking to each other on social media sites – interaction is not limited to that. Interaction can also be “favouriting” one another’s photographs, or using similar hashtags. Scholars such as José Van Dijck agree that social media sites such as Flickr “enable the construction of infinite connections,”[iv] but she does not think that Flickr is a photo exchange site or archive. The following sections will demonstrate that Flickr is indeed a centre of connectivity, but can be thought of as an archive, contrary to Van Dijck’s views. Connectivity is only part of the reason why Flickr is important for historians to consider – creativity is equally important.

As it was emphasizing in the post “Performing Opposition,” Flickr is a centre of creative opposition. The content of photographs ranges from garden gnomes to balloons to silly caricatures of neo-Nazis. To see activism “performed” through photography is reason enough to analyze these photographs. However, creativity extends beyond the content of the photographs; it is useful to think of Flickr users as “creative practioners,” as Jean Burgess writes.[v] Going by Burgess’ definition of a creative practioner, a Flickr user is free to post what they want. Cyron, one of the Flickr users interviewed by Burgess, “understands his continuing development as a ”creative” photographer as a technical, aesthetic and self-educative process that has enriched his everyday experience in particular ways.”[vi] Both these Brisbanite and anti-Nazi amateur activist photographers can be described in this way, that Flickr allows their aesthetic and technical ability to develop. But what is most crucial to consider here is this creative freedom Flickr users have – whether it is taking photographs of the Australian landscapes or anti-Nazi demonstrations – is that it allows researchers to see unique, subjective experiences of the everyday amateur photographer. Flickr, with its capabilities of storing millions of photographs, is a resource for documenting the vernacular, or everyday, photography. Not only is it a resource, but it is an archive as well. However, not all scholars agree on that.

Despite the claims by José Van Dijck that Flickr is not archive or photo exchange site, I would argue against that, as would other scholars. Emma Angus, David Stuart and Mike Thelwall demonstrate that Flickr can be beneficial as an “academic image resource”[vii] and “results show that Flickr can be used as a resource for subject-specific images in some subject areas; and that non subject-specific images can also prove to be of value for individual academics.”[viii] They see Flickr as useful for academia because of its tagging functions, and can serve as a database for certain subject areas. They conclude with explaining that because of Flickr”s diversity, it is a far richer resource or archive than traditional databases, archives, or picture libraries. They also highlight the vastness of content of Flickr, one of the oldest social media sites in existence (it was established in 2004). They write that in November 2008, Flickr held three billion images, compared with 70 million for Getty, one of the largest media news repositories in the world.[ix] As of June 2012, Flickr holds 6 billion photographs.[x] More than 3,000 photographs are uploaded on Flickr per day.[xi] The numbers alone speak for themselves – it is crucial for historians to take Flickr seriously as an academic resource.

For all the reasons listed above, which include networking, creativity, and the ability of Flickr to be academic resource due to its tagging functions and sheer numbers – Flickr has become another medium to voice opposition to neo-Nazis. It’s availability and its scope makes it necessary for scholars, including historians, to consider. Flickr, with its potential of creativity and networking, has made it essential to study and discuss. Not only that, but Flickr gives an inside look at the everyday, of vernacular photography. Jean Burgess sums this up quite nicely in her article when she states that “the sheer ubiquitous and ordinary nature of most everyday photography, and its embeddedness within social life, that creates the conditions for Flickr as a platform for vernacular creativity with all its unintended consequences – citizenship, commerce and art.”[xii] Flickr captures the everyday – which in Hate 2.0’s case captures the everyday opposition against neo-Nazis. Flickr is a platform, a view of online protest in everyday life, and this is one of the reasons why it is important for historians to take Flickr seriously as a legitimate source. Flickr is a platform of subjective experiences and a method of visualizing protest on a mass scale. Hopefully more studies on Flickr as a hub of subjective experiences and of visualizing protest will be done in the future.


[i] Erica Fagen, “Search, Mine, and Collect: Our Digital Humanities Methodology,” hate2point0.com, July 6, 2012, accessed July 30, 2012, https://hate2point0.com/2012/07/07/search-mine-and-collect-our-digital-humanities-methodology/.

