Friday, January 30, 2015

Public Authority: The End of Public Higher Education in Wisconsin?


In Scott Walker’s first budget in 2011, the one that included the notorious Act 10, which outlawed the formation of, and any substantive bargaining from, public employee unions, there was a proposal to split off UW-Madison from the UW System by making Madison a “public authority.” Back in 2011 plans for this separation of Madison from the UW System went so far that Biddy Martin, then UW-Madison Chancellor, had prepared the text for a new Chapter 37, which would apply only to UW-Madison and would govern it as a public authority that preserved all of the protections for academic freedom, faculty governance, and tenure that are written in to the Wisconsin Statutes. This 2011 proposal would have left the legal status of the rest of the System unchanged under Chapter 36, which lays out the statutory authority (and guidelines) for the University of Wisconsin System, the only university system in the nation so authorized. Indeed in 2010, when I was recruited to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies (and when Scott Walker was only a candidate for the governorship of Wisconsin), this statutory protection was held up as a point of pride for the UW System because it provided more substantive academic protections than in other states.

In 2011 resistance both by the UW System and by Republican lawmakers with UW campuses in their districts caused this plan to be dropped; instead the Republican legislature took the option behind door number 2, which was to slash funding for the System and freeze tuition, thus forcing severe budget cuts on all campuses, including Madison. Knowing that no major proposal from Scott Walker could go forward without consultation with his big-money handlers about how it would impact his future as a presidential candidate, I do not think that this public authority idea was raised lightly, or that it was dropped from Walker’s ALEC-inspired playbook simply because of initial opposition in 2011. Indeed the idea has resurfaced in 2015 in the run-up to Walker’s budget announcement on February 3, but this time in relation to the whole system, without singling out Madison. What would it mean to transform the University of Wisconsin System from a state agency to a public authority? To answer this question we need to understand what the consequences would be for the UW System, how this might serve as a model for other red states (think Kansas, for example), and how it could be leveraged to propel Walker’s campaign for the 2016 GOP nomination.

Although all of the details are not filled in, it looks like Scott Walker’s bold presidential campaign move for 2016 will be the transformation of the university system from a state agency dependent on taxpayer funding to a quasi-independent "public-benefit corporation," thus legalizing in practice what has already been happening in theory, the corporatization of the University of Wisconsin System. By granting the System autonomy and freedom to make its own administrative/business decisions and therefore, or so the neoliberalism of the ALEC playbook goes, Walker and his Republican allies will enable the System to find “efficiencies” and raise revenues that will compensate for the cuts in state funding, which according to an announcement on January 27, will return to their 1998 levels with a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System in the upcoming biennial. In addition to these devastating cuts, the first year of which for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee would be equivalent to the entire budget of the Lubar School of Business, the danger of this transformation to semi-private corporation is that System employees and faculty would lose their statutory protections (things like tenure, faculty governance, job security, and academic freedom are currently protected by state statutes) in favor of the contractual protections offered by the Board of Regents, who will now have almost complete authority over the UW System.

The problem with this change, of course, is that 16 of the 18 Regents are political appointees (appointed by the governor)—two ex-officio and 14 on staggered seven-year terms—as opposed to being elected, say, as they are (on a campus-by-campus basis) in Michigan, where I formerly taught. That means, four years into the Walker administration, that more than half of the governor-appointed Regents are Walker appointees; before the end of Scott Walker's second term all of them will be. So by the end of this next biennial budget (2017), tenure and faculty governance, as well as such decisions like the appropriate number of campuses needed for the System, will be at the whims of a board made up entirely of Scott Walker appointees.

The political brilliance of this move (make no mistake, Walker and his handlers are brilliant electoral politicians) is that if and when these protections are stripped in the next couple of years, the blame will not go to the Governor or the legislature but to the Walker-appointed Board of Regents, who will claim to have acted responsibly and in the system's interests to make changes to deal with the terrible crisis caused by the Republican tax cuts. When tuition is raised and campuses closed, it will not be the state government that did it, but those egg-headed academics and their Board of Regents. Indeed in a January 28 interview on right-wing radio, Walker premediated the possibility of Regents raising faculty workloads: "I think you were right, your comments today on Right Wisconsin, that maybe it's time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work. And this authority frees up the UW administration to make those sorts of requests, which I think are needed not only here but across the country."

