Geert Lovink on Wed, 23 Jul 1997 12:31:47 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> double interview: Marc Chemillier (Sans Papiers) and Geert Lovink (Workspace)

Internet and Xenophobia
An Interview with Marc Chemillier
Webmaster of the Sans Papiers Movement
By Geert Lovink

At Hybrid Workspace, Documenta X, Kassel
July 3, 1997

Geert Lovink: When did you start the website of the Sans Papiers movement?

Marc Chemillier: The movement started on march 18th 1996 and the website
was up in july, so a few months later. I had this idea because I felt we
were lacking information about their actions, meetings and demonstrations.
In the summer of 96 the media began talking about Sans Papiers.
I wanted to give the full information. Before, faxes were used
intensively, mainly for the national coordination, to communicate with
other Sans Papiers groups in other parts of France. But only after the
eviction of the Saint Bernard church they themselves began producing
some newspapers.

GL: One would not associate a movement of 'illegal' immigrants with the
use of computers. How do you see the relation between the Sans Papiers
and the Internet?

MC: Computers seem very far away from the situation and the cultures of 
immigrants. But they understand very well how the computer can help
them and they agreed completely with what I proposed at the time. One
of their representatives, Babacar Diob, is himself a computer developer.
When I began, I hoped that we would receive some messages from Africa but
it did not work out.  Those African people who are connected to the
Internet do not feel any solidarity with the Sans Papiers, who were
seeking refuge in a church in Paris. One of the answers we got was: "I
don't care about French people. They don't want us to go to their country,
and I am working in Canada or America, so I don't care." The people who
have Net-access in Africa have money and visa. The problems of the Sans
Papiers do not concern them.

The website now has two parts: the webpages and a mailinglist. The
list is managed by a person from the newspaper 'Le Monde Diplomatique'.
The website is private and runs from a server in San Francisco. The
mailinglist has 300 subscribers and the site has about 1000 pages. In
the beginning it was mainly information from the Sans Papiers, press
releases and also material from the "College des Mediateur", a group of
well known people who wanted to help the Sans Papiers. Then people on
the Internet contacted me and offered to help me.
The website is built in circles: in the middle are the 300 people in the 
church, then the College des Mediateurs and the next one are all the
persons involved in this issue, like the government. The fourth circles
contains articles about the politics of immigration (in France). The fifth
one deals with immigration in other countries.

GL: Why aren't the people themselves making use of computers?

MC: It's not so easy. It is a technological instrument and the Sans
Papiers from Saint Bernard church have got nothing, very little money.
Babacar Diob wrote a book about Sans Papiers and from the revenues he
bought a computer and now got onto the Internet. He is the only person
doing the communication between the virtual world and the world of the
Sans Papiers. The other members got printed parts from the Web. We put a
print-out of all the messages that were sent to the website on a wall of
the place where the immigrants are living.
The web is important to provide people with basic information, like about
the laws. If you ask people a question about immigration, they will say:
"There are too many immigrants." But they cannot tell you any figures. The
fact is that only a few people in France are (yet) using the Internet.
But together with video, papers and pampflets, it might work.
The movement itself is multi-lingual. France do not want immigrants, but
they are using the French language as an intermediate. There are many
African languages spoken by the Sans Papiers. On the website we try to
make a maximum number of translations available. Some of the pages are
translated in more than ten languages. People are contacting us through
the Internet and offer us to translate documents into Italian, Polish
or Svahili.

GL: Many people in Europe, especially older intellectuals, seem to be
sceptical about the use of the Internet. Do you encounter this also in
your work?

MC: Recently, I read some of the texts you are refering to, and I
became confused about the Internet. I am wondering to what extend the
Internet is contributing to the current xenophobia. When I am working
on the website, I am alone with my computer. It is certainly something
we have to have a closer look at. I am not sure what we can take from
the Net, from a general tactical position. It's really open for me.
Jacques Derrida recently wrote about the tension in the contemporary
world. On the one hand, people can communicate so fast and so easily.
The xenophobia in France or in Germany, on the other hand, seems to be
a reaction against the speed of the television, the airplane and the
Internet. But he is not very pessimistic about it. This reaction to
this open world is temporary and local and not so important.

The Sans Papiers movement:

(edited by Patrice Riemens)


Interview with Geert Lovink
By Marc Chemillier
Recorded in Kassel on the 4th of July, 1997

*  Could you explain in a few words what does it mean, "Hybrid WorkSpace"?

Geert Lovink: We are here at Documenta, which is a very large art
exhibition, and it was the choice of Documenta, Catherine David, and the
new Berlin Biennale to make a space together where not art is exhibited,
but which is a "workspace". I mean : the name says it all. I chose eleven
groups to work here in a three month period, and they all work here on
different themes like migration, racism, cyber-feminism, independant media.
A group will come here to make radio. A group will come here to discuss the
relation between art and science, looking at biotechnology and
genetechnology. So a lot of things will happen here, and some of them will
be more like research, other will be more like campaign, political
campaign, other will do more like discussions, debates, but it's not an art
exhibit way you just show works of art. It's different. It's producing
content. And it's much related to the Internet, because the half of the
project is about the debate between what is going on here and the Net.

*  Ok, but why do you call this "hybrid"?