[ii] Thomas Poell and Erik Borra, “Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as platforms of alternative journalism: The social media account of the 2010 Toronto G20 protests,” Journalism, 13, no. 8 (2011): 9.
[iii] danah boyd, “Social Networks Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications,” in A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, edited by Zizi Papacharissi, (New York: Routledge, 2011): 39.
[iv] José Van Dijck, “Flickr and the culture of connectivity: Sharing views, experiences, memories,” Memory Studies, 4, no. 4 (2011): 412
[v] Jean Burgess, “Remediating vernacular creativity: Photography and cultural citizenship in the Flickr photo-sharing network,” in Spaces of Vernacular Creativity: Rethinking the Cultural Economy, edited by Tim Edensor, (New York: Routledge, 2010): 120-121.
[vi] Burgess, “Remediating vernacular creativity,” 121.
[vii] Emma Angus, David Stuart and Mike Thelwall, “Flickr’s potential as an academic image resource: An exploratory study,” Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 42, no. 4 (2010): 268.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Angus, Stuart and Thelwall, “Flickr’s potential as an academic image resource,” 270.
[x] Allegra Tepper, “The Rise of Mobile Photography [INFOGRAPHIC],” Mashable, June 14, 2012, accessed July 25, 2012, http://mashable.com/2012/06/14/mobile-photography-infographic/
[xi] Allegra Tepper, “How Much Data Is Created Every Minute? [INFOGRAPHIC],” Mashable, June 22, 2012, accessed July 25, 2012, http://mashable.com/2012/06/22/data-created-every-minute/.
[xii] Burgess, “Remediating vernacular creativity,” 125.

Performing Opposition

Post by Erica Fagen

Freddie Rokem, the well-known theatre scholar, describes theatre and performance as a form of “witnessing.”[i] He argues that in theatrical performances set against actual historical events like French Revolution or the Second World War, the actor often assumes the place of the now-dead witness.[ii] They also play the role of historian or “hyper-historian” in a sense, as they “serve as connecting link between the historical past and the ”fictional.””[iii] Though his work relates to theatre specifically, it is nonetheless a useful method to think about performance as an act of . In order to understand the role of photographers like PM Cheung and others, it is useful to understand their role as photographers as the “witnesses” and “hyper-historians” Rokem describes. When they document the anti-Nazi rallies they attend, they assume the role of the actor and become witnesses to the events unraveling, and thus the authority or “hyper-historian” who will be documenting the events which passed at these demonstrations. To think of the anti-Nazi demonstrations and rallies as a performance and the photographers as an actor/witness/hyper-historian, one can better conceptualize how to think of Flickr as a centre of history-making, and thus can help historians understand how social media can help bridge historical understanding.

The photographs of PM Cheung, Thomas Rassloff and Boeseraltermann contain strong elements of performance. Both anti-Nazi and neo-Nazi demonstrations have performative aspects to them, as Fabian Virchow emphasizes. Neo-Nazi demonstrations, explains Virchow, have a performative nature to them, which includes “its symbols, marching order, slogans, etc.”[iv] Anti-Nazi activists, whose message is obviously quite different from that of neo-Nazis, use slogans and symbols for their rallies and counter-demonstrations. The performative stance of anti-Nazi protestors, whether it be through slogans, or more creative means like balloons, are of utmost significance to discuss. Performance for these anti-Nazi activists takes place at first on the street, and continued through social media. These anti-Nazi protesters, documented by PM Cheung and Thomas Rassloff, are “performing” their activism, and the photographers are there to document and “witness” their actions.