In considering the financial situation in Wisconsin, it is important to recognize that the current budget crisis is not, as in 2008, a systematic breakdown, but the product of political decisions made by Walker and the Republican legislature in Madison. The deficit has been manufactured by $800 million in tax cuts, mainly to property owners, that the state could not afford. Unfortunately, rather than highlight this fact and suggest that the easiest way to get out of this budget crisis would be to roll back (if only temporarily) the tax cuts instituted in Walker’s first term, our University System leaders have accepted that deficit, and the reduced University funding that it has prompted, as a given, a natural fact like Lake Michigan or the North Woods. There seems to be no effort to be proactive, to try to control or at least shape the narrative to counter Walker's anticipated (and widely forecasted) budget announcement on February 3.

UW System president Ray Cross is doing little or nothing to combat the dominant narrative in the media, which is to say the Walker administration’s narrative. Locally our Chancellor's stance has mainly been to prepare to deal with the massive and devastating cuts that are coming down the pike, preparing to address the situation in more detail when the specifics become known on February 3.  And even though it does not look good for UWM, there are many people in Madison who feel that they will benefit from this shift to a public authority, especially if they are given the opportunity to set their own tuition rates. Being free from the state HR and purchasing systems and being able to follow the Michigan model in raising out-of-state tuition and increasing out-of-state students, Madison should eventually do quite well financially, although like University of Michigan they will less and less serve as a public institution serving the people of their state. But in the short run, these draconian budget cuts will be impossible to accommodate without cutting hundreds of part-time and full-time faculty and staff. Indeed UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank has said explicitly that there would be no way to absorb such a dramatic revenue cut without “laying off” employees in every one of her units, particularly on the educational side of the university.

Most disturbingly, System President Cross has painted the proposal as something of a bargain or negotiation, in which the State gives the University System autonomy “in exchange” for rolling back state funding of the System to 1998 levels and providing guaranteed funding from sales tax revenue, albeit starting with a budget cut back to 1998 levels. Cross responded to the proposal to make the UW System a public authority in a document from the Office of the President released on January 26. The document is full of unsubstantiated assertions about financial benefits gained from public authority status. There appears to have been no research conducted on whether this will indeed be true, no debate or discussion among faculty, staff, and students about whether this is a change worth pursuing.

In the document Cross begins by accepting the Walker claim that these budget cuts to the system have been “dictated” by the "large state budget shortfall.” He writes: "Looking ahead, a large state budget shortfall dictates that the UW System will be receiving a sizeable funding cut.  This follows significant cuts over the last three budgets as well as a continuation of the current tuition freeze for the upcoming biennium. The UW System expects a $300 million cut over the 2015‐17 biennium.” As I have noted, this shortfall doesn't "dictate" a funding cut; Walker and his allies dictate that. The current budget shortfall is a direct consequence of recent property tax cuts that the state had no way to pay for.

In welcoming the new freedoms of a public authority, Cross then glosses over the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who will lose their jobs to accommodate these cuts as posing "difficult and significant choices" that will be compensated for in the long run by making the UW System "more nimble and more responsive," demonstrating a true insensitivity to the people who make Wisconsin's universities work and the students they serve: "To manage these cuts, the UW System and its institutions will be forced to make difficult and significant choices in the short term…. In the longer term, the flexibilities granted through the authority and the consistency generated by the dedicated, sustainable funding source will help make the UW System a stronger, more nimble and more responsive higher educational system for generations to come."

His attempt to reassure system faculty, staff, and students that tenure and shared governance will be protected raises as many questions as it answers. He writes: "Shared governance and tenure--two principles that are critical to delivering a high‐quality education--will be managed by the Board of Regents through board policy rather than by the legislature through statute. This is the standard among many other state higher education systems.” Note that Cross does not say that tenure and shared governance will be “protected” but that they will be "managed" by the governor-appointed Board of Regents. This “management” by the Regents is fundamentally weaker than the current statutory protections in Wisconsin's Chapter 36. What Cross (and all UW System leaders) should be advocating for, if the move to a public authority must go through, is that the statutory protections of Chapter 36 be imported into a new Chapter 37, which will form the basis of the transformation of the UW System into a public authority. Anything less makes such protections subject to the whims of an appointed, not elected, Board of Regents, which represents a de facto power shift from the legislative to the executive branch of state government, a de facto weakening of local control. (Thanks to Aneesh Aneesh for this observation.)

