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[Nettime-bold] Noortje Marres: Why Take the Detour? (from Multitudes #9)

(first posted to the multitudes list and forwarded to nettime with
permission of multitudes)

From: "matheron francois" <>

Ce texte sera publié en français dans le numéro 9 de Multitudes (mai-juin
2002) dans un dossier intitulé "Philosophie politique des multitudes",
contenant notamment des Textes de Toni Negri, Etienne Balibar, Jacques
Rancière. L'ensemble des numéros de Multitudes peuvent être commandés à
l'adresse suivante :, en
entrant dans la rubrique "Revues". Amicalement, François Matheron

(The text below will be published in French in the 9th issues of Multitudes
(May-June 2002) with the topic The Political Philosophy of the Multitudes,
containing, amongst others, articles from Toni Negri, Etienne Balibar and
Jacques Rancière. All the issues of Multitudes can be accessed online via (go to 'Revues'). Yours, François Matheron)


Why take the detour ?
A small exercise in tracing displacements of protest, and issues, accross
the Web.
By Noortje Marres

Translated into English by Anne

I. On the sites that host the political on the Web (just how multiple are
they ?)

The range of sites on which you may encounter the political on the Web is
practically unlimited. Trying to track down the political on the Web, you
run into a campaign to boycot Bacardi rum, into a personal homepage
dedicated to
" basic income " (in Spanish), a movement for " global solidarity ", into
dispossed Guatamalan landowners, into a page introducing the " groundwork
collective " previously hosted by the University of California at San Diego,
into a project to save the fish in the Murcielagos Bay, and into a Dutch
association committed to the logo-free classroom. As it hosts these
multiplicities, the Web drives home the point that politics has migrated
beyond the conventional settings and circuits of the political, the channels
representative and stakeholder democracies. It is not just that these sites
the point, obvious to some, that there may be lots of politics hidden in a
bottle of rum, in Guatemalian farmland,  in the intererior decoration of a
classroom and in the Murcielagos Bay. The campaigns presented on these Web
also resist reduction to the standard formula's of political action put
by conventional democratic theory and practice, the representative and
stakeholder models. Elsewhere on the Web, and off the Web, stakeholder
may be organised, and citizens may be invited to please let themselves be
informed or register to vote. But myriads of other sites -  of the
boycotters of
rum, of the environmental scientists taking up the cause of the fish in
Murcielagos Bay, the individual campaigning for assured basic income - host
political on the Web,  alongside such more easy-to-recognize (and from some
vantage points, more easy to find) political platforms. We can thus still
with the argument which the political philosopher Jodi Dean made a couple of
years ago : one of the prime features of the political agencies that the
Internet discloses is that they resist established conceptions of democracy.

As Jodi Dean puts it, the Net does not present a public sphere, but loose
associations among strange, as yet unencountered, actors, that do not fit
picture of reasonable citizens engaging in reasonable debate. As it presents
these irreducable social actors, the merit of the Internet is that it
undermines and severly complicates this vision of democracy.[1] Even if over
last years, representative and stakeholder democracies moved online en masse
only judging from the hosts of e-democracy initiatives deployed in recent
years), irreducable multiplicities continue to stir themselves on the Web.
However, a conclusion that cannot be derived from the fact that
of sites host the political on the Web, is that politics may here erupt in
setting, and be instigated by any actor. Besides offering living proof of
migration of social politics beyond the established channels, the Web also
provides abundant evidence of the fact that politics follows highly
trajectories. We get a glimpse of politics on the Web, only at particular
moments, at particular sites, of particular actors, relating to particular
issues. To give an example, at the time this short article was written, the
sites of a New York protest network (, a Belgian social movement
(11.11.11), the Dutch branch of a transnational non-governmental
( all refered to two particularly " hot " events, an EU summit in
Barcelona, Spain and an UN summit in Monterrey, Mexico. If you want to get
the tail of the political this week, these sites seemed to say, you better
your gaze on Barcelona, Spain and Monterrey, Mexico. The Web thus equally
reminds us of the truism that even if politics may erupt in myriads of
not everywhere there is politics. The Web makes us familiar with the
of trajectories of politicization.