In order to better understand how people perform their activism on the street, it is useful to consult Paul Routledge”s article on “sensuous solidarities.” In this piece, he discusses the CIRCA organization which was present at the G8 protests in Gleneagles, Scotland.[v] CIRCA is a group of protestors who dress up as clowns to demonstrations. The image of the clown or the jester is associated with humour and ridicule, and has been the case for centuries.[vi] The performative nature of CIRCA’s protests is crucial to consider. They present themselves as a clown army, performing their activist stance through their bizarre costumes. It is the notion of the absurd, of the creative, which merits the most attention, as activists who combat neo-Nazism also use creative means. As Routledge explains,

“clown faces exaggerated the absurdity of the notion of a clown army. While military uniforms are associative of war/security (in the form of the regular army) and aggression/militancy (in the form of certain types of grassroots activism), the (deconstructed) rebel clown multiform in combination with the usually friendly clown face was a deliberate attempt to undermine the intimidation and violence associated with alter-globalization protests. Clown faces and multiforms served to magnify activists’ commonality and enabled activists to act together, while at the same time attracting media attention.”[vii]

These clown faces encapsulate ideas of the bizarre and absurd to protest, and can thus be seen as a creative form of demonstrating. Routledge goes on further in his article to discuss rebel clown logic, which he describes as “an associative logic, based on visual signs, wordplay and emotional resonance. It drew explicitly on key elements of clowning, attempting through playful confrontation to exaggerate and invert the social order, retextualizing it in order to reveal its absurdity, and invite others (such as the public) to reconsider it. Rebel clown logic was combined with the multiforms, clown faces, and clown manoeuvres in order to attempt to subvert the hegemonic logic and the taken-for-granted world articulated by the G8.”[viii] It is important to consider that Routledge emphasizes both the playful and subversive nature of CIRCA’s protests. Like the clown costumes Routledge describes, the activists in PM Cheung, Thomas Rassloff, and Boeseraltermann”s photographs use both playful and subversive themes to get their message across. Cheung and Rassloff capture playful and subversive actions with their photographs of balloons, while Boeseraltermann does so with his photographs of Hitler caricatures and toilet humour. These three photographers fill the role of the actor/witness that Rokem illustrates; they are in the thick of the action, of the protests, documenting what they see. They also act as hyper-historians, not only for the reason that they are telling, or narrating the stories of anti-Nazi demonstrations, but also because their work is presented the global Web audience to discuss and share.

Thomas Rassloff, PM Cheung, and Boeseraltermann’s work with unconventional imagery can be interpreted as playful and subversive. Both men document and “witness” an anti-Nazi rally in Neuruppin, located in eastern Germany. What is particularly striking about these images is that they feature orange and white balloons with the message “Kein Ort für Nazis” (No place for Nazis) written on them. They can be seen here and here. The performance of the young boy is particularly striking, as it raises questions of who is involved in protest and why photographers feature certain images.[ix] These performances through the use of balloons give scholars a lot to ponder. Like the clowns, people are using images not commonly associated with protest. This performative aspect of protest, by using balloons as a kind of prop to share their voices and opinions, can be thought as creative, like the CIRCA clown protests. Using creative means to protest is not limited to Flickr and social media; creative forms of protest, it should be noted, can be found elsewhere. For example, Nabil Echachaibi in his article explains that North African youth in France use radio as well as hip-hop and rap music to express their discontent with French politics.[x] For them, using music is a means of performance, creativity and activism. Going back to social media, creative and playful performance is exemplified in this photo taken by PM Cheung. This image depicts anti-Nazi slogans such as “Nazis – Nein Danke!” written in red and blue on white building blocks. This photograph encapsulates both the playful and subversive themes highlighted earlier, and further strengthens the argument that PM Cheung and Thomas Rassloff act as “witnesses,” as they are documenting events from demonstrations. Playful and subversive images can also be found in the photographs of Boeseraltermann. Boeseraltermann, who describes himself as an activist against neo-Nazis, takes photographs of swastikas in garbage cans, of slogans and illustrations comparing neo-Nazis to excrement, as well as other humourous images. One of of these images can be seen here. By using the absurd to protest, Boeseraltermann is documenting alternative ways to combat the far-right. As a “witness” to events happening, he is documenting the events that are unfolding.