Finally, it is important to note that while Wisconsin may be the first state to corporatize its university system as a public authority, it is unlikely to be the last. In a Republican Party committed to privatizing education at all levels, from K-16 and beyond, what happens in Wisconsin will be closely watched—and if successful, emulated in statehouses across the nation. The clever combination of granting “freedom” and “autonomy” to University leaders while simultaneously slashing even further the obligations of state governments to fund public higher education, will be a centerpiece of Walker’s presidential campaign and a model for Republican governors nationwide to consolidate power in their states.

To conclude, I would invoke a Biblical analogy I have used elsewhere to criticize the UW System's participation in Scott Walker's online flexible degrees.  If these proposed changes succeed, Ray Cross will have sold the University of Wisconsin System's birthright to Scott Walker for less than a mess of pottage, and is likely to go down in the history of public higher education as a modern-day Esau, the System President on whose watch a once-respected public University System was reduced to a second-rate “public-benefit corporation.”

 Richard Grusin

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coda on Premediation and Preemption

In the final paragraph of yesterday’s blog post on the premediation of Hurricane (now post-tropical cyclone turned post-tropical storm) Sandy, I wrote:  

“The premediation of Sandy does not work to preempt damage; there is no possibility that the damage is going to be prevented or displaced.  Rather premediation works to prepare people affectively for what might be coming and to multiply the virtual forms in which the damage might emerge, what kind of event Sandy will turn out to have been.  Premediation helps to bring Sandy into being not to prevent it.  Most importantly the premediation of Sandy does not exist outside of the event as something distinct from it but rather is immanent to the event; premediation is part and parcel of Sandy itself.”

I wanted to return to the relation between premediation and preemption to expand on and clarify this paragraph.  For on the face of it the claim that the premediation of Sandy does not preempt damage seems plain wrong.  The global aim of the massive premediation of disaster and catastrophe by media, government, and non-governmental agencies is precisely to minimize damage to life and property.  By prefiguring, modeling, and simulating the potential paths and consequences of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, premediation may not aim to preempt damage completely, but surely does aim to preempt some potential damage, particularly to human life and to technical infrastructure. 

But what is so interesting about the way premediation works, and what links it to preemption, is that is does not consist merely of warnings about the potential dangers that would result from the event of Sandy but it creates these very dangers in advance of Sandy’s arrival as a way to try to contain, control, or minimize the damage that Sandy will cause.  That is, rather than wait for the disaster to occur and then to repair or remediate it, premediation creates the effects of the disaster before they happen—closing subways, schools, Wall Street, businesses, government offices, and so forth. 

The working of premediation here is indeed very close to what Brian Massumi has characterized as “the primacy of preemption” in US politics during the Bush (and now the Obama) administration.  But in the case of Sandy, and similar events of geopolitical and natural catastrophes, what we are witnessing could more accurately be described as “the primacy of premediation” in which our print, televisual, and networked news media create the damage of the catastrophe or disaster before it happens through the force of premediation alone.   

Premediation constitutes the virtuality of the catastrophe or disaster produced by Sandy, generating real effects prior to and in some sense independent of the actualization of the hurricane itself.  It is immanent to the disaster insofar as it is generated in advance of the hurricane itself, much as the wind, waves, and rains that serve as the forerunners to Sandy’s landfall.  And, I would argue, the multiple premediations of Sandy’s eventual landfall and ultimate dissipation are no less real than the storm’s meteorological and climatological effects, and are no less part of the heterogeneous event known throughout the print, televisual, and socially networked media as Hurricane Sandy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Premediating Sandy

For several days in advance of its eventual landfall, Sandy has been premediated throughout the print, televisual, and socially networked news media as a "Frankenstorm," a once in a thousand year event.  Meteorologists, media professionals, and netizens have been waiting in anxious anticipation of an event whose arrival seems in some sense already to have come. 

For nearly a decade I have been tracking the way in which the temporality of news media has shifted from a focus on the present and recent past to a focus on the future.  Made visible first in the run-up to the Iraq War, news media have increasingly concerned themselves with the premediation of potential futures as much as with the remediation of the recent past.  This shift from remediation to premediation has in part been fueled by the proliferation of big data, of computing technologies that aggregate massive amounts of information in order to mine them for indications of futures that are or might be coming.  It has also involved a massive expansion of what kinds of media count as news.

