Analysis – Westfield Shopping Centre (Shepherd’s Bush)

DSCN2716.jpg

Rationalisation

Rationalisation is when “bad” or debatable actions and thoughts are seen as justifiable or logical. George Ritzer and Todd Stillman (2001) say that “Rationalization serves to expedite consumption” especially in the context of shopping malls. Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush has several examples of the rationalization. As one of the biggest shopping malls in the UK, it aims to make as much money as possible and thus wants to make it as easy and accessible to everyone. A part of this efficiency is banks being on the ground floor – the first floor you are on which you enter the building from and also from the main entrance there are ATMs, which you can withdraw cash for free of charge.

IMG_3869.jpg

Shopping malls have a majority of clothing stores and there is always a choice for clothing retailers and food, from H&M to Gucci. A element of predictability used in shopping malls especially Westfield (Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford) is that they have a department store on each end of the mall – usually the store with homeware, clothing and make up is at the end of the mall, sealing the shopping experience. A department store in itself means that you are worn down upon entrance, re-energised through the food court and then worn down again upon the final visit to Debenhams (Shepherd’s Bush) or John Lewis (Stratford). They also have high fashion high street retailers in their malls such as TopShop, Zara and Gap which attract the younger shoppers.

DSCN2678.jpg

The fact that the mall is split up into “worlds” for the different audiences of consumer adds to the automation that is falsified. One of the most interesting worlds I visited is “The Village”, which feels isolated from the rest of the mall. “The Village” could be described as the physical version of a paywall which you encounter on the internet. The Kooples is a shop which uses a play on the phrase “the couples” and uses this as a part of their visual merchandising with their women and men collections facing each other. This adds an element of interaction to the consumption and environment.

There is a feeling of dis-enchantment to the consumer as the predictability keeps it from losing customers who are visitors but for regulars it becomes boring and more of a chore unless they are getting their food shopping. However, in an area like Shepherd’s Bush with a historic food market, there would be many reasons not to visit Westfield on a daily basis.

IMG_3911.jpg

Re-Enchantment

One of the simulations you see in communal areas in Westfields is that the seating area is designed similar in colour and design to a Japanese bonsai garden, fitting into the modern and illusionary calm and theme of Westfield. The area allows people to slow down and to relax before moving onto next activity. I also adds a social aspect and allows people to meet up and becomes a making point for unfamiliar shoppers.

DSCN2726DSCN2729

Certain shops rely on re-enchantment in order to keep the customer coming back. The biggest example of this in Westfield is The Disney Store. Situated at the beginning of the baby/child wear block of the mall, it is a prime attraction but when we visited, it was during the week and day time so there were low numbers of children. It has to be noted that not only do children love The Disney Store, but adults too. With its glittery floors and bright lights, it is a little slice of Disneyland without the expenses. It uses the visuals of classic Disney movies to remind you of them and also engage the customers as a method of cross selling; i.e. Hearing “Let it Go” would be ideal as they have a whole pole of Frozen merchandise.

A method of hybrid consumption in Westfield is the cinema within the mall. This wraps up the whole trip experience for many visitors, shop – perhaps a lighter one than usual – then go see the latest blockbuster. Therefore, increasing the amount of money spent on food as time will have passed and time in Westfield.  Another method in this particular mall was Kidzania in which kids – people who are not direct consumers – get to have their own simulated adventure in which they are a pilot or another “respected” person. It is a spectacle for the kids as it is something that they’ll remember but it is spectacular for the parents as it means more social time for them  and it is near the department store so they are able to make focused decisions about mature products.

Time and space is manipulated in very obvious ways at Westfield. There are no clocks so you have no real sense of time and there is permanent good weather and day time using the interior design. The toilets aren’t labelled properly and are hidden in terms of signage meaning you are walking deeper and closer to the middle of the mall. There is music constantly playing which is pop, around walking pace, meaning it is nothing too distracting that you need to be lead astray in order to figure out what the song is.

