IRC16 - Proposed Session - #InternetMovements

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Nov 23, 2015 07:30 PM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Becca Savory, Sarah McKeever, and Shaunak Sen.



Since its early days the Internet has been conceived in terms of both movement and landscape - from “cyberspace” to the “Information Superhighway” - and in popular perception is often viewed as a boundless space imagined in terms of limitless possibilities. Indeed, across our research fields, from digital media to performance and social activism, we find that the Internet is frequently perceived as a space of mobilisation: where moving bodies are remediated within online content; where the movement of images, ideas and bodies can occur freely, with the rapid transmission of the “viral”; and where movement(s) frequently spill over into physical geographies.

Yet increasingly the Internet is also a space of fractured and fragmented movement(s): of blockages and blockades, discontinuities and disappearances. Landscapes become territorialized and movement(s) confined or obstructed. On this basis, we propose an interdisciplinary discussion session around the theme of "#InternetMovement(s)". We ask how we can conceive of movement(s) in relation to the Internet in India, in terms of both mobility and immobility, fissure and flow.

To encourage fluidity, we propose to structure the session around three "nodes" rather than three separate research papers. Our nodes are as follows:

  1. How can we conceive of movement(s) in relation to Internet research in India?
  2. What are the forms that movement(s) take in our respective fields?
  3. What "stop" or blocks" movement in these cases?

The three co-conveners will each prepare a 5-minute response to each of these nodes, based on our specific areas of research. At each nodal point we will then allow time for wider discussion, enabling inter-disciplinary discussion and flow to underpin the session.

We perceive the session to speak to the first of the conference’s core questions: “How do we conceptualise, as an intellectual and political task, the mediation and transformation of social, cultural, political, and economic processes, forces, and sites through internet and digital media technologies in contemporary India?”

Each of the three co-convenors is approaching this question in their own research, asking how online media and communications mediate, remediate and transform the fields of film-media, social activism, and performance. We also ask the corollary: what are the limits and impediments to those transformations or mediations? The following section outlines the co-convenors’ approaches in more detail.



Statement of Intent I

The internet increasingly impresses traces on nearly all media technologies everyday. The once stable film body, gets disaggregated into various new forms of loop videos, GIFS, photo-memes, as clips and stills from disparate films get extracted, re-edited, patched and re-moulded into new user-generated media material. Solitary moments and gestures from films (a menacing wink by Jack Nicholson from The Shining, a clap from Charles Kane, a tear from the Tin-Man in The Wizard of Oz) get completely unchained from the original narrative context and used as discrete independent communicative units (Kane’s a popular Birthday wish gesture, while Nicholson’s Is a common linguistic unit signifying playful flirtation.) One of the primary ontological pegs of cinema - movement, today becomes the center of urgent debate around the status of photographs, movement-image forms like GIFs, and traditional moving images as the basic configuring elements of contemporary cinema. Using the film-GIF form as its primary vector this paper opens up the category of ‘movement’ philosophically as well as a constituent form to understand cinema today within the context of India.

As the cinematic object disperses into thousands of fragments hurtling through innumerable new online contexts, questions related to stardom also get radically transformed. I will be investigating a particular site of cinematic re-instansiation - the recent Alok Nath meme phenomenon. Long relegated to the margins of films as the venerable Hindu middle class father, the ‘’Alok Nath is so sanskaari..’’ set off a viral maelstrom that suddenly recast his cinematic body and the memory of a whole host of films (the Suraj Barjatya Hindu joint-family films). The paper focus on questions around movement as a philosophical arena as well as radical new form re-inscribing the cinematic in hitherto unprecedented shapes today.

Statement of Intent II

An examination of social movements with digital components in India begs several questions: What forms do social movements take in the digital world? How do we conceptualise social movements using digital and physical evidence? How does the context of India – as a functioning democracy - allow or restrict digital and physical social movements and define what is an “acceptable” protest movement? Engaging with these questions demands an interdisciplinary perspective, and exploring the interplays between the physical and the digital in regard to social issue protest movements.

Movement in my particular research area is understood in two aspects: the physical mobilisation of individuals to protest against perceived grievances and the movement of information around specific issue areas. The physical movement of bodies in public places is intimately connected to flow of information throughout digital networks, generating entangled and complex interfaces between the digital and the physical and creating new imagined possibilities of the efficacy of social protest (Castells 2012; Gerbaudo 2012). Examining recent social movements in New Delhi allows us to explore the linkages and disjuncture between the physical and digital, using theoretical developments in social movement theory to anchor the study (Earl, Hunt, and Garrett 2014; Krinsky and Crossley 2014).