The introduction of global cable news networks in the 1980s and 1990s expanded the reach of live, real-time news coverage from regularly scheduled broadcasts to a 24-7, always on capability to cover whatever crisis or catastrophe or item of interest might arise anywhere in the world (or beyond) at any time.  In the 21st century social media have expanded the reach of news media exponentially.  Now, in addition to local, network, and cable news on television, and daily and weekly print news media, socially networked media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, TUMBLR, Instagram, and others all participate in the remediation and premediation of news across the globally networked world.

In addition to the temporal shift enabled by this proliferation of forms of mediation we have also seen a shift in focus from the idea that the aim of the news was to report on what actually happened ("all the news that's fit to print") to the idea that the aim of the news is to premediate what might happen, a shift in emphasis from the actual to the virtual as the province of news media. While this is a daily feature of news in the 21st century, some events make this shift to the premediation of the virtual more evident. Clearly we can see this in the nearly non-stop election coverage of the past 18 months or so, where news media focus much more on the potential implications of any actual occurrences (debates, public statements, revelations of past actions) than on the occurrences themselves.  And the future-oriented media temporality of catastrophes like the impending landfall of Hurricane Sandy make particularly clear the way in which print, televisual, and socially networked media today participate in a logic of premediation in which media attend less to what is happening or has happened and more to anticipating what might, or is about to, happen.

In keeping with the Deleuzian version of this distinction, it is important to remember that this shift in media temporality is not a shift from "real" news to "simulated" or "imaginary" news.  With Deleuze, Guattari, and others, I want to insist that what we are witnessing is a shift in the notion of the real, in which the virtual futures premediated across our socially networked media are as real as the actual pasts reported in our print, televisual, and networked news.  Indeed because of the surplus of virtual futures premediated across our socially networked media, it makes sense to think that these virtual futures are indeed more real than the actual pasts that have been traditionally reported in the news.

One of the things that becomes evident in the premediation of Sandy is the realization that Sandy itself is not the sole agent or origin or cause of catastrophic disaster but that this disaster precedes Sandy’s arrival.  So on Sunday, a full 24 hours before Sandy's expected landfall, subways and roads were closed; flights were cancelled; schools were cancelled; government offices were closed; people were evacuated; power may be shut off in anticipation of Sandy's disrupting it.  All of these events preceded the arrival of the storm, its hurricane-force winds, its torrential rains, its massive flooding. Sandy's premediation has real social, political, and economic effects prior to its meteorological impact. The print, televisual, and socially networked news media do not just report on the effects of Sandy after they happen but in some sense produce these effects virtually before they happen, in anticipation of their happening.

What is key here is the realization that disaster and catastrophe are always and already forms of premediation, strategies for premediating the hurricane and the damage and destruction it might bring. The forms that this destruction will take, and many of its most significant economic and social effects, precede the hurricane event—or perhaps are part of that event’s becoming.  Premediation helps to bring forth events, to structure them, not just representationally or cognitively but more importantly, or more accurately, ontogenetically. In this sense premediation is related to Brian Massumi’s account of preemption—but differs from it in certain key respects.

The premediation of Sandy does not work to preempt damage; there is no possibility that the damage is going to be prevented or displaced.  Rather premediation works to prepare people affectively for what might be coming and to multiply the virtual forms in which the damage might emerge, what kind of event Sandy will turn out to have been.  Premediation helps to bring Sandy into being not to prevent it.  Most importantly the premediation of Sandy does not exist outside of the event as something distinct from it but rather is immanent to the event; premediation is part and parcel of Sandy itself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Obama Premediates War With Iran By Discouraging It

About ten days ago I got a tweet from Cosmopolitan Scum asking me if there was any thinking on how anti-war protests act, in a sense, to premediate the war to come? It was only when this tweeter actually saw a poster for a "Don't attack Iran" protest that s/he felt that such a war was actually possible. While a similar phenomenon had been recounted in regard to the worldwide protests against war with Iraq in February 2003, the question got me thinking about how negative premediations might function, a question I had taken up in 2008 in a paranoid video premediation about the possibility of Bush-Cheney refusing to relinquish control of the executive branch on January 20, 2009.