Boeseraltermann’s actions as an actor/witness goes beyond the theatre of street protest. He and other photographers on Flickr act as “alter-activists,”[xi] to borrow a term from Jeffrey Juris and Geoffrey Henri Pleyers. The authors write that alter-activists “participate in broader global justice events, including regional and world social forums, but they do so by keeping ‘one foot in, and one foot out’, maintaining a critical attitude toward internal hierarchies and non-democratic practices. Alter-activist discourses and practices, which are characterised by creative forms of action and an emphasis on process and experimentation, are found among young people around the world, but are more prevalent in Europe and North America.”[xii] What the authors argue describe Boeseraltermann’s role quite well. He sees himself as an activist, which he makes clear in his Flickr profile.[xiii] Most importantly, however, is that Boeseraltermann, along with PM Cheung, Thomas Rassloff and other photographers documenting opposition to neo-Nazis, is that he is participating in a creative, playful, and subversive form of action. By using Flickr and interacting with other users, whether it is by favoriting their photographs or following fellow activist amateur photographers on Twitter,[xiv] Boeseraltermann is engaging in a creative form of protest. He is taking photographs poking fun at Nazis, such as a garden gnome with an uncanny resemblance to Hitler giving the “Heil Hitler” salute, to which it is crossed out in red and the words “Nazis Stoppen!” written underneath. In the same album,[xv] there is a photograph of a man with his face obscurred holding a cardboard sign with a caricature of Hitler and “Nazis sind doof” (Nazis are stupid) written underneath it. Boeseraltermann continues to be creative with his more witty, subversive photographs such as this one, which depicts a Port-o-Potty with a sign on top which reads “Braunes ins klo,” and a swastika going into the toilet. Creative activism, which encompasses playful and subversive photo subjects, is central to Boeseraltermann’s photo-taking and photo-sharing skills, and one that historians should seriously take into account.

The photographs of PM Cheung, Thomas Rassloff, Boeseraltermann and others should be seen within the context of performance and of “witnessing,” but also as involvement with more creative forms of protesting. Viewing their photographs and Flickr as a medium fulfill what Belinda Davis, Timothy Brown and Lorena Anton argue regarding protest. Davis explains that Europeans continue to write their history of protest,[xvi] with Brown and Anton who argue that protest is no longer limited to the streets, but to a number of spheres.[xvii] The photographers in discussion are Europeans who, as hyper-historians, are writing their history of protest, and are doing so on the sphere of social media. Freddie Rokem’s words resonate with this new, digital format of protest – these photographers, by their involvement in the performance and theatrics of protest, are “witnesses” to the production of history.

___________________________________________________________________

[i] Freddie Rokem, Performing History: Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre, Studies in Theatre History & Culture, edited by Thomas Postlewait, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000).
[ii] Rokem, Performing History, xii.

[iii] Rokem, Performing History,13.

[iv] Fabian Virchow, “Performance, Emotion, and Ideology: On the Creation of “Collectives of Emotion” and Worldview in the Contemporary German Far Right,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 36, no. 2 (2007): 158.

[v] Paul Routledge, “Sensuous Solidarities: Emotion, Politics and Performance in the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army,” Antipode, 44, no. 2 (2012): 428-452.

[vi] Routledge, “Sensuous Solidarities,” 432.

[vii] Routledge, “Sensuous Solidarities,” 436.

[viii] Routledge, “Sensuous Solidarities,” 438.

[ix] For more contextualization on the metonymy of an image, or how it is used to represent an event or movement, see David Perlmutter and Gretchen Wagner, “The anatomy of a photojournalistic icon: marginalization of dissent in the selection and framing of ‘a death in Genoa’” Visual Communication. 3, no.1 (2004): 91-108.
[x] Nabil Echchaibi, “We Are French Too, but Different: Radio, Music and the Articulation of Difference Among Young North Africans in France,” Gazette 63, no. 4 (August 2001): 295-310.

[xi] Jeffrey D. Juris and Geoffrey Henri Pleyers, “Alter-activism: emerging cultures of participation among young global justice activists,” Journal of Youth Studies 12, no. 1 (February 2009): 57-75.

[xii] Juris and Pleyers, “Alter-activism,” 63.

[xiii] He writes, in German, of his activism and frustration with neo-Nazis and major news outlets. “Christian Jäger (Boeseraltermann)”s photostream,” Flickr. n.d., accessed May 17, 2012. http://www.flickr.com/people/boeseraltermannberlin/

[xiv] Thanks to David Cranswick”s work on Evernote, I was able to find the Twitter accounts of Boeseraltermann, PM Cheung, and Thomas Rassloff. When I looked through their followers and followees, I found that these three men follow eachother.

