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New media, geopolitics and #Wikileaks

December 10, 2010

In view of the global repercussions of the current social drama surrounding Wikileaks and the Cablegate case, it may be time to revisit my call for a geopolitical anthropology of media.  To quote from an October 2009 blog post:

What would a geopolitical anthropology of media entail? In other words, how would one go about studying anthropologically (and not just ethnographically) the relationship between power, culture and geography in the emergence of contemporary media ecologies?

It is widely expected – and reasonably so – that the release by Wikileaks of thousands of US diplomatic cables will have a profound effect on how states communicate both internally and with other states. This global event is also highly likely to alter in important ways existing relationships between digital activists, governments and the news media. How can these changes be studied comparatively, across countries and regions?

A number of people expressed an interest in this project through various channels. Perhaps it’s time to have an online and/or offline meeting on this issue? It would of course have to be an interdisciplinary effort, not just an anthropological project. Drop me a line if you’d like to discuss how to take this idea further, including where to meet, funding, etc.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2010 10:28 am

    See for instance, Brazil´s outgoing presindent Lula’s defence of the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange:

  2. December 11, 2010 11:47 am

    July 29, 2010 By editors

    Global Geopolitics & Political Economy


  3. December 15, 2010 10:42 am

    The anthropologist Max Forte writes:

    “This is a conflict, Wikileaks is a movement, but what transformation can we expect, and would that transformation be revolutionary? That we have reached a crossroads is clear: never again will the relationship between state power, media, and citizenship be the same. It should be easy enough to agree with Julian Assange who recently stated: “geopolitics will be separated into pre and post cablegate phases;” and Carne Ross, a British diplomat, who wrote: “History may now be dated pre- or post-WikiLeaks.” ”

  4. December 15, 2010 11:05 am

    On 29 Nov 2010 zunguzungu writes:

    “Early responses seem to indicate that Wikileaks is well on its way to accomplishing some of its goals. As Simon Jenkins put it (in a great piece in its own right) “The leaks have blown a hole in the framework by which states guard their secrets.” And if the diplomats quoted by Le Monde are right that, “we will never again be able to practice diplomacy like before,” this is exactly what Wikileaks was trying to do. It’s sort of pathetic hearing diplomats and government shills lament that the normal work of “diplomacy” will now be impossible, like complaining that that the guy boxing you out is making it hard to get rebounds. Poor dears. If Assange is right to point out that his organization has accomplished more state scrutiny than the entire rest of the journalistic apparatus combined, he’s right but he’s also deflecting the issue: if Wikileaks does some of the things that journalists do, it also does some very different things. Assange, as his introductory remarks indicate quite clearly, is in the business of “radically shift[ing] regime behavior.””

  5. Mark Allen Peterson permalink
    January 4, 2011 8:44 pm

    For me, one of the things that is interesting about these new phenomena is the ways people engage in extrapolations about the future on the basis of current shifts in media technologies.

    Something very interesting is going on with regard to people constructing imagined social futures on the basis of the ways new practices using contemporary technologies intervene in traditional practices. They lament “this technology will change the way diplomacy is done” ignoring the fact that it is changes in how things are done–the digitalization of both cables and their security–that enabled the new counterpractices to emerge.

    Assange and his informants would be defeated in they went back to actual diplomatic pouches filled with actual hard copies handcuffed to the wrist of the security officer.

  6. January 10, 2011 8:59 am

    Yes, and this hypothetical return to ‘actual hard copies’ may actually not be that hypothetical (since we’re on the subject of speculating about the future). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rise of new and old means of non-digital communication, and not just within the State Dept.

  7. January 10, 2011 9:00 am

    An interesting take on geopolitics and the Web by Morozov:

    “Information technology has been rightly celebrated for flattening traditional boundaries and borders, but there can be no doubt that its future will be shaped decisively by geopolitics. Over the past few years, policymakers around the world have had constant reminders of their growing dependence on—and vulnerability to—the new technology: the uncovering of the mysterious China-based GhostNet network, which spied on diplomatic missions around the globe; the purported crippling of Iran’s nuclear capability by the Stuxnet virus; and, of course, the whole WikiLeaks affair. Governments are taking a closer look at who is providing their hardware, software and services—and they are increasingly deciding that it is dangerous not to develop independent national capabilities of their own. ”

  8. January 24, 2011 8:52 am


    La révolte sur Internet s’étend dans le monde arabe

    Le groupe des Anonymous dénonce désormais les atteintes à la liberté d’expression en Egypte, en Arabie Saoudite, en Algérie, en Libye… appelant à attaquer les sites officiels.


  1. C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Closing the week 49 – Featuring Anthropology of Wikivism

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