It is hardly news to note that the premediation of war with Iran has been intensifying over the past month or so both in official government statements and in the print, televisual, and networked news media. Glenn Greenwald has been particularly good on this topic in Salon, taking on The New York Times, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's Erin Burnett as leading the chorus of voices premediating war with Iran, even engaging in a heated Twitter exchange with Burnett over the past few days. Last Friday, the headline of a piece by Huffington Post's Michael Calderone explicitly drew the connection with the run-up to the Iraq War: "Iran Nuclear Coverage Echoes Iraq War Media Frenzy." That same day Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi cited Greenwald in arguing that we are seeing in the media a rehearsal of the drumbeats that led up to the Iraq War in 2003: "You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms."

While the comparison of the current premediation of Iran with the media's role in premediating war with Iraq in 2002-3 is well-taken, what can get lost in the comparison is the arguably more interesting differences between the two situations, particularly between the way in which war with Iran is being premediated by the Obama administration and the way in which the Bush-Cheney administration premediated the war in Iraq. In both cases premediation operates through government spokesmen, military and intelligence proxies, and media outlets. But what distinguishes the current premediation of war in Iran is the way in which, unlike Bush-Cheney, the Obama administration spokesmen operate to premediate war with Iran not by making the case for such war, but the opposite--premediating war with Iran by explaining why such a war would be a bad idea.

Over the past weekend both the US and British governments (who together led the way in making the case for war against Iraq in 2002-3) have made it clear that they disapprove of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Statements from the Israeli government, on the other hand, insist that all options are on the table. Meanwhile, Iran has cut off shipments of oil to Britain and France, ahead of sanctions by the French and the British that would have ended that trade in the near future, and are now threatening to cut off other European nations as well.

Despite the Obama administration's caution, global news media continue to premediate a variety of different military confrontations involving Iran. The most visible involves the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has threatened to cut off oil traffic through the Gulf. Cable news media like CNN have begun accompanying their stories about this potential development with maps of the Gulf oil routes and video of Iranian warships, premediating (as they had in the run-up to the Iraq War) the audiovisual mood of war in advance of any potential blockade--and irrespective of whether such a conflict even occurs.

On February 20, the front page of the New York Times provides an even more complex premediation of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, one which bears more than a passing resemblance to the shape of articles and cable news stories that proliferated in the run-up to the Iraq War. Although the thrust of the article is to outline the difficulties of an Israeli attack, the detailed premediation of various options--including how many (and what kind of) planes Israel would need, where their flight paths could take them, how they would have to refuel, what their targets and timing would be, and whether they could pull it off without the help of the US--make such an attack all the more tangible. And while such an attack remains for the moment only virtual, its effects on the collective mood of the global media public is quite real.

On NBC Nightly News that same evening, a similar case was made, including maps in motion with the three different flight plan options and a retired general to make the case against Israel attacking Iran.

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The question to be asked about these negative premediations is whether they work to make such attacks less likely or whether, even while arguing against an Israeli attack, such premediations make such an attack, or some form of war with Iran, more likely. What seems clear is that these premediations (both for and against a potential war with Iran) are serving to shape the mood of the nation, in part to prepare the media public to accept a war if it were to come about, and in part to minimize the sense that such a war would be unnecessary, unjust, or just plain wrong.

Interestingly, if Israel were to attack Iran despite the Obama administration's negative premediations, this would not be the first time that Obama has discouraged a course of action in the Middle East that his administration later followed in some form or another. Clearly some version of this course of action was followed with Libya, and the current hands off policy in Syria might also turn out to be a similar prelude to US intervention of some sort or another.

But I am less concerned, and less qualified, to analyze the Obama administration's foreign policy strategy than I am interested in making sense of their policies and practices of premediation. What makes the Obama administration's negative premediation strategy so interesting is the way in which it clarifies that premediation works independent of its specific content. That is, although the Bush-Cheney premediation of potential paths to war with Iraq turned out to be followed by the shock and awe of March 2003, the premediation of this war had already worked to produce a national affect of at-warness prior to and independent of the war itself.