 

IMG_3903IMG_3904

Spatial Design and Flexibility

Tenants pay different rents in shopping centres as certain tenants attract more customers to the mall. Without certain shops, the mall would be seen as unattractive or boring. Apple is a shop which pays the some of the lowest rates of rent as it is able to  “single-handedly lift sales by 10% at the malls in which they operate” according to Suzanne Kapner (2015) on the Wall Street Journal. “That gives Apple the clout to negotiate extremely low rents for itself relative to its sales, while creating upward pressure on prices paid by mall neighbors who might not benefit from the traffic.” Using this knowledge, high fashion retailer, TopShop would most likely also pay the least rent as it is one of the UK’s top womenswear retailers.

 

DSCN2697.jpgThe centre of the Westfield is where the food court and most of the important shops are, such as Apple, TopShop and Zara. On top of the food court is the cinema which is why it is such as popular. On the ground floor, there is also a communal area, with several benches, where people with bigger families are able to rest and sit in a muted coloured area, away from the rapid spending on the first floor. There are also several snack stands with sweet treats, most likely for kids and young adults.

Sociability and Inclusivity

Overall, Westfield can be seen as both an inclusive and exclusive space due to the amount of CCTV but also the fact that any one in the general public could wonder in and not with the aim of spending money. A particular group of people I observed whilst in Westfield White City was elderly men. They do not spend money, but people watch and for them can be seen as an aspect of socialising as it is better for them to be in the mall than at home, alone. Westfield is a catalyst for gentrification for areas it places itself in and because of it’s look, it can be seen as cleansing the person who visits or cleansing the area it grows within. However, the city has more opportunities for ethical decisions and purchases, and you are able to get a grasp of personality on an area. Westfield has many faces but they are all false and for every shoppers ease and needs.

 

Bibliography

Kapner, S. (2015). Apple Gets Sweet Deals From Mall Operators. [online] WSJ. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-gets-sweet-deals-from-mall-operators-1426007804 [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Ritzer, G. and Stillman, T. (2001), ‘The Modern Las Vegas Casino-Hotel: The paradigmatic new means of consumption’, M@n@gement

Adamson, G (2009), ‘If you build it will they shop?’ at http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/sketch-product/ if-you-build-it-will-they-shop

The McDonaldization of Iceland

George Ritzer (1993) in his book, The McDonaldization of Society defines McDonaldization as “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more of American society, as well as the rest of the world.” There are four main points which are a part of the process which are efficiency, predictability,  calculability and control.

Efficiency helps in the process of selling to the customers as it makes it easy and fast to get a meal. This is connected to predictability in which if efficiency is done well, people know that they will get the same meal, in two different countries, in two different continents and it will taste the same, the decor of the restaurant will be the same, or similar to blend into the country’s culture in which it is geographically based in. Calculability means that in the case of Dominos, a fast food restaurant which mainly serves pizza, quantity is equal to quality as workers workers are judged on how fast they are instead of the quality of the production which would be valued in for example, Michelin star restaurants where quality is higher than quantity.

The most important is of the points is control as it is the reason you feel compelled to repeatedly give your custom to these brands. Ritzer (1993) describes the restaurants as a “dehumanizing setting in which to eat or work.” This is in complete contrast to the fact that food is a basic human right which normally isn’t a shameful thing to consume but because of the calculability of McDonaldization, it means that low value food, is seen as food for the working or lower class. He also compares it to “an assembly line” which makes the process again sound removed from humanity and more into robotics. It is possible that people who are repeat customers don’t want to think about the ethics or production methods of the food they are eating therefore as a method of survival just thinking about the tasks they must pursue for the day. It also highlights the fact that the ideal customer would be someone who has the least amount of time, but just the right amount of money to eat. Employees at places that use the process would also have a limited amount of skills as they would be repeating the same tasks every day. This is also a method of control as the skills they learned would be communication skills and many other would be hard to transfer into a different setting thus it would be very easy to have a long term job and hard to leave without other skills.

