Movements that do not place on their agendas the reproduction of both their members and the broader community are movements that cannot survive, they are not “self-reproducing.”
—Silvia Federici, quoted in Max Haiven, “Feminism, Finance and the Future of #Occupy”
From December 2007 to July 2008, national and international news circulated incredible images of mounds of garbage bags, several meters high, covering most of the streets of Naples in southern Italy. This garbage crisis was the worst to date, even though government corruption and collusion with the local mafia—the powerful Camorra—had regularly subjected Naples to such crises since the nineties. This time it would take the deployment of the national army and some draconian laws against protests to quell the growing unrest. During that period, together with the pirate microtelevision channel insu^tv—a node in a larger network of pirate television channels called Telestreet—I joined a media center set up near the barricades protecting the urban woods of Chiaiano, a small provincial park recently designated as a dumpsite. Like any other independent media center around the world, ours was one of the rare news sources that covered protests from the perspective of the communities involved, dispelling myths about their lack of civic interest and their complicity with the Camorra maintaining the status quo. Most importantly, the media center became a 24/7 point of connection for the population, linking local committees and grassroots projects promoting zero-waste and recycling policies, allies and members of small political parties joining in solidarity from other parts of Italy, social movements from the radical left, and Neapolitan media activists. The protest planning meetings, the media production teach-ins, the information sessions, the livestreaming events and socializing went on day and night for more than a month; we were not all that surprised when two goons on mopeds came to tell us that we had to dismantle our home base and leave, immediately. We had clearly annoyed the local Camorra boss: whether it was because our rowdy assemblies bothered his sleep or because we were building a little too much awareness and solidarity, we could not be sure. Like many things surrounding the garbage crisis, it was unclear. What was clear, however, was the reaction of the inhabitants of Chiaiano, who did not want to let us go, and who, like many other groups involved in the nine-month-long mobilizations, came back to insu^tv with hundreds of hours of video footage asking insu^tv to help them tell their story.
Stories are rebellious creatures, especially when they are born of the hopes, friendships, and efforts of those struggling for a better world. Much to the chagrin of many a researcher, these kinds of stories resist all attempts to confine them to the neatness of printed pages. Here, as my accounts sneak away to meander through the trails of decades of Italian media activism and transnational social movements, they spin a web of practices and ideas that I use to define connective activism. Connective activism is a proposition for, as much as an analysis of, modes of struggle for justice that keep social connection and an ethics of care at the core of political organizing—in this case, organizing through collaborative media production and distribution. These pages adapt to the movement of rebellious stories while examining the relation of various media activist projects to the milieu that gave them life. To this end, the story of Chiaiano’s media center does not announce the birth of connective activism, which has been around under different guises for a long time. Rather, this story opens a portal to Telestreet and its network of activists whose trajectories and work straddling media making and political organizing have much to tell us about resisting injustice and social isolation in today’s hypermediated world. Hacked Transmissions digs for the roots of Telestreet; it probes its connective activist practices as they change with the environment and networks that engendered them. It grasps social struggle in its extended, ongoing mutation by looking at how activist formations recompose around new technologies, needs, and desires, across cycles of struggle. A long-term ethnography of a movement that spans more than fifteen years, the research for Hacked Transmissions also indissolubly ties its author to the stories told and the characters involved; in so doing, it lays out a collaborative research methodology that puts processes of subjectivation at the center and attends to an ethics of connection and care.
In my experience participating in movements for social justice, groups seldom have time to talk about the quality of their relations to other activists, unless they are seeking to build alliances, they are in a crisis, or they are involved in struggles over life lived, like those of racialized people. Also lacking are often conversations about the kinds of relations organizers establish between what they use to communicate and generate momentum and what they can achieve with those tools and infrastructures. This lack of shared reflection makes groups more vulnerable to fragmentation and isolation, surveillance, financial exploitation (data extraction), and to developing unhealthy communication habits (Renzi 2015; Klang and Madison 2016). Recently, it has fed many productive capacities to repressive policing entities and power-hungry media giants like Facebook and Google—whose sphere of influence has already entered politics and governance. My purpose here is neither to look nostalgically to the good old days of media activism nor to indict today’s communication tools. It is much more about understanding these less visible and yet important relations, grasping the social transformation they foster as it is happening.