Similarly, in the current situation we can see that premediation does not only have to work by advocating a particular course of action but can work as well to produce a warlike national mood even while discouraging a course of action. What distinguishes premediation from prediction or preparation or planning is that it works not only whether any of the premediated possibilities actually come about but even when what is being premediated is the opposite of what might come about. Or put differently one can premediate war not only by rehearsing it or making the arguments for it but by discourarging it, making the arguments against it. Both open up, or proliferate, potential paths towards (or away from) war. And most powerfully both produce the same collective mood or orientation towards war, thereby providing an environment in which such war seems not unthinkable but rather thinkable as something that we may see, and indeed have already seen, on TV.

So, can anti-war protests be seen to premediate the very course of action they are protesting against? To answer a question with a question, how could they not?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

40 Days in the Wilderness: Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street

Given the biblical implications of 40 days and nights, this is as good a time as any to add my voice to the swelling chorus of academic analyses of #occupywallstreet. Nearly two weeks into the occupation of Wall Street I had suggested in an initial analysis that no matter how the occupation turned out it was already successful insofar as it had premediated the occupation of Wall Street and other occupations across the world. In particular I argued that “Insofar as premediation generates potential or virtual futures as a way to mobilize individual and collective affect in the present,… #occupywallstreet opens up paths to potential futures in which the occupation of Wall Street (or the political occupation of other sites) is actualized.” 40 days into the occupation, I want to develop this claim further to argue that it is precisely its virtuality, its resistance to making specific demands or adopting a platform, that makes #occupywallstreet successful and that will keep it growing and thriving.

The virtuality of the movement is evident in its very name, which calls for the occupation of Wall Street even while not occupying Wall Street per se. The occupation of Zuccotti Park is near Wall Street, but Wall Street is not occupied either as street, building, or financial institution. Wall Street is, however, virtually occupied, as Times Square has been, as Chicago or Los Angeles or the London Stock Exchange have been. While some veterans of earlier protest movements have argued that occupation involves going inside buildings and taking possession—as Wisconsin protesters did in the State Capitol—it is the potentiality of these virtual occupations, I would argue, their premediation of greater and more numerous and powerful potential occupations in the future, that vitalizes the Occupy movement.

The virtuality of the Occupy movement is evident as well in the widespread feeling that the movement should not at this point make explicit demands, for doing so would prematurely and unnecessarily constrain or limit the movement’s gathering strength. Despite increasingly vocal appeals by the chattering class of the mainstream political media for the Occupy movement to develop a list of specific demands it has now become almost a truism that such demands would be premature. In a brief video interview Wallace Shawn gives voice to the widely shared belief that the movement is in the preliminary stage, that it is "before the moment of specifics." Judith Butler plays off of this belief in her recent speech at Washington Square Park about demanding the impossible, which is another way to refuse actualizing or realizing any particular demands, but rather of encouraging the proliferation of informed, half-formed, nascent or potential exams.

Premediation works by mobilizing affect in the present, by deploying multiple modes of mediation and remediation in shaping the affectivity of the public, in preparing people for some field of possible future actions, in producing a mood or structure of feeling that makes possible certain kinds of actions, thoughts, speech, affectivities, feelings, moods, mediations that might not have seemed possible before or that might have fallen flat or died on the vine or not produced echoes and reverberations. As an event of premediation, #occupywallstreet is also working to change the mood or collective affective tone in the media, in public discourse, in social networks, and in the political sphere so that talking about amnesty for college or mortgage debt or demanding increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations or thinking about restructuring property relations and economic becomes not only permissible, but indeed begins to appear as common sense or received wisdom. So #occupywallstreet may make it possible, say, for politicians to take positions they could not have taken before, by providing cover, or clearing the ground, by means of the shaping of collective moods or structures of feeling out of which more intense feelings about economic injustice are generated.

Before any specific goals or demands can be formulated, and perhaps even if they never are, what has to happen first is that #occupywallstreet must continue to do what it is already doing—fostering and intensifying what Jonathan Flatley would characterizes as “a revolutionary counter-mood.” The heart of this revolutionary counter-mood can be found in what the opening lines of the September 29 Declaration of the Occupation of New York City call a collective "feeling of mass injustice." “As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.” The initial aims of #occupywallstreet seem clear—to produce and intensify a mood of occupation or civil disobedience, a shared feeling of injustice towards such developments as income inequality, the foreclosure crisis, workplace discrimination, student loan debt, and a host of other 21st century developments. It is too early to have the kind of specific list of grievances, demands, goals, but rather this is the time to try to spread and complexify the networks of revolutionary feelings, to try out the power of popular assembly, to let it grow and mutate and mobilize to see how powerful or extensive it might get.

