John Postill: The rise of nerd politics

John Postill (RMIT University) delivered a talk “The rise of nerd politics: an ethnohistory of technical mediation” on November 4, 2016 in our visiting seminar.


Two main theoretical questions have attracted the attention of media anthropologists over the past ten years: practice theory (Couldry 2004,Bräuchler and Postill 2010) and mediation theory (Mazzarella 2004, Boyer 2014). In this talk I join the latter strand of theoretical work by drawing from recent fieldwork on digital activism and political change in Barcelona, Spain. I argue that mediation theorists should take more seriously the historical agency and technical mediation of new social actors effecting ‘concrete changes’ (Kubitschko 2015) – and continuities – upon the world. Thus Spain’s indignados have pooled diverse forms of technical expertise (IT, law, media, politics, etc.) to articulate and mediate ongoing processes of political renewal. This trend is most visible at the local level, where the local governments of Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities are now in the hands of indignados platforms steeped in digital culture. By following the trajectory of two Barcelona groups – Barcelona en Comú and – we discover that these ‘new mediators’, and similar initiatives elsewhere, have made four major contributions to Spain’s political culture: they have occupied public spaces, viralised political communication, datified the anti-corruption struggle, and gained political office. Together, they epitomise the global ‘nerding’ of politics, a dual process of mediation whereby politics is becoming more technologised, whilst technology becomes increasingly politicised (Postill 2012, 2014).