Similar to McDonald’s, Iceland and it’s speciality of frozen foods offers “efficiency” and predictability as you know that when you visit an Iceland supermarket a majority of the shop will be frozen foods including vegetables, meat, fish and ready meals. As, the shop floor consists of freezers which take up a majority of the space, there is a sense of predictability. Iceland always has a deal on and is known for it’s cheap food which although may not be nutritious and good to eat on a daily basis, are filling and easy to divide amongst a family of four – the nuclear family. You can see this through many items they sell, for example most packets of battered cod, half of the traditional British meal of fish and chips, are sold in packs of 4, including the the brand Young’s Chip Shop and their own brand packets.

IMG_3840

Iceland have over the past decade become aware of the competition between other supermarkets and them. They have thus begun adding more and more dry food including varieties of confectionary at very low prices in order to compete with other discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl which have more choice in dry food as they have European suppliers.

In an Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, it is a very popular shop and seems to be established within the centre itself. Traditionally the area has been a very deprived and in need of improvement.  In a Southwark paper written in 2011 the Planning Policy Team (2011) state, “In 2001 the top two most populous ethnic groups in the Walworth and Bankside and Borough Community Council areas were White British and Black or Black British (African)”. It is also popular with Latin Americans. The reason why it is so popular is because Black British people lack the social and financial capital, due to institutional racism to be able to shop in higher end supermarkets such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencers who have more expensive higher quality products. There is also a enthusiasm for cheaper as discount supermarkets have improved and diversified their food stock.

IMG_3841

Upon my visit to Iceland, the first thing I encountered was confectionary, which engages the customer to buy non essential items such as liquid dishwashing soap or biscuits which Iceland aims to distract them from their initial goal of getting the frozen goods they came shopping for or to to attract the customers who are just wandering aimlessly.

They also marked this discount with yellow and black writing which encourages the spending as yellow, is a bright colour and also associated with happiness, which possibly implies that purchasing this cheap item will bring you joy. This is similar to the Golden Arches which McDonald’s uses as their symbol. An iconic symbol which may bring joy to hungry and fans of the restaurant and brand.

 

IMG_3842

Bibliography: 

Bryman, A. (2004). The Disneyization of society. London: SAGE.

Cross, L. (2015). Iceland Food Warehouse – Old Kent Road | GeoLytix. [online] GeoLytix. Available at: http://geolytix.co.uk/blog/iceland-food-warehouse-old-kent-road/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Ritzer, G. (1993). The McDonaldization of society. Newbury Park, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

Southwark.gov.uk, (2011). LONDON BOROUGH OF SOUTHWARK – Elephant and Castle Supplementary Planning document. [online] Available at: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/7058/baseline_information_background_paper. [Accessed 20 Feb. 2016].

Society of the Spectacle

17.

The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not. – Guy Debord

 

Dubord in no. 17 of his Marxist text, Society of the Spectacle explains that when we place consumption over our social lives, the obsession consumes us and that “having” is temporary joy and luxury in comparison to “being” which is permanent – for as long as biology allows us to be. Putting capitalistic needs before your own personal needs such as health or social life in order to progress in social status. This is all false imagery, of course, and “is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not”  Examples can be seen through pop stars such as Rihanna and their excessive displays of opulence, such as wearing a pair of designer headphones worth almost $9,000.

The talk of “individual reality becoming social reality” relates to our current retail market. Deals, sales and promotions constantly appetise us to come into and come back to these stores even if the items which they are selling are low quality. Again, we, the consumers are unconscious and consciously knowing of this but their low prices and deals are attractive and may look great in an Instagram photo. Black Friday is an US sales event which aims to have consumers buy things at very low prices. It has been seen that many of the items are priced higher, then reduced again or cheaper brands which wouldn’t normally sell. UK retailers saw the success of Black Friday and used this – although most likely seeing the negative side of the event – to their advantage.