40 days into the occupation, #occupywallstreet is perhaps still becoming a movement. Or to play off of Erin Manning’s recent book, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, I would suggest that #occupywallstreet might best be understood as a becoming movement, still in a stage of preacceleration or incipient movement. As a virtual movement #occupywallstreet remains in an ongoing process of inventing what a global social and political movement can be in the 21st century. In so doing it is producing its own rhythms, its own temporality, through stages of preacceleration and intensification and emergence and articulation, only then to return to another interval of preacceleration and re-intensification and re-individuaton. “When articulation becomes collective, a politics is made palpable whereby what is produced is the potential for divergent series of movements. This is a virtual politics, a politics of the not-yet… These are not politics we can choreograph but politics in the making…. These are politics of that many-bodied state of transition that is the collective” (27).

It is precisely this incipience, this preacceleration, that makes #occupywallstreet so frustrating to politicians and political commentators, who are trapped within neoliberalism’s calculus “of the rational modern subject,” according to which the Occupy movement does not compute—does not even compute exactly as a movement, since it has no clear aim or goal. This incipient emergence can be both powerful and frustrating for those participating in the occupation, as expressed in this recent piece from Harrison Schultz: “For the sake of keeping your head sane and your heart still engaged, be aware: we are not in control. You are not in control. We at the NYC occupation are not in control. The website hosts are not in control. No one is in control of this hurricane.” As Schultz suggests, not unlike recent geotechnical, political disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill, or the Sendai quake, or the occupation’s more immediate precursors in the University of California student protests, the Arab Spring, or the labor protests in Madison, #occupywallstreet is emerging as a complex 21st-century media event, with its own temporality, its own affectivities, and its own scale.

In her recent post on “Lessons from #occupywallstreet,” Jodi Dean addresses the movement’s incipience and its untapped potential, the fact that “the movement exceeds any single occupation.” Dean writes: “We will start learning the different tonalities and variations of this movement. Some sites might become more intensive as others regroup. Some might abandon one site in order to occupy new possibilities. Regrouping is an opportunity: an opportunity to build outside of the prying eyes and presumptive expectations of a 24/7 media cycle concerned only with pumping content through feeds.” The “regrouping” that Dean speaks of functions similarly to what Manning describes as the “interval.” “Political philosophy has not made space for the interval within the vocabulary of the rational modern subject,” writes Manning, “yet the interval has nonetheless leaked into the complex iterations of pure plastic rhythm’s political becomings” (28).

Insofar as #occupywallstreet in fact creates such an interval in the daily rhythm of business as usual, it has the ability to open the political space for potential becomings whose scope and power remain untapped and unsounded. Dean sees the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere as providing for an opportunity to regroup, an interval, from which the Occupy movement can emerge with even greater vitality than it currently possesses. In the past few days, police crackdowns in Chicago, Atlanta, and most violently Oakland have brought about state-sponsored intervals which will almost certainly have the result of intensifying the movement. And insofar as Atlanta and Oakland are relatively temperate in the winter, it would not be surprising to see those nodes on the Occupy network intensify in the coming months. As a virtual occupation of Wall Street and hundreds of other sites around the world, the Occupy movement should take advantage of whatever intervals it can make or find to help actualize a more just world. By premediating and proliferating potential futures for social and political opposition and a more just world, #occupywallstreet will be able to intensify "a feeling of mass injustice," thereby mobilizing collective affectivity towards an increasingly powerful revolutionary counter-mood of occupation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Premediates the Occupation of Wall Street

Nearing the end of its second week, the movement called Occupy Wall Street has begun to attract both media and celebrity attention. Excessive police brutality over the past weekend caught the eye of the New York Times, the big three US network news broadcasts, and (before either of the other two) cable news networks like MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. This mainstream media discussion has fostered an increasingly intense debate in online media and the blogosphere about the trivial or condescending nature of the media coverage, as well as about the significance of this "occupation," its strategy, tactics, messaging, and long-term goals.