The recent cycle of struggles that followed the 2008 financial crisis drew the attention of social movement scholars and media theorists alike, partly because of the way they interpellated people simultaneously as scholars and affected citizens, and partly because of the extensive role media, especially social media, played in the mobilizations.1 Networked communication platforms were sites and a means to feel united, to become collective subjects. “Social” media are often defined by their unprecedented capacity to link individuals for the purpose of communicating, sharing vast amounts of information as a form of participation in public life. In many cases, social media have indeed facilitated large mobilizations (Bennett and Segerberg 2012; Tufekci 2014). Still, the sociality of social media is not where one finds the modes of resistance I will describe as connective activism.2 Those are to be found in the practices, ideas, and infrastructures that attempt to scale up political action by testing out indirect forms of resistance and social reproduction that prefigure different ways of being together. In search of a more subterranean recomposing field of struggle and care, this book redirects the focus away from livestreaming platforms, the People’s Mic of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), or Twitter and Facebook in many recent mobilizations to where people and things assemble around pirate radio and TV, tech collectives, hacklabs, squats, and so on. Hacked Transmissions follows Telestreet in this milieu to explore the transformations from Indymedia-style to social-media-based production and, more broadly, to interrogate how people come together, work together, and change with technology.3
The stories that I map in this book are largely about established and novel modes of social connection, forms of self-awareness, nonoppositional resistance, and politics that are made possible by the collective becoming of people, and media. Underpinning these stories is an understanding that humans hold less agency over technology than they would like to think. Correspondingly, I conceive of agency as emerging through the interactions among humans and technology, giving them both direction and purpose. Agency is about the ability to come into composition.
• • •
Starting in 2002 and lasting until Italy switched to digital broadcasting in 2010, Telestreet microtelevision stations transmitted at the neighborhood scale, using ultra high frequency (UHF) analog frequencies that commercial networks could not use because of physical, territorial obstacles. Italy had never had any community television channels. Telestreet programs offered Italians a variety of content produced collaboratively among neighbors: documentaries, cooking shows, replays of local sporting events, hijacked football matches from paid-access channels, comedy, city council meetings, footage of rallies and political events, experimental video, pirated films, soap operas, and more. Each of Telestreet’s do-it-yourself (DIY) transmission systems was connected to an online peer-to-peer (P2P) network, sharing a web archive from which they could download autonomously produced broadcasting material, considerably reducing production and distribution costs. The video archive NGVision—one that anticipated platforms like YouTube and Vimeo but could circulate content even through dial-up internet connections—amplified coverage at a national level and allowed each node to maintain a considerable degree of autonomy in their programming choices.
“With 1000 Euro, I make my own TV” was the title of the text describing Telestreet’s “standard kit” to build a microstation with an antenna, a transmitter (or a VHS player), a video camera, a video card, and some editing software at a cost of around 1,000–2,000 Euro (Telestreet n.d.).4 The first task: find a shadow cone—an area that commercial frequencies cannot reach—and install the transmission apparatus; then set up a studio space and go on air. Among the first Telestreet channels to appear on the mediascape in 2002 were OrfeoTv in Bologna, a central Italian town with a long history of free radio activism and autonomous cultural production, and TeleMonteOrlandoTV, a hobbyist experiment chronicling the daily life of Gaeta, a beach town south of Rome. In December 2002, striking workers of the Fiat auto manufacturing plant in Termini Imerese set up Telefabbrica to bear witness to their labor struggle. This undertaking only lasted three days before Italian police shut it down, but the project attracted considerable attention and was a huge source of inspiration. In the early twenty-first century, in a world of ongoing hypermediation and spectacle, DIY television lit the imagination of many and spread like wildfire.
But Telestreet was not born in a vacuum. A month earlier, at the European Social Forum in Florence, global justice organizers had brought the Indymedia open publishing ethics to grassroots television with Hub TV (Mediablitz 2004) and the following year, a similar kind of experiment—NoWarTV—went on air via satellite to protest the Iraq war. The mushrooming of grassroots television experiments was part of a surge in organizing for social justice that paid considerable attention to the role of media in the production of consensus and the silencing of dissenting voices. The surge coincided, among other things, with the release of a variety of reports on media consolidation that highlighted how a few large corporations increasingly controlled what and how information circulates (McChesney 2015). Many media activist projects at this time were deeply intertwined with all sorts of campaigns against the rise of corporate capitalism and its neoliberal economic tenets. They challenged media monopoly, circulated alternative information, and worked as communication infrastructure for social movements. After all, this was the golden era of the global justice movement, with its large, theatrical protests shadowing every international governance summit. Media and activism reinforced each other at the grassroots, one could say. They still do.
