The Gathering of Concerns: New Forms of Collectivity and Political Action in Spain of the 21st Century
Early morning on the 11th of March, 2004, there took place a terrorist attack in Cercanías--Madrid’s local train system. This event triggered an intense public response. Spaniards gathered in protest against violence and, most importantly, the Spanish government’s politics in the Middle East. Independent information channels--SMSs, emails, and weblogs--played a crucial role in organizing demonstrations and circulating information and opinions. At first falsely represented by the government and the official media as a feat of the Basque terrorists, the attack was in fact prepared by Islamic radicals in response to the involvement of Spain in Iraq. The handling of the event by the ruling party became its political suicide: it lost the elections, which coincidentally were scheduled just a few days after the bombing. The questions that March 11 raises concern the notion of political activism and collective action. Many prominent voices in Spanish cultural studies insist on a dissipation of collective agency and on an elusive quality of contemporary politics, which becomes a “simulacrum” fed and reproduced by the media. Madrid bombing and its political consequences urge us to rethink such an approach and to elaborate new models of cultural analysis. This paper looks at the March tragedy with the help of Pásalo: a collection of letters, emails, SMSs, poems, and narratives inspired by the event and published online by an independent internet collective. The mediated perspective I use in this work merges the political and the discursive and allows for seeing the mechanisms of collective action beyond a simple dualism of word and action, spontaneity and control. Thus, I bring to my analysis the phenomenon of “smart mobs” and recent theoretical approaches related to it. I also use Bruno Latour’s notion of the political as a “thing of concern” that gathers together diverse agencies in order to induce change in the social fabric. This gathering, as Latour argues, is enabled by various technologies--also denominated as interfaces, platforms, or mediations--that make “things” public. Thus the question about what politics is in Spain today becomes a question not only of the issues that attract collective interest, but also of how and thanks to what technologies collectives can gather and produce change. My analysis merges an examination of how technology enabled the public mobilization in response to March 11 with an analysis of textual and publishing activity this mobilization inspired. The two sides of the political coin become prominent here: the immediacy of action and the effort to stabilize and make it public through word and technology. Understanding how these two entwine may take us closer to seeing where and how the political and the collective emerge in the technological world of today.
Keywords: Spain, Technology, Terrorism, Smart mobs, Internet, Nation-state, Political activism, Alternative communities
Assistant Professor, Department of Languages and Literature, University of Utah