Black Friday in the UK was a success the first year. Some people even lined up early in the morning to get the best deals of the day, and then when inside the store, physically fought their fellow consumer for the items. However, a few years later it slows down, and less people care about the event for several reasons: it is not a part of British culture, the violence, the realisation that the deals and objects for sale are not high quality and the fact that online shops allow you to do the same thing in the comfort of your home.

The lack of shoppers coming to the stores and the decrease in sales causes a sort of capitalistic anxiety for companies as the internet begins to kill the old method of consumption – the physical department store. For consumers, it allows them to be connected to social media and shopping at the same time. It is positive for them but does share it’s highly negative aspects. A constant need to show, to “appear” on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter means you must be or show the best version of yourself. This could be seen as very positive, as you connect with others and can also be used to reject temptations of “having” however, too much and you live for it, just like consuming.

 

Bibliography

Allen, K. (2015). Black Friday surge fails to prevent November sales slump for retailers. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/08/black-friday-surge-fails-to-prevent-november-sales-slump-for-retailers [Accessed 16 Jan. 2016].

Think with Google, (2016). What Store Traffic Data Reveals About Black Friday Shopping. [online] Available at: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/infographics/black-friday-store-traffic-data.html (Accessed 15 Jan. 2016).

How can radical collectives/archives create social space?

The lack of space for radical creatives to produce and safely archive work of social importance and issues today is an issue of importance. Due to the increase of rents within cities like New York and London, artists, people whose work is not seen to have it’s true financial and social value, are forced out of studios in order for the middle class workers, ideally bankers and lawyers, to live in them. The attraction to these areas is the culmination of realising that artists can create cultural capital, seeing this, and marketing these historically working class and artistic areas to the middle class for further monetisation. Thus, gentrification takes place and sociologist Sharon Zurkin (1989) notes, “directs attention to investors rather than consumers as the source of change.” Now, after its more softer beginnings in the 1970s, what we see is a desperate battle for space; between the public and social, and the private which is taken from the people who can no longer afford it but for whom it was made for.

21INTERFERENCE-master675
Fig 1. A photo of Interference Archive in use. (2013)

To archive, in the radical sense, is to acknowledge the oppressive systems and education, and preserve activist history. Archiving, in more formal settings is inaccessible to the public, and even online, e-journals access is protected by a paywall or there is a need to be connected to an educational institution. If you are neither of these things, you are deprived from this history, and the marginalised voices within it. Having a physical open and free space as an archive and place for people to connect is radical. For example, the Interference Archive in New York City, which opened in late 2011, is a volunteer run organisation. Interference Archive (2014) state that the reason for this project existing “to assert a resistance against the marginalised, dominant narratives that are asserted by the people in power.” The space is funded by donations from the public which emphasises the need to control the content and politics of the space, and not be swayed by wealthy investors with interests of erasure and capitalism. There is a notion in the mainstream that marginalised people, whether that be people of colour and people within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, have no historical achievements but in socialising these traditional academic and formal spaces, it allows free ownership of the archived work. It becomes a collective and collaborative effort to create and explore narratives, as people within that community can easily donate posters, literature or other items of political ephemera, which they cannot donate to an museum or gallery as esteemed as the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim as it wouldn’t be a permanent use of the materials and it would be tainted by branding and possible unethical sponsorship to fund it. Even down to the event name “We Are Who We Archive,” which happened in May 2014, says that this space could not exist without the achievements made by people of the past and people wanting to preserve this history. Physical, radical archives could even be seen as method of “academic” squatting, although they legally occupy these spaces through renting, the literature and other materials that resist status quo are housed in spaces, and it is a collective effort to maintain this space which so crucial to everyone and for everyone to have a voice.