The above example, however, does not just testify to the particularity of
sites that host the political on the Web, at a given moment. It may also be
to complicate the claim of the migration of politics beyond its conventional
settings, for which the Web offers such convincing proof. Also those actors
have become associated with the migration of politics beyond enthrenched
platforms - social movements - may lead us to sites that fit the
description, if
not of the traditional centers of democracy, at least that of centers of big
decision-making, with the global summit as a case in point. To some, this
tendency of centralisation in social networks on the Web can appear to
the claim of the proliferation of the political, that has become associated
the Web. Social actors mobilizing around issues of globalisation may even
to simply follow that other, scandalous development of the displacement of
politics of recent decades : the migration of institutional politics beyond
channels of national democracy, to international conference dinners and into
hallways of global expert meetings.[2] Instead of a proliferation of
the claim would then be, we are witnessing, on the Web, displacements of
politics that merely runs after the displacement of big politics. But of
it is not so simple, or at least it shouldn't be. We may account for the
specific political trajectories plotted by social actors on the Web, in
with the proliferation of politics beyond the usual circuits of
Thus we ask : why do social actors go out of their way to make a detour via
sites of big decision-making, given the displacement of politics beyond the
conventional settings ? Here  we take up this question by tracing social
movements mobilizing around global issues on the Web - the passage via a
summit site being a most radical example of such detours.

II. On following the issues

Why do the social actors that have become associated with the migration of
political beyond its conventional settings, congregate around sites of big
decision making ? A first, incomplete answer to this question that the Web
us on to, is that these actors are following issues. Tracing social
accross the Web, it appears that the causes with which these movements have
associated themselves lead them to zoom in on these sites. Two examples can
this clear. In the first case, we witness on the Web how Dutch climate
follow the issue of climate change all the way into the conference rooms of
Okura Hotel in Amsterdam. In a second example, the Tobin tax leads French,
and American organisations to flock to the UN summit in Monterrey, Mexico.

To begin with, we read on the Web site of the Dutch magazine Ravage about
climate activists disturbing a meeting of representatives from the oil
at the Okura hotel in Amsterdam in February this year. Links provided by
lead us to two Dutch climate action networks on the Web, and
Climate Independent Media Center, which also report on the event, under the
heading of a "poke in the eye for energy ". (The meeting at the Okura hotel
hosted by an organisation called " Eye for Energy ", a lobby for the
trading solution to climate change.) Here we find first hand accounts of the
event, in which, we read, a handful of protestors, with costumes and wigs
evoking an " acquatic theme ", walked into the conference room at the Okura
hotel early in the morning of the 20th of Febraury. A small protest-network
thus configured on the Web. Now an answer to the question " why this ado
this particular meeting of  some particularly obscure organisation (I at
never heard of Eye for Energy), at this particular location, the Okura Hotel
Amsterdam " , emerges when we take into account the trajectories that the
of climate change has followed on the Web (and off the Web), over the last
years. Asking what the issue of climate change is made up of these days, the
corporate and governmental networks dealing with climate change on the Web,
tell us it is mainly about bureaucracy and markets.[3] Whereas back in 1998
definition of climate change as it circulated among governmental and
sites consisted for a significant part of the threat of environmental
and the findings from climate science, in 2001 the ecological dimensions of
issue figured much less prominently in these networks. (The climate change
network on the Web also changed composition itself. Where in 1998 the
was dominated by the UN,  oil companies and international ngo's, in 2001 the
Whitehouse had aquired a central position in the network, to the oil
were added technology and transport companies, and activist sites now engage
the issue on the Web besides the ngo's.) Thus, judging from the governmental
corporate networks on the Web, the issue of climate change has to a degree
transformed from an environmental question into a policy and market answer.
While the activist concern with climate change may be an ecological concern,
trajectory of the issue has over the last years been rerouted via
" bureaucracy " and " trade ". That is also to say, if you want to re-define
climate change as a matter of environmental danger these days, you first
have to
go and find where the issue it at, at the trading trajectory. If you want to
re-introduce " the rising sea levels"  into the climate change equation, you
have to go and find the issue at its current location, on the the market
solution track, and re-introduce the aquatic theme right there and then.

The detours that social actors make via sites of decision-making, in this
the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam, can be described in terms of the trajectories
issues, and the ways in which social movements interfere with them. Flocking
this site, the Dutch climate activists are staying on the tail of the cause
which they have linked their fate (and that of globalisation).

