Postill, J. forthcoming. The uneven convergence of digital freedom activism and popular protest: a global theory of the new protest movements. Submitted to the journal Convergence in September 2013, Special issue on “New Media, Global Activism and Politics” Vol. 20, no. 3 (August 2014).
The existing literature on the recent global wave of social protest ranges from theories that regard new media as ‘game-changers’, to those that stress the centrality of global communication networks or of online/offline articulations in the occupied squares, to those that seek explanations not in new media but in the protracted crisis of financial capitalism. This article proposes an alternative theory of the new protest movements centred on the growing convergence of the global movement for digital freedom with local forms of social unrest. Eschewing vague references to undifferentiated ‘digital natives’ or young indignants as the driving force behind the protests, the proposed theory highlights the importance of a global techno-libertarian vanguard led by three types of digital freedom specialist, namely hackers, lawyers and journalists. In some national contexts but not others, these politicised technology ‘nerds’ succeeded in joining forces with a heterogeneous front made up of both tech and non-tech specialists (artists, designers, social activists, intellectuals, teachers, students, etc.), blending their techno-libertarianism with popular demands for freedom and social justice. The proposed term for this novel formula is 3MP (3 techno-libertarian types + an activist miscellany + the general population). The empirical evidence for this theory is drawn from my anthropological research among Spain’s indignados as well as from the secondary comparative literature both from countries where the powerful 3MP convergence took place (e.g. Iceland, Tunisia, the US, Mexico) and from those where it failed to do so (e.g. the Netherlands).