In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controlled more than 90 percent of the Italian mediascape, it was still possible to squat the airwaves without gaining access to cable broadcasting. Street TVs kept on appearing: insu^tv in Naples, opening with a transmission in a low-income housing complex; Rome’s CandidaTV, producing experimental video art against the mainstream; Milanese Mosaico TV, founded by students and union organizers to cover labor issues; Padua’s RagnaTele, bringing their cameras to the kitchens of Cameroonian and Moroccan migrants to learn about their culture; Telerobbinud in Squillace, livestreaming Sunday Mass for the elderly (Merani 2004); Disco Volante TV in Senigallia, run by a team of neuro-diverse individuals; SpegnilaTV [Turnoff the TV] in Rome; TelePonziana in Triest; Tele Ottolina in Pisa; and the list goes on. Like OrfeoTv, which had a transmission radius of only a few hundred square meters in the shadow cone beyond the reach of the music-channel giant MTV, the televisioni di strada, or street television channels, had a small audience and a larger network of collaborators on their teams, shaping the programming schedule from day to day in an open and horizontal manner. The more the merrier, what matters most is how many people make TV: this experiment was about media literacy, self-expression, and appropriation, not competition over eyeballs. Make no mistake, the language of street televisions could not be further away from traditional mainstream TV either: there were no moderators, little editing, and a lot of transparency about the production process (Mediablitz 2004). One could trip over the microphone cable used in the studio and have a laugh about it out in the piazza. By 2003, when Eterea, the first national meeting of Telestreet channels, was convened, dozens of microchannels had joined the roll call. The meeting dealt with issues of legality, discussing freedom of speech and communication and the gray areas of regulation. For Telestreet media makers, the airwaves were a common good, a public space. People also discussed the future of grassroots communication and its links with struggles for global justice; they shared knowledge, skills, and content. After the meeting, the number and configuration of street television channels kept growing: it ballooned to more than two hundred around 2006 but would later shrink to only a handful.
I followed Telestreet’s development for more than a decade, way past when the network exhaled its final breath in early 2008 in a couple of tired emails exhorting all the listserv members to pull the plug on the collective networked body, by then full of sadness, nearly comatose. Euthanasia seemed the best treatment to avoid the slow decomposition of Telestreet at the hands of internal friction, lack of resources, and the disappearance of node after node. The network was officially declared dead on the listserv in part because of frustration with the constant harassment and provocation by an incredibly persistent troll and especially due to its own online inertia. Telestreet could not retain cohesiveness after the initial euphoria also because it was a very heterogeneous network with different degrees of involvement of its nodes. This was as much due to the difficulty of sustaining individual street channels while tending to the life of the network as to the tensions between radical nodes and apolitical or religious ones. The fragmentation had already started at Eterea II in 2004 when members debated an official position on the legalization and possible financial support of Telestreet as a whole. Later on, in April 2005, an important split happened during the planning of the third edition of Eterea, spearheaded by a Telestreet node based in a parish. The presence of a priest overseeing the programming of the channel outraged some organizers who questioned the ability of the Catholic Church to run it without infringing on the antisexist and antihomophobic principles of the network. Further concerns about the transparency of the organizing process sparked more conflict and led many to boycott the convention.
Ultimately, Telestreet as a cohesive network never went out with a bang. A few months after Eterea III in 2005, activity dwindled on the listserv, the Telestreet website encountered technical problems and went in and out of maintenance breaks until it disappeared, and someone eventually declared it was over on the listserv. Despite petering out in this way—a perfectly normal end for activist projects such as this—Telestreet was an important milestone for media activism, and some of its microstations outlived the network (and the zombie listserv still mails a rare post, spam, and the odd obnoxious provocation). My interest persisted past this self-declaration of death through my involvement with the TV channel insu^tv in Naples, where the spirit of Telestreet is still alive today.