Zooming in on the trajectory of issues in this way, the question of the
of social actors via sites of decision-making has already changed face. We
now give at least one reason why the detour social movements make via such
cannot be equated, at least not initially, with a mere following of the
displacement of big politics. In first instance, the actors are following
issues,  whose trajectories happen to run via these sites.[4] Thus, in the
second example, the Web sites of organisations that have associated
with the Tobin Tax - the charge on traffic in currency markets that is
to stabilize these markets and generate ressources for aid - point their
to the UN summit on Financing for Development in Mexico, as this issue
on the summit agenda. It could very well be that it is the Tobin tax which
attracts them to this site. To deduce from the references and links to
summit sites on the sites of social movements, that these actors may suffer
a pre-occupation with big decision-making is in that sense the wrong
or rather this question now gets displaced. The question of the displacement
politics effectuated by social actors gets hooked up with that of the fate
issues. The degree to which social movements indeed move in the direction of
migration of the political beyond the usual settings, beyond meetings in
conference rooms, now has been linked to the question of the trajectories of
issues. This is the second way in which our question about the passage of
actors via sites of decision-making has changed face. The re-direction of
trajectories comes to the fore as one of the stakes in the detour movements
via such sites.[5] Passing via the sites of big decision-making, social
movements may be said not only to pick up on the causes found in those
locations, they may also send them off onto diverging courses. As " the
theme " was added to " emission trading "  in the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam,
did this affect the trajectory of the issue of climate change ?

III. Irreducable actor presence in the streets, and protest-networks on the

In what way are the passages via the trajectories of issues, in keeping with
proliferation of politics beyond its usual settings? The answer to this
that I'd like to foreground here, and which can be read from the traces that
social movements leave on the Web, is that these movements may redefine the
issues and redirect their trajectories. (In some cases we may even witness a
short-circuiting of the circulation of issues in enthrenched channels, but
seems to be a very rare event. It may have happened in Seattle in 1999, as
was no agreement reached at the WTO summit, but if didn't occur at the
summits I
focus on here.) However, this proposition could invite a serious objection,
which we can no longer avoid to adress : " weren't social movements supposed
be all about people ? "

Many of us know it from tv, and also from the Web (see below), and some know
from personal experience, that when it comes to the manifestation of social
movements, it all depends on the presence of irreducable social actors in
streets. While it has been argued that protest is no longer about the
manifestation of a singular subject (the citizen, the masses, the workers),
protest is still often considered to be about the question of the political
subject. Even if it is the contestation, dissolution or reinvention of the
singular subject  by multiplicities of irreducable social actors that is now
stake in protest (this is also what the proposition of the multitudes
there are many reasons to stick to the assumption that protest principally
revolves around the subject.[6] One of them being the aforementioned crucial
fact of the presence of actual people in situ. However, this is what I'd
like to
foreground here, the Web adds to subject-oriented accounts of protest, the
dimension of the interference with the trajectories of issues. Especially in
context of a radical multiplication or even dissolution of the position of
political subject implied by the notion of the multitudes, a focus on the
trajectories of issues may add interestingly to the definition of social
movements and the proliferation of politics they may bring about. Again two
examples point us in this direction : the displacement of protest towards
the EU
summit in Barcelona, Spain, and the UN summit in Monterrey, Mexico, as they
be traced on the Web.

(I will thus follow through the links on the Web towards the EU and the UN
summits, and leave the trail of the issue of climate change. The next Eye
Energy meeting is scheduled in London, and it is more than likely that the
larger issue of " emission trading " and the still larger issue of climate
change, after having briefly touched at the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam, will
get displaced to elsewhere. However, in the weeks in which I wrote this
the issue of climate change went into a slumber, at least judging from the
Little happened in the climate change networks on the Web. Besides, the
of how detours via sites of decision-making can be in keeping with the
proliferation of politics, is most pertinent when social movements cross the
global summit trail.)

Also when following the social movements that mobilized around the EU summit
Barcelona on the Web, it becomes clear that the presence of irreducable
actors on the actual summit site sums up the event of global protest most
poignantly. After the EU summit in Barcelona had come to an end, the fact
circulated most intensily in the protest-network that had configured around
event on the Web, was the number of protestors that had been present - it
the biggest globalisation protest ever.[7] (What is so crucial about such an
impressive presence of irreducable social actors in situ, becomes obvious
we listen, for a moment, to Tony Blair. When Tony Blair descended from his
at Genoa, and was asked to comment on the protestor presence on site, he
something like : the Britisch people are back home, so these can't be the
people, these are just people.  Blair's absurd dismissal makes perfectly
how protest disrupts enthrenched circuits of decision-making. National
representational circuits are expected to stay in place, while politics gets
displaced beyond these channels, to the global summit trail - and to all
other destinations of displaced politics, as refered to in the introduction,
bottles of rum, Guatemalian farmland, and classrooms, among others.) Also in
other ways are the flaws in enthrenched representational circuits made
on the Web. On the official Web site of the Spanish presidency of the EU,
can visit a photo gallery of the representatives participating in the
The Barcelona protest-network that has configured around this site casts
doubt on the representativeness of these representatives. The pictures of
in the streets circulating in this network, but also the URL's of the
sites that it is composed of (,,,, among others), do this more than effectively. The same fact of
non-representation is in our face when we compare the list of civil society
affiliates available on the official site of the Financing for Development
summit in Monterrey, Mexico, with the actors composing the protest-network
has configured around this summit.  The Web however, adds to this definition
protest as interference with routine assumptions of representativeness, a
of social movements interference with the definition of issues.

The protest-networks that have configured around the EU summit in Barcelona,
Spain, and the UN summit in Monterrey, Mexico, on the Web are not just
of actors, but contain just as many slogans, demands and, indeed, issues.[8]
Barcelona protest-network consists, besides the URL's already mentioned, of
campaign against a spanish law that will open up the way for the
of education, an international farmers movement, a site on basic income, a
support site for the convicted Safiya Hussaini (hosted by the spanish branch
Amnesty International),, and, among
others. The Monterrey network contains, besides  a set of
sites which unfortunately are mostly unreadable for me,[9]  the site of the
sustainability Web ring,,, and  (where you can find the fish of the
Murcielagos Bay  mentioned before), among others. These protest-networks
substitute for the issues on the agenda's of these two summits (according to
newspaper headlines,  the Barcelona summit revolved around the privatisation
energy markets, and the Monterrey summit was mainly about the size of US and
aid budgets.) Or rather in these protest-networks on the Web, the issues on
EU and UN summit agenda's get displaced, so as to include and become these
issues : moving into the protest-netowork, the question of Western
budgets becomes the demand to drop the debts of third world countries and
scandal of the closing of Monterrey steel industries,  the project of the
privatisation of Europen energy markets becomes the issue of basic income,

Tracing the Barcelona and Monterrey protest-networks on the Web, the
whether social movements, in passing via the sites of big decision-making,
not simply move onto the global summit trail, loosing sight of the
of the political, can be answered with a firm no. Even as the sites of
Dutch, French, American and Spanish social movements have all pointed their
links to Barcelona and Monterrey, in one and the same go they send us off to
elsewhere. Following the hyperlinks from these sites, we do not end up at "
one place ", the authoritative summit or protest site in question. We are
onto the trail of multiplicities of actors and issues. Even if the protest
networks around these two summits have at their center a protest hub
(, in the case of the Barcelona network), and a summit hub
(, in the case of the Monterrey network), they disclose hosts of
entities, leading us away from the EU and UN summits, or rather displacing
issues on the agenda there. In protest-networks on the Web not only
representation in the strict (subject-oriented) sense of the word is
even if this form of contestation can be pointed out here too. On the Web,
follow how the definition of issues, as they are transported along the
summit track, how  the composition of big agenda's and the worlds they stand
for, are being challenged.[10] The displacements of isues that social
can be seen to effectuate on the Web  further points towards a  specific
in of the claim of the displacement of politics. Where the displacement of
politics before was rather vaguely described as the eruption of " the
political "  beyond its conventional settings, we now can now add to this
definition, the formation of issue trajectories that cut accross enthrenched
tracks of decision-making. As the question of aid budgets becomes the
of closed factories, as the question of the privatisation of energy markets
becomes the question of basic income,  it is not just that the setting in
politics is done has changed (we're on a Web site, clearly not in a
hall), different trails of politization are being plotted.