The focus of much of this discussion (even the meta-media critiques) has been on the significance of the occupation itself, what it represents, what it might become. What has been missing from these mainstream and participatory media accounts is any sustained critical and theoretical discussion of Occupy Wall Street as itself an act of mediation, or as I understand it, of premediation. Occupy Wall Street is best understood as a premediation of the occupation of Wall Street. Let me explain.

Because most of the successful political premediations of the 21st century have been in the service of state and corporate power, I have often been asked whether premediation could contest, oppose, or overturn hegemonic power. Put most starkly, can premediation advocate or help to actualize political change or revolution?

Since introducing the concept in 2003, I have consistently maintained that premediation is not tied to a particular politics. Premediation describes a media formation which emerged and intensified within a historically specific social, political, and technical media regime. Because premediation readily fuels and is fueled by fear, the post-9/11 security environment has been a particularly rich moment for state power to deploy strategies of premediation as a form of preemptive control, as seen in Bush-Cheney's dramatic expansion of executive power in waging the Iraq War and creating a powerful domestic security apparatus.

Insofar as premediation generates potential or virtual futures as a way to mobilize individual and collective affect in the present, there is no reason why such futures could not kindle or nourish a collective affective state of opposition or rebellion. This, I would argue, is what Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in doing, no matter how long the occupation lasts or what eventually comes of it. And in so doing Occupy Wall Street opens up paths to potential futures in which the occupation of Wall Street (or the political occupation of other sites) is actualized. No matter what its goals, tactics, or ultimate conclusion, Occupy Wall Street is successfully premediating the occupation of Wall Street.

This premediation was already evident in the July call for a September 17 occupation, presented on the Adbusters website. The current site archives the ways in which the September 17 event was premediated for over two months. In its initial call to occupy Wall Street on September 17, the Adbusters website seemed designed more to premediate potential occupations in the future than to prompt an actual occupation in September 2011. In the run-up to September 17 the site offered a variety of premediated formats to promote and mobilize individual and collective revolutionary affect through circulation across socially networked media.

The way that Occupy Wall Street functions mainly as a premediation of the occupation of Wall Street can be further drawn out if we compare it to the large protests and 24-7 occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison in February and March of this year. Writing about those protests in February, I suggested that they functioned as Benjaminian test performances for socially networked media. This seems even more to be the case with Occupy Wall Street, which seems to have as much to do with generating audiovisual images of protest, occupation, and rebellion in print, televisual, and networked media as with occupying any particular portion of institutional Wall Street.

Still the differences between the two protests should not be understated. The Madison protests were motivated by clear and immediate political wrongs, which were threatening to be made into state law. Occupy Wall Street scheduled its demonstrations and occupations as far back as July and premediated the September 17 occupation in a variety of media forms. Occupy Wall Street differs from the Madison protests as well in regard to the contrast between the significant national celebrity presence at the Wall Street protest as compared to the more regional presence of labor leaders and local politicians in the Madison protests earlier this year.

In making this comparison I am not making the (perhaps justifiable) claim that the Madison protests were authentic expressions of widespread popular political opposition while Occupy Wall Street was an inauthentic political action staged by a group of net activists. Rather I am arguing that it is precisely the premediation of potential future occupations that constitutes Occupy Wall Street's political efficacy and that this premediation is no less "authentic" (a concept I find problematic in any event) than the protests in Wisconsin.

That Occupy Wall Street is first and foremost a successful instance of premediation is borne out in part by the heavy Hollywood and public intellectual media presence, from Roseanne Barr, Susan Sarandon, and Lupe Fiasco to Michael Moore, Cornel West, and the Yes Men. Again, this is not to criticize Occupy Wall Street but to try to explain what I take to be its long-term social and political impact. The presence of media figures from the left is part and parcel of the liberal premediation assemblage, much as the presence of televangelicals and right-wing "intellectuals" populate and propagate conservative versions of premediation.

The most lasting legacy of Occupy Wall Street might very well be precisely its successful demonstration of how premediation can be mobilized in the service of resistance and opposition rather than securitization and control.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Part 3: Conversation with Henry Jenkins on Remediation, Premediation, and Transmedia

Here's a link to the third and final part of my conversation with Henry Jenkins on remediation, premediation, and transmedia. It's on history and politics--the meatiest of the three parts. Check it out.