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At the beginning of this semester I had a conversation with Kellan in which I tweaked his nose about how transient his life is. “How do you ever intend to effect sustainable social change if you keep moving around?” I asked him, cheekily. “Who said I did?” he responded. When I pushed him a little more, he allowed that he wasn’t sure he believed in change.

This revelation troubled me rather deeply, for reasons I’m still straightening out. I saved the communication on my desktop for later reference, hoping to come back to it.

I’ve had ample time to meditate on the process of change and what role I want to take in it this semester. In a class called Technology and School Change, we’re reading a truly amazing book titled Diffusion of Innovations which discusses how new ideas, technologies, and practices get spread. I don’t have a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point around, but I imagine it relied heavily on this book, a 518-page compendium of research on change across about eight different academic fields over a period of just about exactly a hundred years. Sixty of those pages are references. It’s written by a pioneer in the field who has been updating the book regularly since its first publication in 1962. With that kind of heft it’s amazing that the book is readable, but the ideas in it are well-illustrated and rigorously organized, and all in all it’s quite engaging.

Meanwhile, the class I’m taking on the history of communications also focuses on how change happens. In it we investigate the much broader topic of communications systems and the transformations of society they accompany and contribute to.

The net effect of the two courses has been a split in my take on change. I feel I’ve gotten a very clear sense of how change is made in on a small scale, and like what I know might prove effective at some point. By contrast, I’m increasingly overwhelmed by the impossibility of effecting change on a large scale, compounding the hopelessness I first started to feel on September 11th.

I was going back to graduate school, I figured this summer, to think about how I really wanted to work for equality. I hadn’t thought too hard about it; in fact, going to a school of education for a degree in communications was a sneaky way out of deciding what I wanted to do, since it encompassed so many disciplines. Now I feel like I should drop out for a semester and reconsider what I’m aiming for and what skills I need to pick up along the way.

I started to write something here about the disconnect I see between the literature on change (and its history) and the strategies of the activist groups I’ve been involved with, how their strategies are limited to a rather small toolkit, and many of the tools don’t take into account how people adopt changes or the historical complexities of societal change. This was spurred in part by Evan’s recent outlining of a book chapter he’s apparently writing about Indymedia. I see a lot of anarchist posturing there, and not a lot of attempt to spread Indymedia to more people by understanding how it would fit in with their culture, whether its aims would be viewed as an advantage by them, who might get involved first in a given community and how to leverage that to get more people involved, etc. Then again maybe that’s someone else’s chapter.

Anyway the writing proved to be a huge endeavor. I’m really out of touch with Indymedia, I only feel able to comment on it within the context of the United States, and I kept wondering why I felt so compelled to rehash and analyze it that I might want to write so much about it. I guess Indymedia’s meaning in my life isn’t as settled as Hampshire’s is right now. (In the context of grad school and continuing the study of education, having gone to Hampshire suddenly makes a shitload more sense than it did during my Div III or in successive years.) I also think it’s deeply deeply flawed! ahem. but yeah, besides, everyone in my research group is sick and I think I’m coming down with it. Sarah said “viral meningitis” today. I sd shut up dont jinx us.

Speaking of sick, tomorrow the cat goes to the vet to be dewormed! Will this never end?!!!


  1. kellan wrote:

    Leaving my own role in this story to the side, the other text that everyone seems to be reading (and actually finishing for once, as compared to say Empire, which everyone was carrying, but not reading) is “New Media, 1740-1915”. A little fluffy, but its a fun read, and re-examines one of my favorites Americanisms, the myth of progress.

    Thursday, November 13, 2003 at 1:31 am | Permalink
  2. itamar wrote:

    “The Apartheid State in Crisis: Political Transformation in South Africa 1975-1990”, by Robert Price, is rather relevant, and an interesting read.