IV. What trajectories for the issues ?

Our initial question has been answered : the detours social movements take
the sites of big decision-making may very well be in keeping with the
proliferation of politics. First of all, these actors are not necessarily
following big politics, they may very well be following the issues, whose
trajectories, it is recognized, often run via the sites of big
Such detours, moreover, lead to further displacements of politics, or more
precisely, issues. This particular filling in of the claim of the
of politics, however, gives rise to hosts of other tricky questions. Most
importantly, if we want to foreground the ways in which social movements
in carrying issues beyond the conventional settings of politics, beyond the
conference room at the global summit site,  what type of trajectories would
see in store for them? In what directions would we want to see the issue of
climate change develop, as it, after touching the Okura Hotel, once again
includes the aquatic theme? Also, as we run into the Spanish law that may
up the way for the privatisation of education, and the (dissappearing) fish
Murcielagos Bay on the Web, the question that announces itself, is,  how
mobilizations around these issues, eventually be felt in Spanish classrooms,
in the Murcielagos Bay? Here, we did not follow the issues through far
for us to get a view of such further displacements. The Web provides abudant
proof of the migrations of politics beyond the enthrenched circuits of
decision-making, but much may still  be learned about the trails of
as they are plotted by social actors on the Web. Between the proliferation
issues and the particularity of the courses they follow, one of the
that remains is, what forms of trajectories, as they are traced by
multiplicities of irreducable social actors, on and off the Web, would treat
issues well ?


[1] J. Dean, " Virtually Citizens ", Constellations, Volume 4, Number 2,
p. 266 and p. 274.
[2]  This development forms a big part of the displacement of politics as
theorized by the german sociologist Ulrich Beck.
[3] The words that currently figure most prominently on the governmental and
company's Web sites dealing with climate change are " decisions " and
" finance ", whereas in 1998 " ecology ", " scientific uncertainty " and
 danger " were among the main keywords on the sites of the UN  and the oil
industry lobby involved in the climate change debate. " Climate Change Now
Then ", research presented by Noortje Marres at the workshop Social Life of
Issues 4, organised by, C3, Budapest, June 2001.
[4]  The notion of following the issues is inspired by the concept of Bruno
Latour of the laboratory as an " indispensable point of passage ". In his
argument, as social problems get displaced to the laboratory, social actors
become obliged to pass via these places in order to get to the solution to
problems. Here the analogy is made with the passage through sites of
decision-making, even if, of course, in the case of politics, points of
rarely seem to reach the point of indispensability that may be attainted in
science. Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, Harvard University
Cambridge, 1988.
[5]  One way of  " turning politics into an ontological question ", as today
often proposed,  I would say, is to reconceptualise political processes in
of the articulation of issues.
[6] However, proposals have been made to move away from such a
approach to protests. Andrew Barry has suggested, precisely because of the
multiplicity of actors involved in staging protests, to shift attention from
question of the constitution of the political subject in protests to the
of " telling the truth. ". Andrew Barry, Political Machines, Governing a
Technological Society, Athlone Press, London, 2001
[7]  Between 200.000 and 500.000 people participated in the Barcelona
see and, among others.
[8] These protest-networks were located with the aid of a piece of software,
Issue Crawler, with locates networks on the Web, through co-link analysis,
who's linked to whom. The linklists of social movement sites refering and
linking to Barcelona and Monterrey summit and protest sites - notably, Attac
Indymedia, together with spanish protest sites, in the case of Barcelona -
served as starting points. The IssueCrawler was developed by and
[9]  Because I don't speak spanish, most of the mexican-based sites in the
Monterrey protest-network (which, as opposed to the sites in the Barcelona
network, were spanish only), remained inaccessible for me. It is one of the
in which I experienced the cacophony into which, according to Bruno Karsenti
Saverio X, we are drawn if we follow the politics of the multitudes. I can
account for the english-language sections of the network.
[10] In tracing social movements on the Web, we get a glimpse of an
politics that has some similarities with the cosmopolitics Isabelle Stengers
articulated for the sciences. Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitiques, VII, Les
Empecheurs de penser en rond, Paris, 1997.

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