Because we have the situation between social space here, real space, and
Internet, which is cyber-space. In our definition of media, we have a lot
of different media we are using. Every week we make a radio program, we are
using a lot of video, we are producing text pamphlets papers, and all of
them in a hybrid way, linked together. So it's like hybrid media. That's
where it actually comes from, the idea "hybrid media".

*  In what sense do you think hybrid media can help social struggles?

I think it's very important to work with a hybrid definition of media, not
to believe in the one media which will determine all others, like in the
past intellectuals believed in the word. They believed in the written word,
and the spoken word. They believed that a discourse was everything. And
nowadays, people believe that image is everything. So if we, let say,
conquer TV, then we will conquer the consciousness of the masses. We don't
believe this. We don't believe in images. We don't believe in texts. We
believe in our own very specific hybrid use of the media situation, and not
giving one medium so much power. Maybe also we want to criticize media
power as such.

*  Has it some relation with what you call "tactical media", and could
you explain in what sense?

"Tactical media" is a word which came up in early nineties. Maybe as a
critic on alternative media idea, "aletrnative media" meaning "we have good
content, we have good propaganda, we are right". Because we have the good
arguments, we have the good informations. So what's wrong? What goes wrong?
Everything went wrong with that concept, because it created ghetto. It
created an isolated information ghetto. The information did not actually
spread. So there was a crisis in the concept of alternative media. You can
see that in many different movements. With the idea of tactical media, we
mean that you can switch platform. Sometimes you work with national TV,
sometimes you make a pamphlet with only a hundred copies. We treate those
things the same. It's not that national TV is much more important that our
own pamphlet. No, we switch for each situation, we try to see what is the
best media mix. Maybe it's only a conversation between you and me. Or maybe
for a radio station, somewhere. That defines your tactic, where you are,
against dogmatic use of media.

*  If I remember well, in your text about tactical media, you spoke
about a "world of migrants". You said the world is becoming a world of
migrants. Could you explain this, and explain the relation between this and
tactical media?

It has to do a lot with that the information is becomming very fluid, and
that we are also like in the Net. The information is travelling. It's not
so much anymore located to one specific place. So the information about
sans-papiers is travelling all over the world. Like the people also. It's a
rumeur that is spreading. And I can tell you here that I saw the first
video of sans-papiers in Tokyo. When I was in Tokyo, of course I knew about
the movement, but I saw the video for the first time in an activist
conference there, where people discussed the media tactics of sans-papiers
movement, and your works also was discussed there in Tokyo, and the
relation between the sans-papiers movement and the homeless people in the
Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, which is also a movement that is more and more
using hybrid media, a lot of different media, which is suiting their
specific situations. So in this way, the information is travelling,
migrating, with the people.

*  And are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of such
media, and the way they can change our lives?

I hope the media will become less and less important. Because I am very
much concerned about media power and the monopoly. So if we can try to
disseminate media, and lead to democratisation of media, media themselve
will become less important. They will become more part of daily life. And
we can maybe hack or maybe we can squat the importance of this. This is
sounding maybe a little bit utopian, but this is, I think, our ultimate
goal. Not maybe the abolition of media as such. I think we always want to
communicate in one way. But the symbolic power now is growing so much, and
this power is in so few hands, like Time Warner, CNN, et caetera, that we
should break that power. Not only by critizing it, it's economy. Not only
by making an alternative to it. But I also think by just spreading, opening
all kind of channels, for everybody, and try not to speak any longer for
the people, but let the people themselve speak. I think that's a very
important switch that we make, that we try to give power to people by
learning them how to use media and technology. I think that's the ultimate

*  And what do you think about the thesis we discussed yesterday, which
says that the new technologies are related to xenophobia, and that they are
not developing communication between people, but they develop isolation of
people, alone with their computer?

The isolation is definitely taking place in the WorkSpace. So if we see the
computer as part of a restructuring of the labor force, then it's
definitely sure that people not only loose their jobs, but loose income. So
they will earn less money, they will work for more hours, and they will
have more flexible hours, meaning working basicaly always, always being
available. The technology is actualy facilitating us with that: the instant
availability of the labour force. So you can never say "oh I'm not at
home", because you are controled by small camera, maybe the spead of your
typing is controled. In that way there is a huge controle and yes,
isolation. But I think social movements can definitely use the same
technology to break it. But then it should go with real life meetings. We
don't believe in just virtual cities, huge web sites. We believe that it
should be hybrid, with the real life meetings like between us now, here, in
Kassel, the link between Kassel and Paris we are making now, and Amsterdam,
and many more places. And we use that communication to establish those
links between people.

*  And what about the relation to xenophobia, Internet and xenophobia?

I don't see that. Internet is much more fluid. Xenophobia is just one
phenomena, or one response to that technological shift, technological
revolution as some may call it. It can also be anti-european, it can be
anti-american. It's not necessary against foreigners or Africans. It  can
look for any kind of victims. Maybe it's now focused on Africans, but it
can very easily move against the poor, or next time against unemployed
people. And that's just very much the political climat. I think this
depends very much on how politicians are dealing with this. And I must say
now that in this political climat it's very easy to make a relation between
computer and xenophobia, because the politicians are encouraging this.

Related sites:
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: