A great deal has been written about the role of new media in recent episodes of social unrest in the Middle East, Europe, North America and other regions. However, missing from most discussions is a careful consideration of the processual dimensions of these struggles. Instead we are often given synoptic accounts that fail to take into account the unique constellations of media actors, technologies and arenas that will obtain at different stages of a conflict. In this paper I find inspiration in the Manchester School of Anthropology’s emphasis on the ‘processual form’ of a political conflict (Postill 2011). Drawing from a year’s anthropological fieldwork in Barcelona (Spain), I reconstruct the shifting mediascape of Spain’s 15-M or indignados movement, from its roots in an online mobilisation against an anti-digital piracy bill through its square occupation phase to more recent events, including its seminal influence on the global Occupy movement. I argue that markedly distinct mediascapes did indeed shape – and were in turn shaped – by a heterogeneous assortment of political actors at different phases of the conflict, including a strange webfellowship of (micro)bloggers, hackers, technopreneurs, lawyers and students during the preparatory stages of the 15 May marches. It is within such transient configurations, I propose, that we can best assess the significance of different media technologies to the birth, growth and eventual demise of a protest movement. I end by briefly considering the potential applicability of this processual approach to other social unrest case studies.
John Postill is an anthropologist who specialises in media and internet studies. He has a PhD in anthropology from University College London (UCL) and is senior lecturer in media at Sheffield Hallam University. He has conducted fieldwork in Malaysia and Spain and is the author of Media and Nation Building (2006) and Localizing the Internet (2011) and the co-editor of Theorising Media and Practice (2010). Currently he is writing a book about social media and protest, with special reference to Spain’s indignados movement.