Times Are A Changin’: Temporality, Memory and Social Movements in the Digital Age

Times Are A Changin'

The Times Are A Changin’ Symposium was held at the University of Westminster on the 2nd and 3rd of June 2016 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at Times Are A Changing: Temporality, Memory and Social Movements in the Digital Age, a two-day symposium at the University of Westminster organised by Dr. Samuel Merrill and Dr. Anastasia Kavada. I really enjoyed the chance to meet new people, listen to some fantastic presentations and engage with some new concepts. Most of the other attendees were from Memory Studies or Media Studies, so there were a lot of new ideas for me to think about, particularly around the key themes of the symposium, temporality and memory.

As a Geographer, I am aware of just how significant time is (although space will always be my favourite!) However, the ways that different temporalities can impact, and be used by, activists and social movements is not something I had considered before. In her paper, Dr. Veronica Barassi argued that temporalities are constructed through practice, which means that activists can resist or reproduce hegemonic temporalities through their actions. Dr. Kavada’s presentation about the recent Nuit Debout protests in France provided a good example of this. The activists varied the speed at which they posted on social media depending on when they wanted attention; they would increase the intensity of posts before a important protest or meeting, for example. Dr. Kavada called this ‘temporal agency’; activists can gain power by negotiating with, or interfering in, temporal rhythms. It could be interesting to think through these ideas in the context of my PhD as the activists involved in my case studies had very different media technologies available to them, which all involved different temporalities.

The other key theme of the symposium was memory. For some activists and social movements, the memory of past events, people, and movements can be an important source of inspiration, morale, and identity. There were several papers relating to the various ways in which activists carry out ‘memory-work,’ such as Lorenzo Zamponi’s paper on #ioricordo, a hashtag created to memorialise the 2001 Genoa G8 protests. Archives have a significant role to play in the preservation of memory. Foteini Aravani, the Digital Curator at the Museum of London, gave a fascinating presentation about the museum’s experiences collecting items and digital media relating to recent protests, such as Occupy London. You do not have to be a museum to create an archive, however, and some movements choose to keep their own records.  Dr. Anne Kaun’s paper, entitled “Archiving Protest: Changing Temporal Regimes of the Archive,” discussed how modern social movement groups create their own digital archives. Occupy Wall Street had an archiving working group in order to capture representations of the movement from their own perspective. For my case study on the Battle of Cable Street, I am focusing on the various ways in which the Battle has been remembered, and how these memories are constructed and used, so this element of the symposium was also very helpful for me.

I have only mentioned a few of the great papers and speakers from Times Are A Changin’, there was so much interesting research presented that I can’t discuss it all. Suffice it to say that the symposium gave me a lot to think about, and I am confident that my own research will be better because I went. With that in mind, I would like to thank Sam Merrill and Anastasia Kavada for organising the symposium, and particularly Sam Merrill for inviting me. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

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2 thoughts on “Times Are A Changin’: Temporality, Memory and Social Movements in the Digital Age

  1. Thanks for the overview, sounds like it was an interesting symposium!

    Out of curiosity, was there anything on the fragility of digital memory? I’m doing some research at the moment, and what is quite striking is how often I’ve come across hurdles as a social researcher attempting to use the internet as a form of archive – from web pages / blog posts / youtube videos being deleted, through to the instability of large (or small) websites. It’s been interesting coming across unexpected limitations in digital methods.

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    • There was some discussion about this kind of thing, and it is a problem I have also encountered in my own research. I think there is a sense that the digital will be preserved forever, but this is not the case. It may even be that digital sources will not last as long as other types; for example you would have real trouble accessing a floppy disk nowadays, but you can still read a parchment. I have to remind myself that there is no format in which EVERYTHING gets preserved.
      Apologies if this is obvious to you, but have you tried the UK Web Archive or the Way Back Machine on archives.org? I have found both helpful in recovering websites that are no longer accessible.

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