Street televisions were particularly active at an important time for radical media around the world, when people experimented with newly available technology and turned to communication itself as a way to fight back against the power of corporations. Activists worked together with hackers to build new communication infrastructure that was not-for-profit, free and open source, and could be adapted to their needs. Then, the interactive and participatory character of the web went in a flash from being the purview of hackers and media activists to being a commercial feature on proprietary interfaces.5 During that brief moment of reorientation and potential, we called it the “social web”; then, all of a sudden there was social media, with its monopolistic character. Still, there is more to this story than killer apps. Telestreet embodied this time period in original ways: it combined tactical hacks through DIY media, horizontal media production, the subversion or jamming of televisual language, P2P technology, free and open-source software (FOSS), copyleft licenses like Creative Commons for noncommercial intellectual property rights, and more. There are multiple political and artistic traditions that influenced Telestreet—from Dada to theater, from political radio to militant research. So, while the importance of Telestreet for Italy was clear to many during its run, its contribution to media activism beyond national borders is more evident now when I retrace the trajectories that made the project possible and that, following the network’s disappearance, led to a new chapter in media activism.
Movements are born of and driven by common dreams that cannot be forced into binaries like success and failure (Haiven and Khasnabish 2013, 488). They change and transform and, as they do, they leave traces and seeds that may grow somewhere else, if cultivated. Similarly, social and political transformations often traverse multiple cycles of struggles before they become visible and take hold. It is important to account for this continuity as a becoming of movements within a milieu where forces make and fold, unmake and unfold. These transformations are more than technological and straddle multiple cultural, political, and social worlds. Their study undoes the dichotomy between success and failure as much as between old and new media—and between the technical and the social.
Indeed, Telestreet has trained and inspired a new generation of media producers who see media as a tool for creative struggle and a tool to foster social reproduction outside the dominant system. Many of the innovations that Telestreet promoted seeped back into the global radical media scene (and were captured by mainstream media) through encounters and workshops with fellow activists in Italy and abroad, through contributions to media democracy debates and actions, and through a variety of collaborations from Bosnia to Palestine. Paying careful attention to this network’s histories, recompositions, and recuperations allows us to dwell in the heterogeneous milieu of grassroots media and activism.
• • •
I had joined Telestreet after meeting some of its members in 2004 at the Berlin-based new media festival Transmediale, where they had been invited to rig up an impromptu TV studio. To an aspiring video maker and a media scholar who had left Italy shortly before Berlusconi’s rise to political power in 1994, Telestreet’s engagement with people through the medium of television was instantly compelling. Straightaway, I wanted to contribute to the project; but I also wanted to study it. Two months later, I was back in Italy, in Senigallia, for Eterea II, the second national meeting of the Telestreet channels. There, as electric debates about organization and the collective orientation of the network filled the days, I met more Telestreettari (members of Telestreet), reunited with organizers I already knew, and got a glimpse of the breadth and complexity of this movement. Not only could I not box Telestreet into the neat categories that the social scientists in my field had created for community media, but once my involvement in the project grew, it also became clear to me that I could not keep my political and scholarly engagements separate. But activist and scholar were predominantly seen as clashing and hard-to-reconcile subject positions in social and cultural studies of media, as well as among activists. Adding to this, as the research evolved, it drew me in, and in unexpected ways: being a subject-object of my own study required ongoing attention to my subjectivity or better, my ongoing subjectification.
Even when working within an established tradition of activist inquiry like participatory action research (Lewin 1946; Hale 2008), the balancing act between scholarship and activism is always tough. It invariably places the researcher in an arena where contrasting visions of valuable knowledge, ethics, and accountability constantly cast doubt on their research and the compromises it may demand (Peters 2016, x). In my case, the challenge was to develop an ethnographic study that did not simply memorialize Telestreet but produced knowledge that would be useful to activists and scholars alike while remaining aligned with the creative and political push coming from within the network. My study had to contribute to current discussions in the field of media studies, to exceed the practice of scholarly representation, and to function as an activist intervention itself, cutting across the scholar-activist binary. I found the tools for my inquiry in autonomist militant research, a tradition that is very much alive in Italian social movements.
