Imagine the following: the Twitter accounts for the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other government entities belonging to the Interior Department suddenly stop tweeting and go silent. While, in this alternative present, we still know about some of their historical tweets, tweet battles (should they have had any), and other things that had been documented outside of Twitter itself, their Twitter accounts no longer tweet things about bobcats or bears. There is just the memory of what, historically, they had said.
While this is not, currently, the actual state of affairs*, I think we can engage in retrofuturist [retropresentist?] thought and critically ask questions about what such closures would mean. We can also take it a step further and ask the following:
If these Twitter accounts had been for community organizers, anarchists, or folks engaged in anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-____ist work, what would their closure have meant? What would it have meant for pedagogy intended to raise awareness about anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-_____ist work?
With the changeover in US leadership on Janurary 20th 2017, various websites and sources of information have been indexed or, in more polemic language, deleted and replaced with sites that, to some, are quite questionable not only in the content they have on the site, but, and in my view more importantly, for what is missing. I say all of this not to get into a manichnistic argument about the specific events noted above. Rather, the intention here is to ground a discussion about the role of the web as it relates to, and allows relations between, peoples who otherwise may never see, read, or have access to narratives outside of a certain circle and what implication this has for pedagogy and praxis.
In his 2014 article “Working openly on the web: a manifesto” Doug Belshaw makes a point about what, in their phrasing, is “control” over a section of the web. For those who are partial to “control” language, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. I, however, am hesitant to accept this language as I think that linguistically we should be skeptical of language that delineates control over, ownership of, something since, structurally, I think this plays into an “achievement” and individualistic mindset as opposed to a more malleable and open mindset of improvement and communal effort (labor?) in creating and discovering. As such, I wish to understand and parse the events (e.g., the retrofuturist twitter debacle and the indexing of various websites) not through the lens of “control of” but rather as a type of “freedom from control of”. In philosophical terms as a type of negative right as opposed to a positive one. But as I said earlier, those who are partial to “control” language can use it to understand the gist of my points below.
As Belshaw says “services change their privacy settings, close down, and are taken over by megacorps”. The events that transpired in retrofuturist twitter certainly represent a type of limitation, and for some folks perhaps censorship, on what is allowed to be shared on the web and with whom. For these reasons, Belshaw centers their recommendation to “control” part of the web to, at least in part, avoid sudden discontinuations of access. For me, this and other elements of his blog post, specifically as they relate to notions of collaboration, relate to notions found in Campbell’s and Hitchcock’s pieces. Specifically, they relate to notions of connection, collaboration, and mutual labor.
Campbell, in their 2016 piece “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning“, pulls from Kuh to construct an educational praxis informed by improvement, as opposed to achievement, based learning. In doing so I, at least, see this an emphasis that pushes against individualistic goals and, instead, turns to focus on working with others as opposed to being in opposition, and competing against, them. To relate this back to Belshaw, a community of folks involved in collaborative work would benefit from the negative right mentioned earlier both due to I) being able to make connections and exchange ideas and II) having I without the threat of censorship or passive power limitations on conversations.
For both, the actors or agents are not limited to those with certain degrees or professions; they can be professors, students, or anyone else with access to the internet and a blogging platform. As such, to me at least, these all serve to fight back against myths of scarcity and intrinsic inability, to pull from work by Pharr. A person does not need to be an authority in their field, does not need to have access to legitimized and often corporatized lines of formal publication, to share narratives and/or to be involved in collaborative work.
To speak to the latter notion, for a number of folks, such as for trans folks as explained by Janet Mock, blogs have been an integral way to share narratives and make connections. In fact, blogs and open lines of communication have allowed for capacity building and for folks to recognize and locate others who are invested in the same types of liberatory (or other) work.
As to the former, I want to prompt with a question: What must we believe about someone to consider them to be void of meaningful contribution? While I don’t want to answer this question here, I do want to point to Eric Rofes and the collaborative work he did with school children in the creation of books on death, divorce, and parents written by and for children. What must he have believed to see the school children as creators and authors in their own right and what might this indicate about the structure of our pedagogical praxis?
This brings me back to my initial questions about the implications for social movements and pedagogy. In this blog post, in many ways I haven’t tried to answer my initial question directly and that is very intentional. While I think that pedagogy, especially that which is geared towards informing liberatory praxis, will probably include elements of collaborative learning, the negative right, a shift away from individualistic and achievement oriented goals, and ultimately connections that span both current temporal and spatial limitations, I want to leave it an open question that ultimately may include some of these elements or even none of them. I don’t think that it is a question I, or anyone alone, can answer. Rather, it is a question I think we must work together to answer or, more likely than not, continuously rework an answer to.
*While it is the case that certain Twitter accounts are no longer permitted to post about “political” issues, they are still allowed to post about bears, bobcats, and bison. I see a significant differences between a closed account vs “partial” restrictions hence it being a “retro” futurist/presentist account.
edit: fixed a date and added the * clarification.