[xv] “Naziaufmarsch Nummer— Neuruppin 14.04.2012-0107,” Flickr, n.d., accessed May 17, 2012, http://www.flickr.com/photos/boeseraltermannberlin/7076974877/in/photostream.

[xvi] Belinda Davis, “What’s Left? Popular and Democratic Political Participation in Postwar Europe,” The American Historical Review. 113, no. 2 (April 2008): 390.

[xvii] Timothy Brown and Lorena Anton, eds, Between the Avant-Garde and the Everyday: Subversive Politics in Europe from 1957 to the Present, Vol. 6, Protest, Culture & Society (New York: Berghann Books, 2011): 1.

Search, Mine, and Collect: Our Digital Humanities Methodology

Post by Erica Fagen

“Search, Scrape, Clip, Cite.”[i] These are the steps Hate 2.0 collaborator Shawn Graham suggested in his Prezi earlier this year entitled “Digital Tools & Perspectives for New Graduate Students in History.” Both David Cranswick and I used this shorthand in our early research on the Hate 2.0 project. First came “searching” (going through Flickr and various websites), then “scraping” (Outwit Hub Firefox plugin), followed by “clipping” (Evernote) and finally “citing” (Zotero). The subsequent paragraphs will present this process in greater detail as well as the digital humanities methods used to identify the amateur photographers at the centre of our analysis.

When I first started my research on Hate 2.0, Jen suggested that I search through the following websites: the webportal of the Bundesverfassungsschutz or BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), no-nazi.net (an anti-Nazi civil society initiative promoting web literacy for today’s youth), and the web presence of the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung (a foundation named in memory of a victim of right-wing violence). All of these websites were very helpful in familiarizing me with tactics for dealing with neo-Nazism in today”s Germany. Jen also suggested I look at Die Zeit”s newspaper series “Neue deutsche Nazis” (New German Nazis) , where for some time journalists have been compiling special reports on this emerging trend.[ii] It was at this point that I decided I would apply some digital humanities tools. In order to see the common themes in eleven articles in the series which appeared between March 8th to May 16th 2012, I decided to use Voyant Tools to identify which words were most commonly used, as well to see if I could learn anything new from the resulting tag cloud. (I recently re-entered the article information into Voyant, as the link from May was not working).

My initial results were not what I was expecting. Voyant deduced that words like “und” (and), “dem” and “der” (variations of the) were the most common in articles about neo-Nazis. Knowing this was incorrect, I changed the language settings to German and applied so-called stopwords, words like “and,” “a,” and “the.” Instantly, my results were more in line with what I was looking for: words like “Neonazis,” “Rechtextremismus” (right-wing extremism) and “Deutschland” were the most common words in the eleven texts. Other words such as “NPD” and “Dortmund” were less popular, but appeared 66 and 38 times, respectively. The tag cloud can be seen here. Though this exercise was not as useful as I thought it would be, it did confirm that “Rechtsextreme” and “Rechtsextremismus” were popular keywords, and would be useful search terms when mining through Flickr photographs.[iii]

Following this brief experiment with Voyant, I consulted David Cranswick’s work with digital humanities tools. He used Outwit Hub, Evernote, and Zotero. In order to “scrape” material and collect data from the Web, David used the Outwit Hub Firefox plugin. To better understand this process, I ran an exercise in Outwit Hub. Recreating the process of “catching” links, images, and other kinds of data and then exporting it to csv and HTML files, I now understood how David found his information. To read David’s reflection on his digital humanities process, click here and here.