    Thursday, November 13, 2003 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Roger wrote:

    Well, since I’m too polite to suggest that _Capital_ is actually the best existing text on “social change,” what do you think of Postman and Weingartner’s _Teaching as a Subversive Activity_? I’ve been reading it recently, and I think it’s not grounded in an adequate theory of society (thus the authors’ can-do optimism and America-centrism, and their assumption that government public-works programs exist primarily for the benefit of the public rather than the program of those in power) and it sounds a bit dated in places, but the central critique of education and program for improving it sounds dead-on to me. Apparently this is also one of the manifestos of the “Inquiry Method” pedagogy which Camp Hamp embraces. I was pleased to see that I’m not the only person who thinks a blanket ban should be imposed against teachers asking questions they already (think they) know the answers to (“convergent” questions if you want to talk ed-jargon).

    Thursday, November 13, 2003 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  4. kellan wrote:

    I think you’re being a bit reductionist in your view of the the “Indymedia model”, or perhaps I just don’t understand the question (which certainly happens frequently enough)

    Indymedia doesn’t have *a* model per se, it isn’t a movement, and it isn’t a one stop shopping location for all of ones political needs and expressions. It’s a tactic, an idea, and one that has been relatively successful.

    Saturday, November 15, 2003 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  5. gus wrote:

    OK, yeah, I knew there was more than one model, I just sort of let myself get overwhelmed most of the time by my experiences with the models I have dealt with.

    But then, what would Indymedia be as a “tactic” or an “idea”? That seems like it might end up being reductionist, too. And I think it’s a little disingenuous to describe it as “model-less”, just as it’s disingenuous to say it has no leaders, is anarchist, or that nobody speaks for it. I think that ends up covering for the fact that there *are* de facto leaders, at least opinion leaders; that it often develops structures even as people try to keep it from doing so; and certain people end up speaking for it frequently in forums external to its own operations.

    It has been said that Indymedia centers can develop into “voluntocracies,” and I know I saw it happen in New York and perpetrated that myself in DC and Philly protest centers.

    Saturday, November 15, 2003 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  6. Roger wrote:

    “built on *literature demonstrating what has caused change in the past*, not on theories of society […] theories should inform […] but I don’t think they’re good models for change itself”

    So in your opinion there are “theories,” which have no practical consequences, and then there is “literature” and “models”? And “literature” is, I guess, something like a collection of examples (of things changing), which produces “models for change.” I don’t understand what the difference is between this and “theory,” or what “theory” could possibly mean without having empirical consequences. Maybe it has to do with the relative proportion of specific examples (vs. general explanation) we like in our “theory.”

    If a “theory of society” weren’t descriptive — that is, if it weren’t able to diagnose the real causes of existing problems and suggest possible ways of fixing them — wouldn’t that just mean that it was false?

    Monday, November 17, 2003 at 1:42 am | Permalink
  7. kellan wrote:

    It really is dependent on how you define leaders. Someone is a leader to the extent that you follow them. One of the interesting dynamics of IMC is every community involved in IMC would define who the leaders of IMC are differently. If everyone involved with a project points to a different person and says, “they, they are the leader”, are there really leaders?

    As for whether there is a model, I think I was trying to hilight two ideas.

    1. IMC is like the proverbial elephant, I’ve never seem anyone describe or implement it the same way twice.

    2. I was responding to your (perfectly valid) critique that IMC isn’t “taking into account how people adopt changes”, by trying to bring out the fact that IMC is part of a suite of tools, and is, quite conciously, insufficient in and of itself.

    Thursday, November 20, 2003 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  8. dana wrote:

    don’t give up don’t give up don’t give up

    I still think I can effect change. Most of the time, it is in really small things like listening to how people are *really* doing in their lives. Sometimes it is the bigger ones like working with reluctant teachers who are just beginning to integrate technology in this city. The big changes? They are made up of the smaller ones. Of course there are no guarantees and all of that but it is only the trying and the living that make anything possible….

    Thursday, December 18, 2003 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

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