Starting in the 1960s, activists of Autonomia Operaia (Workers’ Autonomy) developed and performed conricerca (co-research) or simply inchiesta (inquiry) as a form of collaborative research with workers to understand the field in which labor struggle unfolded. Case studies like the ones with the Fiat factory workers (Alquati 1975) explored the new composition of the working class and bolstered emerging practices of resistance against labor exploitation. These studies were especially influential to identify the new tendencies in workers organizing and to provide a theoretical backdrop for the mass resistance that spread throughout the seventies. I reencountered conricerca in the early twenty-first century via the efforts of antiprecarity researchers seeking to understand the flexible and unstable labor conditions of the new, post-Fordist working class, the so-called precariat (Precarias a la deriva 2004). Not unlike participatory action research, conricerca places qualitative sociological research on its head: it uses traditional research methods like interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups but has different implications because it is also carried out by the subjects of research themselves, doing away with the separation between interviewer and interviewee (Whyte 1991; Greenwood, Whyte, and Harkavy 1993). During co-research, the groups taking part in the analysis actively participate in the construction of the tools for the study, so that the group itself defines the relevant issues and constructs the questions. At the same time, because of their co-involvement, for both activists and researchers the production of knowledge is immediately a mode of subjectivation—a shaping of conduct and personality—and development of political organization (e.g., Lazzarato 1993, 2001; Conti 2001a, 2001b). The prefix con/co in co-research refers to the two processes happening at the same time: the production of subjectivity and the production of organization. This is because the personal relations built among researchers and activists during the research and political activities help each to grasp these individual and collective expressions of subjectivity (Armano, Sacchetto, and Wright 2013).
All in all, the difference between co-research and more traditional forms of qualitative sociological and academic research (but also the workers’ inquiry) is political rather than methodological because the research questions are already designed with political objectives in mind and the focus is to understand how people resist under changing conditions. Conricerca has much in common with participatory action research, especially in its radical roots of the barefoot researchers that framed it as a tool for problem solving, social justice organizing, and to initiate change (Lewin 1946; Fals-Borda and Rahman 1991; Freire 2007). While participatory action research has had a broader focus and a codified, multistep methodological process that leads toward specific goals shared with a community (MacDonald 2012), conricerca has mostly aimed its inquiry at labor and the reproduction of the labor force, that is, social reproduction (Del Re 2013). Conricerca foregrounds a process of unveiling emergent forms of conflict against exploitation that are often hidden but could scale up. This involves identifying the social needs, the traditions of struggle, as well as the practices of dissent that are already latent or present in hidden forms (Conti et al. 2007, 78). Co-researchers aim to provide concrete analytical maps of the composition of the new resistant formations and set the basis for future movements to come (Palano 2000). The process of co-research doubles as a form of organizing in that it also stimulates movement through participation and reflection (Conti et al. 2007, 80).6
In the context of researching media activism and mediated activism, the role of technology in the conceptualization of co-research is crucial. For pioneer co-researchers like Romano Alquati, the relationship between technology and human agents does not simply point to the creation of mechanisms of control through specific forms of labor (like the alienation of automated factory work) but also enables silent struggles that appropriate or sabotage these technologies (Conti et al. 2007, 80). This is no small insight today: with processes of capital accumulation rooted in communication technologies and so much labor centered on affective communication and on the commodification of sociality (Terranova 2000; Fumagalli 2007; Coté and Pybus 2011), the points of friction between media infrastructure, social control, and forms of counterpower are plenty and often hidden. This is where grounded, collaborative research can produce more analyses of the composition of contemporary collective subjectivities and their relationship to the modes of production—that is, media as an extractive and subjectifying technology. These kinds of studies are necessary, not only to dismantle much of the hype around new technologies but also to better understand emergent modes of struggle around and through technology, centering new political subjects.
If, originally, conricerca focused on the working class and its labor struggles, my focus is broader—less focused on class and more on practices. In fact, I found that the focus on class distracted me from other kinds of struggles for social justice, for instance, those of women, migrants, colonized peoples, gender-nonconforming people, and the unemployed. I take my lead to rethink co-research from younger and feminist autonomist intellectuals who look at the practices recomposing a field of antagonism rather than at a collective antagonist subject defined solely according to its role in economic production (Palano 1999; Mellino and Curcio 2012). Thus, my research of recomposition in Telestreet investigates the assembling of social practices of resistance that fend off capitalist exploitation but also patriarchy, colonialism, racism, heteronormativity, ableism, and so on.