David’s research notes on Evernote proved to be invaluable when searching through the work of these amateur activist photographers. Each photographer had two to five notes which included (if available) their Profile Information, Flickr profile, Twitter profile, Contact Network, and blog/personal website. The entries of Björn Kietzmann, Boeseraltermann, mikael.zellman, neukoellnbild, PM Cheung, Thomas Rassloff, and WildeBilder were among those examined. After reading that PM Cheung and Boeseraltermann were at the core of the network, with Boeseraltermann, an activist dedicated to photographing anti-Nazi themes, and PM Cheung, a highly connected documentarian dedicated to capturing a variety of demonstrations and causes, I turned to their Flickr pages and analyzed their online collection. They did not disappoint — both activists do an excellent job in documenting neo-Nazi rallies and creative forms of anti-Nazi opposition. (One of Boeseraltermann’s photographs can be seen here, one of PM Cheung’s here). Though this work is interesting for a variety of reasons, I decided to look further into the work of photographers who were labeled as “intermediate” within the larger network. When I researched the work of Thomas Rassloff on Flickr, I went through tags dealing with neo-Nazi and anti-Nazi themes such as “Nazidemo,” “Gegenprotest,” “Demo,” and “Rassismus.” Following this, I discovered that Rassloff”s photographs were engaging and imaginative, so I decided that Rassloff’s work would a nice complement to the others for this article.[iv] One photograph of Thomas Rassloff that is particularly intriguing may be seen here.

The styles of the three photographers are different, yet they all have a strong activist tone to their work. The process of selecting them, as well as learning more about mainstream media reports on the rise of neo-Nazism, was greatly aided by the use of digital humanities technologies, without which the selection process would have been much more difficult. Thanks to the process of “Search, Scrape, Clip, Cite,” collecting the vast amounts of information on anti-Nazi activists was an organized, interesting, as well as fun process.

Although we can say with some certainty that they formed part of a network community of anti-Nazi activists, confirmed by the degree of in- and out-group relationality and the mere fact that they comment on each other”s images, our article will explore ways we might gauge their three-way conversation, and its impact in the diverse publics that emerge online as their images are tweeted, tagged, and shared.

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[i] Shawn Graham, “Digital Tools & Perspectives for New Graduate Students in History,” Prezi, November 28, 2011, accessed July 5, 2012, http://prezi.com/jeohvtgf32aa/digital-tools-perspectives-for-new-graduate-students-in-history/.
[ii] “Serie: ‘Neue deutsche Nazis,’” Die Zeit, March 3-May 16, 2012, accessed May 17, 2012, http://www.zeit.de/serie/neue-deutsche-nazis.
[iii] Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Cirrus,” Voyant, July 5, 2012, http://voyant-tools.org/tool/Cirrus/>

[iv] It should be noted here that Jen and I took over this Zotero account, which we now use a citing and bibliographic tool for articles relating to protest, social media, and visual culture. We continue to use the “Cite” step highlighted in the Prezi.

Collaboration 101 or Writing as Social Process

Post by Jennifer Evans

This post will surely evolve over the course of the next hours. I can say that with absolute confidence because I have given Erica full license to jump in and edit my words, language, and sentence structure, as needed. I also know that I”ll be revising it on the fly (as the kids say), given multiple obligations and the different hats I wear at any given time (grad chair, researcher, supervisor, wading pool aficionado, oh, and moderately engaged parent). Why mention this at the outset of a post related to our article on social media and online hate? Because it goes to the heart of the issue of writing quickly, for immediate consumption, laying bare the process, and leveling (somewhat?) the playing field.

In the short space I have here, I want to make the case for the merits of writing quickly and collaboratively, online. As Erica outlined in yesterday’s missive, over the next few weeks, we”ll be workshopping portions of our article manuscript as a series of blog posts. Each section, or mini-section, will be tweeted (and FB’d) so as to attract interest and, we hope, solicit feedback as the ideas take form and shape. Blogging the article is more than a simple gimmick. Since one of our arguments about Flickr is that it serves as a unique (and important) form of 21st century protest, creating new and diverse publics through on- and offline participatory culture, it seems only logical that we explore this notion through our own digital writing.

