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25. Digital rights activists vs. Trans-Pacific Partnership: a field-theoretical analysis

November 11, 2015

This is the 25th post in the freedom technologists series

Keynote to the conference
“Media, culture and change across the Pacific:
perspectives from Asia, Oceania and the Americas”
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP)

Lima, Peru
16-17 November 2015

Dr John Postill
RMIT University, Melbourne


On 5 October 2015, following 7 years of negotiations, twelve states around the Pacific Rim (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam) signed a trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With its member states accounting for 40% of the global economy, if ratified the TPP would be the largest regional trade deal in history. The agreement, conducted in secrecy, has proved highly controversial among health professionals, environmentalists, trade unionists, digital rights activists and other political actors, who regard it as furthering the interests of transnational corporations and the US government at the expense of the peoples of the region and their environment. In this keynote address I use a dynamic, diachronic, post-Bourdieuan field theoretical approach (Postill 2011, 2015; Fligstein and McAdam 2012) to examine the ongoing struggle of digital rights activists, or ‘freedom technologists’ (Postill 2014), against the TPP. I understand TPP advocates and their opponents as operating within two highly distinct, antagonistic ‘fields of strategic action’ (FSA) with their own sites of governance, everyday ‘stations’, media repertoires and internal conflicts. Of particular significance is the almost total absence so far of Turnerian (1974) ‘arenas’ of public contention, i.e. sites where TPP field agents would have no choice but to defend themselves in public from accusations of secrecy, lack of accountability, abusive copyright policies, etc. This, however, could be about to change as the struggle enters a new phase of protest and greater media visibility in the US and other member states.


Fligstein, N., & McAdam, D. (2012) A Theory of Fields. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Postill, J. 2014. Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: a theory of protest formulas. Convergence 20 (3), 402-418.

Postill, J. 2015. Fields: Dynamic configurations of practices, games, and socialities. In V. Amit (ed.) Thinking Through Sociality: An Anthropological Interrogation of Key Concepts. Oxford: Berghahn, pp. 47-68.

Turner, V.W. 1974. Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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