This approach framed particularly the case study of/with insu^tv, where I co-researched the transformations and practices of the collective, how insu^tv interacted with its broader networks to support local struggles, and how the project could grow.7 In addition to running interviews and focus groups with current and past members, we sought out and experimented with different media, including livestreaming and facilitative co-production techniques. We also collaboratively developed and analyzed questionnaires to discuss the identity and orientation of the collective. We produced video, co-ran a media center with other activist groups, produced TV shows, and organized screenings and events. I participated as a member and as an observer. Individually, I also carried out further ethnographic research with OrfeoTv and Disco Volante TV and attended the national conventions and meetings. I did archival research and interviewed members of other Telestreet channels in Bologna and in Gaeta to set the historical and sociopolitical contexts and situate Telestreet’s practices in space and time (Heller 2001, 118). Bologna played a key role in the prehistory of Telestreet through the autonomist Marxist movement’s cultural and political activism with its free radios and zines in the seventies. These forms of political organizing are instrumental in understanding Telestreet’s milieu, how it emerged from the history, culture, and society of Italy—and how it mutates across economically different Italian regions—while also being in conversation with the global trajectories of political movements. The political significance of many of the practices I discuss would be invisible without knowing these histories and ties. Beyond its use of television, the experience of street television provides a media model that cares for the connections among groups and that is part of the longue durée of Italian compositions in media and activism. At the same time, the long duration perspective of this study and the co-research deliver rare insights into the rhythms of movement and rest (Bratich 2014) of grassroots political formations.
Conricerca taught me that in order to deliver an account of how Telestreet and insu^tv emerged and recomposed over time, it is important to retain the liveliness of the stories that gave them life, as well as the heterogeneity of the experiences that shaped them. Historical documentation of both independent media activism and mainstream media trends in Italy were necessary sources of information, but so too were my friends’ personal accounts.8 My co-research process bears testimony to the potential for learning and collaboration through process-based research that produces knowledge while researching—simultaneously attending to processes of subjectivation. Once research becomes a catalyst for encounters that force us to think creatively while engaging the social field, the meaning attached to ethnographic work shifts from representation to localized collaborative creation. Thinking becomes a practice of learning through action, which relies on the willingness to challenge common assumptions and frameworks in order to experiment with newly acquired knowledge. The framing of connective activism and its attendant practice of repurposing media in this book are the product of my co-research exchanges. Connective activism and repurposing media are not part of a predefined political method adopted by Telestreet/insu^tv at any specific point in time. Rather, they are notions that I present to give some kind of consistency to the threads I untangle from the projects I encountered, for instance the use of collective aliases to build a common identity, tending to friendships and intimacy as a way of building cohesion during times of crisis, community research practices that foster porosity among groups, social therapeutic approaches to media making, to mention a few. Woven together, these threads of connective activism hold the intensity and potential of composing with others.
The writing that follows draws together theory, co-research, and political activism into a processual mapping of mutually elaborating registers of practice. The actual work of mapping begins by drawing contours and lines through the practices of a media scholar, an ethnographer, and a media maker. Practices are forces that continuously shape and reshape the individual and the social. Starting this inquiry from practice allows me to focus on the relationships and resonances among the elements that compose Telestreet and connect its people and transmitters. As a form of militant research, my practice exceeds naming a condition or relationship, or creating a concept that might provide a point of theoretical connection. It embodies the connection with others to create narratives about social change that embolden the political imagination. The emphasis here is on the potentials of embodied modes of connection that relay political practice rather than any specific political practice—this is part of performing connective activism. The art of assembling in productive ways—the art of composition (of groups, networks, movements, and the like)—is one that is always refined in the throes of constant transformation and in fleeting becomings.
• • •
As an offering of conricerca, Hacked Transmissions is a study of media activism, a theory of connective practices, and a storytelling medium that, in turn, aims at fostering new assemblages with its readers. The following chapters are tied together through a social movement energetics—an experiment in refocusing the reader’s attention on the conditions and capacity for political reorganization across cycles of struggle. Why? Energy is key to these reorganizations because it is the product of (in)formation and collaboration: it pulses through the channels that bring together the groups I introduce and it courses through and connects the networks of humans and machines as I inquire into tenuous milieus of becoming.
In chapter 1, I take my cue from queer feminist philosophers of science Donna Haraway and Karen Barad: I think and write diffractively, or, in my own adaptation of this method, I think and write “compositionally” to gather momentum. My analysis begins with three propositions followed by compositions where I present a series of snapshots of Telestreet that situate the project in familiar contexts. The propositions discuss Telestreet as a social movement, tactical media, and community television while the compositions provide the theoretical foundation for a theory of emergence and change. The latter draws heavily on the work of Gilbert Simondon, Brian Massumi, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and will charge the energetics of movements I carry throughout the book. Additionally, chapter 1 outlines the parameters for one of the main practices of connective activism: the repurposing of media for social reproduction.