In this context of rapidly evolving public spheres, it is important to consider the contradictory claims made by media experts on web 2.0’s potential to shape existing power relations and status structures, enabling marginalized voices to coalesce, mobilize, and be heard. Beyond the issue of group behaviour, even on role of social media in individual identity formation the jury is apparently out. While anthropologist Tom Boehlstorff and art historian Jennifer Gonzalez have stressed the playful and indeed liberatory work of online communities (MUDs and MOOs) as places where people re-imagine their identities as virtually human “digital assemblages,” Lisa Nakamura has argued that more often than not social media simply perpetuates time-honoured representations of racial and ethnic identities through the construction and use of cybertypes, basically new variations of old ideas.

By now, we”ve all groaned our way through citizen commentaries in newspaper reports, reminded of the limits of the medium for critical discourse and debate. And who hasn’t been forced over water cooler conversation to either defend or invoke Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker on the pros and cons of social media activism? Even the skeptics cannot resist the force and erudition of Pulitzer Prize winning author Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain which has sounded the alarm against the more sinister workings of the internet in changing the way we process, interpret, and store information. According to the naysayers, deep thinking, critical thinking, and anti-foundational political thought and action is just not possible in our virtual communities.  While I agree it would be too much to suggest that tweeting is to understanding what writing is to knowledge, ie. it takes more than words on the page to make for a true meeting of minds, what about the internet”s potential for bringing an audience into conversation with the way academic ideas percolate and evolve? What benefit is there in making transparent how we hash out our arguments and make ideas jell? Might there also be something inherently productive, maybe even political, about unveiling the process, warts and all?

As explored recently in an online forum on cultures of collaboration in the contemporary university, in academic writing, we draft in isolation, only to share our thoughts with trusted friends at the end of the process of editing, revising, and rethinking. Despite efforts to promote interdisciplinarity as the stuff of intellectual debate and exchange, we tend to stay within the comfort of established disciplinary networks, especially in the early phase of writing. Journals themselves are by and large discipline specific, despite a few notable exceptions. After another few rounds of edits, where we unmake and remake our drafts in light of peer-reviewers” comments, a finished manuscript might finally be ready for publication, only a quick check of the watch shows that this will take place some 6-12 months after the initial outline was penned. It then can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months for that same piece to emerge in print, or for download, more often than not behind a pay wall, meaning average folks (and recent grads!) won”t be able to access the information without a friend of a friend with a current university library card. In other words, in today”s university, there remain considerable personal, disciplinary, and institutional impediments to getting the message out, doing things differently, and experimenting with new writing styles, ideas, and forms.

In our case, blogging the article provides several unique opportunities to negotiate our creative as well as intellectual voices while playing to our different strengths. There is an ethical dimension to this as well, as we unpack the politics of editing each other”s words, intervening in each other”s process as it were. And then there is the thorny issue of experience. I may be the tenured professor, with a few articles and a book under my belt, but it is Erica who is fluent in digital humanities tools, arguments, and practitioners. She is the student — albeit a talented one about to embark on a PhD at one of the US’s best Public History programmes — but I am surely the one with the steepest learning curve.

How is this any different from garden variety collaboration? The social media component of fast writing, blogging, and tweeting our posts makes it well nigh impossible to hide the blemishes when an idea is obviously still gestating. And maybe that too is not entirely horrible. There has been tremendous interest of late in the “Busy Trap” with journalists, bloggers,faculty unions, and scholars lobbying for a rethink of how we measure output and “excellence.” Not only is the blogging of ideas a very natural way of communicating research results for a wide audience, but posts evolve and change with each tweak, edit, and rewrite, showing anyone who has hazarded to stop by the challenges, stumbling blocks, weaknesses, and potential payoffs of a project’s parameters. While the digital medium is also well-suited to the ebbs and flows of contemporary life and the challenges of never having enough time, perhaps more importantly, it allows us to chip away at the “data” and make all manner of mistakes in the service of “getting it right.” Making the process more transparent and accessible while fessing up to the fact that ideas evolve  in well-structured chaos reminds us too that writing is also, fundamentally, a social process, perhaps even a human one, deeply flawed but dynamic and in a constant state of amelioration, evolution, and change. While perhaps not inherently democratic, interminably accessible — heck, not even always erudite and good — fast writing in digital space is most certainly creative, and in an age of rampant austerity, that alone is reason enough to consider its productive potential as a commitment to the advancement of ideas.