Information and social contention

Walker, Steve (2016). Information and social contention. In: Images of Europe - Past, Present, Future (Espiña, Yolanda ed.), Universidade Católica Editora, Porto, Portugal, pp. 94–103.



Social movements arise where there is some form of social contention, typically when a movement of people with values and aims different from a society’s mainstream arises. Information is important in several ways to these social movements; the establishment of a shared movement identity, the co-ordination of activity, and as a terrain of conflict with a social adversary. While the role of information and communication technologies in recent social movements, such as the ‘Arab spring’ or Occupy movements, has been widely studied, the role of information itself has generally been seen as unproblematic. Recent work in the philosophy of information may provide a basis for thinking about the role of information, as distinct from the technologies used to store, organize and communicate it, may provide a basis for thinking about it. This paper sketches how this might work using examples from the European labour movement, where there has been considerable debate over the last decade or so as to whether or not there is an emerging social movement, or whether it remains a transnational bureaucracy disconnected from ‘grassroots’ trade unionists. It draws on the experiences of a series of transnational projects which aimed to develop cross-border collaboration through the use of e-learning and online networking approaches. The failures and relative successes of this approach may be explained at least partially as informational problems.

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