The internet has now given especially has people who may not have access to more popular pre-internet spaces such as as art galleries, a space to create their own online galleries. As the internet is borderless and has no boundaries in terms of space, it allows, especially young marginalised people to deconstruct and produce work with or for people who aren’t necessarily in the same continent as them. For example, a more recent creation, The Spark Mag (2015) is site that “highlights radical artists and connects them with fans and activists”. It could be seen as an an archive as it allows people to see the work freely with opinions of the artist, and also donate money to the artists which they get a large percentage of. However, this is less of a social space as it doesn’t allow discussion but because of social aspect of the internet, the website can be shared through social media as long as the internet exists. This site echoes the work of DIY punk zines which were made in the past and still to this day, as it relies on the support of other independent artists and has no obligation to bow to certain mainstream artists or record labels with money and less political morals, as politics in the music industry is seen to make musicians undesirable and something that cannot be sold. There is limitations to this kind of archive, however, such as it doesn’t exist outside the internet unless effort is made to realise this through events, the ability and possible portfolio of the artist which they are showcasing must be substantial enough to talk about unlike some of the material in Interference Archive which could have been made by an amateur who doesn’t have extensive artistic training and wanted to visually communicate their politics.

55de07fb0c508
An edited selfie of Amandla Stenberg, a member of the Art Hoe Collective. (2015)
tumblr_nsd1k0WR5h1sskt16o1_1280
Fig. 3 A photo taken by the co-founder, Mars of Art Hoe Collective. (2015)

Collectives that solely exist on the internet are a more recent development. They move away from the need for a physical space and into the cyberspace of social media. For young people has become crucial for their art to be seen, especially for marginalised young people who realised that the erasure of people in artistic institutions who look and are like them may not disappear within their lifetimes. The Art Hoe Collective, was created to uplift young people of colour and their work. Their aim which they describe in a Dazed article by Dominique Sisley (2015) is “to use artistic expression as a weapon against cultural stereotyping.” Their work consists of subverting the white gaze, and creating the work in which they see themselves in, instead of white dominated art and media worlds controlling their narratives. Even their name “Art Hoe” could be seen as degrading and derogatory but reclaimed by the founders who are queer people of colour and one is a black woman. Similar to Spark Mag, it aims to make people more aware of the artists’ work with credit and links to their work and also where they post their work is important. Their use of social media such as Instagram or micro-blogging website, Tumblr could be seen as online archiving without the need for maintenance and as many young people visit those sites, there is no need for money to promote their work as people share it constantly and infinitely. Unlike a physical archive, the location of the internet as a social place to post work can be debated as we consume so much information on the daily basis, some can be forgotten but because this collective is for the representation of people of colour, it is most likely that group of young people who will hold emotional attachment and remember the work.

In conclusion, although creatives are pushed out of these spaces and their spaces are fetishised by property developers as the next best thing for the middle class, there are spaces where they can continuously resist. Spaces like the Interference Archive help people from the community come together and donate art which would not fit into private institutions which have social and financial barriers and would be very careful about preservation of the materials. Whether that be through collective effort such as crowdfunding and continuous donation to uphold the space financially; or on the internet where young marginalised people such as the Art Hoe Collective have seen that their faces are not seen in art and voices are not heard for what they are and see that through social media, they can create to see the art that they want to see, and to see themselves in art.

Bibliography

Ayewa, C. (2015). Philly’s DJ Haram Premiers New Track “Basic”. Spark Mag. Available at: http://thesparkmag.com/artists/dj-haram/ (Accessed 5 Dec. 2015).

Creative Time (2015) Creative Time Summit | Alan W. Moore. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS02MnxCwiE (Accessed 5 November 2015).

DARH LCC (2015) Activating Social Movement Histories: Interference Archive at LCC 2014. https://vimeo.com/115250570 (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Harrison, A, (2015). #Arthoe: The feminist movement shattering cultural stereotypes. IDOL Magazine. Available at: http://www.idolmag.co.uk/arts/arthoe-the-feminist-movement-shattering-cultural-stereotypes/ (Accessed 6 Dec. 2015).

Jones, L. (2015). Introducing: The Art Hoe Collective | Fashion Magazine | News. Fashion. Beauty. Music. | oystermag.com. Available at: http://www.oystermag.com/introducing-the-art-hoe-collective (Accessed 6 Dec. 2015).

Mars, (2015). hey could u explain about who created the whole…. Available at: http://sensitiveblackperson.tumblr.com/post/121202562194 (Accessed 6 December. 2015).

Rosler, Martha (2010). Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism, Parts 1-3. e-flux,s journal 21, 12/2010. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/culture-class-art-creativity-urbanism-part-i/ (Accessed: 20 November 2015)

Sisley, D. (2015). What the hell is an ‘art hoe’?. Dazed. Available at: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/25862/1/the-new-art-movement-empowering-poc (Accessed 6 Dec. 2015).

Spark Mag, (2015). SPARK MAG – CULTURE IS A WEAPON. [online] Available at: http://thesparkmag.com/ (Accessed 5 Dec. 2015).

Stimson, B. and Sholette, G. (2007). Collectivism after modernism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Zukin, S. (1989). Loft living. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

The Commodification of the Rebel Spirit

The trend of commodifying images that are meant to be subversive and make people think about social issues is not a new trend but a very uncomfortable thing to see brands produce. Brands like Chanel who’s Ready To Wear 2015 Catwalk show used the ever so popular issue of feminism to help sell their 1970s inspired season of clothes. The video has models walking down the runway in march style with placards with various statements such as “Ladies First” and “History Is Her Story” which doesn’t feel like they are feminists and empowering but faux feminism, a well packaged, styled by Karl Lagerfield, capitalist sheep in wolves’ clothing. A complex and heavily political movement such as feminism cannot be condensed and white-washed into something innocent and non-violent when it and it’s activists have had  effects on the world such as women’s right to votes and to be educated or to just be seen almost equals to men.

Brands use this because they want to attract a certain demographic of young people who want to be seen as “edgy” and stylish and informed on global social issues more than the common citizen who may just watch the news to inform themselves of local issues. The idea of rebelling but wanting to conform. The brand makes you feel what the way the aura is told by the brand which is translated onto the item.  

It is selling the sense of being a part of activism without the devotion to time and energy and the sense of false achievement and togetherness which has been packaged for the masses. It is also because it may be trendy at the time of the commodification (such as feminism and Chanel) and warps the original definition of the movement. The meaning of said social issue which could be very urgent and need attention is downplayed, made tasteless and for face value which is easier to digest. Lisa Wade (2015) describes this as “When tokens of resistance can be bought and sold, rebellion becomes something you purchase and perform.”

Bibliography

CHANEL (2015) Spring-Summer 2015 Ready-To-Wear CHANEL Show. Available at: https://youtu.be/emkZ5rVIv7Q (Accessed 13 November 2015)

Frank, Thomas. Why Johnny Can’t Dissent. Commodify Your Dissent: Saluos from The Baffler, Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland (eds). New York: Norton. 1997, pp.31-45. Originally printed in The Baffler #6, 1995. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/frank-dissent.html

harrypothead (2011) Levi’s Go Forth Commercial – The Laughing Heart – Charles Bukowski. Available at: https://youtu.be/pnNblizjuEk (Accessed: 21 November 2015).

Wade, L. (2015) The commodification of rebellion. Available at: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/08/09/the-commodification-of-rebellion/ (Accessed 14 November 2015)

 

Digital Activism

Digital activism is very easy to find examples for. However, I find that some of the most popular are sometimes the most vague, without context or do not consider that people cannot participate because of historical or social reasons but activism is not a flawless activity or requires flawless people.

My example of digital activism is the most recent and on going student protests in South Africa regarding the decolonisation of their education system and their fees as students. The hashtags #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall are used on social media to tell people outside the cause what is currently happening on a day to day basis. The movement is “A student, staff and worker movement mobilising against institutional white supremacist capitalist patriarchy for the complete decolonization of UCT.” – https://www.facebook.com/RhodesMustFall Using the internet to mobilise as the movement covered the universities of Cape Town, South Africa, would be a way to have high numbers during actions such as marches. The use of the hashtag also enables people to document globally student movements and critique and give advice. The actions during this seem very similar to the movement to destabilise apartheid as it is educational apartheid especially in context of the fees being raised which will allow less black South Africans to go to university and class movement in South Africa will remain how it is currently.

It can be argued that hashtag activism is not real activism because the cause is brought up and then the attention on it fizzles easily in this day and age where we consume social media in a very fast way. DeRay Mckesson, popular Twitter activist and organiser said in an interview with the Atlantic (2015): “Ferguson exists in a tradition of protest. But what is different about Ferguson, or what is important about Ferguson, is that the movement began with regular people. There was no Martin, there was no Malcolm, there was no NAACP, it wasn’t the Urban League. People came together who didn’t necessarily know each other, but knew what they were experiencing was wrong. And that is what started this. What makes that really important, unlike previous struggle, is that—who is the spokesperson? The people. The people, in a very democratic way, became the voice of the struggle.

Our access to information is also so much greater than in the past. For instance, there’s an officer in Ferguson who is really aggressive with protestors for no reason. And I was able to take a picture of him—he would cover his badge with his hand, he would not show his name. So I took a picture of him, put it online, and within 30 minutes they knew everything about him. And that’s a different way of empowering people.”

We Are Legion was a documentary based on the online activist group, Anonymous. Born from the threads on 4chan, a community based website, the group has grown rapidly over the years due to the ability of everyone being able to join and participate in the activities and also the causes which are mostly against anti capitalism and cults. Like most activism groups and actions, the core is questioning the law in order to create a more just society for everyone to live in.

Anonymous runs on a non-hierarchical basis with no leader. On occasion there may be someone who is more experienced or may be a more dominant voice in conversations, but again, there is no head of this activist group. This group shows that it can work, governments can function without a leader, because of democracy within the group. This can confuse mainstream media or structures as it is very alien to their own structure and very hard to pin point the core. They operate on a  bird swarm like structure. One of the main criticisms of this group could be that there is a sense of mob mentality and may have members “going with the flow” instead of thinking for themselves because they are too afraid to break the line.

An example of the good work they have done is #optunisia in which they helped Egyptians under a oppressive rule in 2011 to create an uprising through citizen journalism on the internet. Anonymous gave these citizens the ability to communicate with each other in the chaos, to organise which is one of the positives of digital activism. This operation brought the tools off of the internet and gave the Egyptians what they need to broadcast the events outside, provided tech support to a social movement where without it they would have been stuck, in the dark and without internet access and access to the rest of the world. Digital activism is limitless.

 

Bibliography:

Ground Up (2015) Students fees: facts, figures and observations. Available at:
http://groundup.org.za/features/studentfees/studentfees_0023.html (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Mckesson, D. (2015) ‘Hashtag Activism Isn’t A Copout’. Interview with DeRay Mckesson. Interview by Noah Berlatsky for The Atlantic, 7 January. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/01/not-just-hashtag-activism-why-social-media-matters-to-protestors/384215/ (Accessed: 8th November 2015).

Ochieng, A. (2015) The Racial And Generational Politics Behind South Africa’s #FeesMustFall Protests. Available at: http://www.okayafrica.com/news/fees-must-fall-south-african-protests-racial-and-generational-politics/ (Accessed: 2nd November 2015).

RUTV Journalism Rhodes University (2015) #RHODESSOWHITE – Director’s Cut. Available at: https://youtu.be/pCityGJCaYI (Accessed: 2nd November 2015).

UCT: RhodesMustFall. (2015) UCT: RhodesMustFall. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/RhodesMustFall (Accessed: 8th November 2015).

We Are Legion: The Story of Hactivists (2012) Directed by Brian Knappenberger [Film]. New York, USA: FilmBuff.