Examining the repercussions and strategies of physical/digital mobilisation can lead to a confrontation between the “imagined” possibilities of digital mobilisation and the realities of technological and physical blockages. These blockages can exist at the level of the network – both in digital and physical limitations – but also at the level of digital informational flow and who is allowed to view data? Confronting the “imagined” capabilities with the reality of entrenched power networks contests the notion of the digital as a free superhighway of information into a series of blocks and stoppages, restricting what is possible and feasible. By exploring question of movement(s) in New Delhi, I will explore the disjuncture between the imagined possibilities and the restriction of information – by nature of the algorithms that govern our capabilities and our own social networks – and complicate the triumphal narrative of the affordances of digital mediums on protest movements.


Castells, M. (2012) Networks of Outrage and Networks of Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press

Earl, J., Hunt, J., and Kelly Garrett, R. (2014) ‘Social Movements and the ICT Revolution’ in van der Heijden (Ed.) Handbook of Political Citizenship and Social Movements, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Pgs. 359-383

Gerbaudo, P. (2012) Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism, London: Pluto Press

Krinsky, J. and Crossley, N. (2014) ‘Social Movements and Social Networks: An Introduction’, Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, Vol. 13, No. 1. Pgs. 1-21

Statement of Intent III

My research centres on the recent history of flash mob performance in India and analyses the transformations that have taken place within the genre: firstly, as an initially American, then “global,” performance form becomes re-situated and adapted within an Indian context; and secondly, as the form has evolved over time in relation to the transitioning of the Internet from a predominantly text-based medium to a predominantly image- and video-based one (see Strangelove 2010).

In the field of flash mob performance, we see moving bodies becoming re-mediated as moving images, and mobilised into the flow of global circuits of online reception. My underlying concern when approaching this research is: who is mobile in these contexts? Who becomes visible through movement, and by extension, who may disappear in these same moments?

I intend to approach this session by examining what is enacted through the movements of flash mob performance, focusing on the more recent phase of the genre in which flash mobs become mobilised through online video-sharing practices. I argue that they perform mediated representations of “New India” for an online national and international audience, valorising the new “non-places” (Augé 1992) of Indian supermodernity, through the acts of a mobilised “digerati” (Keniston 2004). If we consider that performance can play a role in the construction of cultural memory (Roach 1996; Taylor 2003), and that the Internet as an archive can become a repository of performances and thus memories(Gehl 2009), I ask if online performance in these contexts may be seen as an aspect of the processes that structure a “politics of forgetting” (Fernandes 2006) in globalising India. Which narratives are rendered visible and which invisible through these performances? Who appears and who disappears? Movement on the Internet thus becomes a political question concerned with comparative mobilities, visibilities, and participation in the narratives of “India” that are constructed for global circulation.


Augé, M., 1992. Non-places : introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. Translated by J. Howe. 1995. London & New York: Verso.

Fernandes, L., 2006. The politics of forgetting: class politics, state power and the restructuring of urban space in India. In Y. Lee and B.S.A. Yeoh eds., Globalisation and the Politics of Forgetting, London; New York: Routledge.

Gehl, R., 2009. YouTube as archive: Who will curate this digital Wunderkammer? International Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(1), pp.43-60.

Keniston, K., 2004. Introduction: The four digital divides. In K. Keniston & D. Kumar eds., IT experience in India: bridging the digital divide, New Delhi; Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Roach, J.R., 1996. Cities of the Dead: Circum-atlantic performance. Chichester and New York: Columbia University Press.

Strangelove, M., 2010. Watching YouTube: Extraordinary videos by ordinary people. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Taylor, D., 2003. The archive and the repertoire: Performing cultural memory in the Americas. USA: Duke University Press.



Noys, B. (2004) Gestural Cinema?: Giorgio Agamben on Film. In Film Philosophy Vol. 8 no. 22. Available at:

Couldry, N. (2015) ‘The Myth of ‘Us’: Digital Networks, Political Change and the Production of Collectivity’, Information Communication and Society, Vol. 18, No. 6. Pgs. 608-626 .

Appadurai, A., (2010) How histories make geographies: circulation and context in a global perspective. Transcultural Studies, 1. Availabile at:



Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.