Chapter 2 looks back at the historical milieu that shaped Telestreet, especially its political and cultural relations to Italian autonomist movements from the seventies. The seventies were an important period for the development of political practices in Italy, often in conversation with movements abroad. In the fertile soil of the post-’68 countercultures and large, local mass movements, new and exciting forms of grassroots media carried with them an investment in aesthetic practices that stimulated Telestreet. The seventies also brought along new analyses of capitalist exploitation and patriarchal oppression. It is during this time that activists begin investing in processes of resubjectivation and social reproduction outside the logics of capital.
Chapter 3 carries on the archaeological media excavation (Parikka 2012), shining light on Silvio Berlusconi’s own creative power to assemble media. This chapter chronicles the evolution of Italian neoliberalism by looking at the competitive privatization of its mediascape in the eighties and nineties, with the rise of strategies like differential accumulation (Nitzan and Bichler 2009). By the mid-1990s, Italian culture, spectacle, and politics blend into a powerful governmental assemblage (Foucault 2008; Grusin 2010), giving life to Berlusconi and Telestreet in surprisingly similar ways.
The energetics of the global justice movement and its media as explored in chapter 4 pay particular attention to the forgotten histories of the activist internet (bulletin board system [BBS], Okkupanet, guerrilla communication), their absorption into commercial platforms, and the spread of hacker and maker spaces. This chapter traces the movement of information and the energy it generates through new media activist tactics and projects that repurpose available technologies to produce powerful assemblages prefiguring Telestreet and social media alike. This is the period not only of well-known movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico but also of hidden gems like the fax-machine-VAX-computer networks that science students in China and Italy used to communicate secretly.
Then Telestreet returns to center stage in chapter 5, where I follow the movement of information through the bodies and other circuits of its DIY transmission assemblage, the individuation of the media activists and their audiences, and the technical objects that gained new functions in the process. Here, I unpack the functioning of the transmission system to understand how it works in interaction with its viewers. This chapter also tells the stories of nodes like TeleMonteOrlandoTV, Disco Volante TV, and OrfeoTv, drawing out the power of proxy-vision—the making of television in the community.
Chapters 6 and 7 examine insu^tv, the longest-lasting Telestreet channel, to flesh out a theory of connective activism and its attendant ethics of connection that repurpose media in order to break sociopolitical isolation. Insu^tv is deeply embedded in the Neapolitan activist field, supporting its struggles and fostering porosity among groups. My account of media activism in Naples tends to the relation among activist groups, one that is usually neglected in favor of studying the relation between specific groups and society, institutions, or the state. It is this attention to intergroup relations that reveals the value of connective activism as a set of practices that reconfigure the linkages between individuals, groups, and the broader activist field/society.
Chapter 8 then considers the eventual recomposition of the Telestreet/insu^tv media assemblage and the role of social reproduction within activism. It addresses the challenge of facing the decomposition of projects and movements. It provokes new questions about how to conceive of the relationship between communication infrastructure and practices of resistance.
I conclude with methodological considerations on studying movements informed by an ethics of connection. In the context of my own individuation as an activist researcher and as the author of this book, this form of ethics becomes a tool to challenge traditional models of knowing and envisioning social change and gestures toward the use of research methodologies that attend to the relation among political movements and the entanglement of the researcher and the assemblage being examined (Barad 2007). In this context, I apologize to those Telestreettari who may find themselves confined to marginal roles in an unavoidably incomplete and subjective narration of events, since this will not be the story of how they created Telestreet but of how Telestreet created them and others, including me.
Composition is a process that never simply vanishes when things come apart. It leaves traces: what I have learned with insu^tv marks all my work and thinking, and my being and ability to become elsewhere. Some of these traces are scattered among the pages of Hacked Transmissions, where I struggle to contain myself within the narrow confines of an authorial voice. The unstable transitions from the I to a we nest in the spaces that separate the words on the page and in the space of media practices that connect me to my compagni (comrades/friends), to the video camera and transmission kit, and to you, the reader of this book. More than as a transmission of data, I see the writing of this book as a means of producing and receiving resonances (Colectivo Situaciones 2005). Hacked Transmissions extends a call for research to be directly involved in the intensity of situated media creation and activism. The intensity—the potential—of an activist inquiry can never be fully communicated because so much of it is lived, and it deeply informs the processes of subjectivation of the researcher, as well as the collective individuation of the group. It is my hope that this book itself will engender a productive encounter with its readers, activists, and researchers to come.