Appropriate the communicative channels in order to talk about other things (and not just anything), modify semiotic production in strategic moments, make care and the invisible networks of mutual support into a lever for subverting dependence, practice “the job well done” as something illicit and contrary to productivity, insist upon the practice of inhabiting, of being, a growing right.
—Precarias a la Deriva, “First Stutterings”
In 2003, Scampia, an area of social marginalization with high symbolic value even before the recent bloody Camorra feud, experienced insu^tv’s first transmission. The pay-per-view decryption card that the novice team added to the Telestreet transmission apparatus reconfigured the function of television from the roofs of this troubled landscape, and so it birthed a powerful assemblage. Once more, it was just a simple hack: from the roof of le vele, a dystopian social housing shaped like the sails of a flotilla, the test signal beamed a match of home team Napoli FC for free to an ecstatic audience of football fans.1 Ma.gi.ca TV, soon-to-become insu^tv, seized the break during the match to broadcast its own locally produced content. Ma.gi.ca TV, literally a magic TV, captured the power of Maradona, Giordano, and Careca—hero players for the viewers and earthly intercessors between the blissful glamor of the sports entertainment industry and the boundless passion of the local-audience-made-protagonist. Much of the homemade videos transmitted, indeed, placed the inhabitants of the Sails of Scampia at center stage, where they could recount their dreams of public space and football fields for the local kids. From that roof, the makeshift antenna’s signal functioned as a conduit—a vector to relay the energy of the pirate television assemblage to its outside (a magic pirate flag, one might say).
The antenna emitted electromagnetic waves connecting bodies and resonating through them. Its signal traversed the inhabitants of Scampia and moved around them, transforming them into components of the transmission circuit (Munster 2014, 153). For Japanese media activist and artist Tetsuo Kogawa, this is “bodiness,” a feeling of presence through interconnection of air and airwaves where “bodies can communicate in the resonance.” In bodiness, “resonance does not exchange information but synchronizes between bodies” (Kogawa 1999). This is because communication, for Kogawa, is not about the transfer of information-as-content; it is about “structural coupling” and “emotional resonance” (Kogawa 2000). Communication is about transformations that take place across bodies; it precedes linguistic utterances, and transformations unfolding via the communication of stimuli—that is, information in a Simondonian sense—have indeed to do with energy.
This lingering image sprang to mind many years ago when I read the email on the Telestreet listserv announcing the appearance of Ma.gi.ca TV: an antenna beaming energy, turning the area it reached into an experiment of gatherings. Electromagnetic communication is energetic and energetic signals move through transmission in roundabout ways (Barad 2011; Munster 2014). They reach bodies, turning them into transducers for energy that reorganize the field of watching and the meaning of the game. That energy was circulating through the sensory apparatus of the viewers and the pirates. Connecting the bodies to the signal-turned-images-and-sounds gave consistency to the insu^tv assemblage. That signal germinated from seed to expression when it came into contact with attractors like the football match—in so doing, it harnessed the potential energy that can trip metastable arrangements such as the habituated relation to watching football. The signal beaming from Scampia precipitated the possibility of resonance (Massumi 2002, 34, 74).
Energy is what makes matter take form. As this book approaches its end, I call attention to the bodiness, the structural couplings, and the emotional resonances Kogawa describes and insu^tv expresses so well. Again, I draw attention to energy. One cannot think about individuation without considering the energetic potential of a system. Insu^tv morphs as potential energy accumulates and triggers transformations across fields (Scott 2014, 43). Energy is generated in interactions, hacks, collaborations, and signal transmission. Repurposing requires energy. Energy pushes disparate human and technical elements together but also apart. Energy is not always “positive.” Energy is implicated in the circulation of stressful psychosocial stimuli as much as in the disaggregation of social formations.2 There can be surplus energy thrusting in different directions and causing friction and interference. In these last pages I examine the resulting re/de/compositions.
The interventions that produce the political are always contingent and therefore ongoing. For philosopher Alberto Toscano (2012, 92), political formations materialize when the larval presence of divergent energies comes into communication. Telestreet and insu^tv, in all their metastability, gained consistency as many divergent energies flowed into formation around a transmission hack in an environment of media monopoly and technopolitical experimentation. For a long time, as long as they replaced one another on the roofs of Scampia, then Forcella, and then Officina 99, those antennas were relays of energy channeled through the groups involved in the making and watching of pirate television—Domenica Aut, Wasting Naples, instant docs, public events, and so on. That energy brought people together and kept them connected, individuating and seeding almost imperceptible transformations. Much of this changed when Italy moved to a digital broadcasting system in 2010 and there were no available airwaves to travel through. As the energy of the activist field started petering out again, after the financial and garbage crises, the social centers of the airwaves were vacated too. Insu^tv had its own ups and downs, its points of stabilization—but especially destabilization. The transmission hack no longer works and insu^tv is reconfiguring, slowly. Its currently lopsided assemblage is pulsing, contracting, and expanding, sending low-intensity signals that travel in roundabout ways; sometimes they do not go far, and sometimes they do.3 Like the good old electromagnetic waves that are locked out of the Telestreet transmission system, the energy that insu^tv can emit into the world today needs to traverse new technical and social thresholds to take on renewed consistency, perhaps even under a different name.
The Bifurcation of Connective Activism
In January 2010, Italian broadcasting switched from analog to digital, obliterating pirate analog UHF transmission for a viewership newly equipped with digital TV decoders. Never had Italy transitioned more smoothly and efficiently; with Berlusconi pumping out state funds to his cronies to replace the antennas with digital receivers (Fontanarosa 2006), the potential and functioning of insu^tv shifted, equally fast. Insu^tv launched an ambitious project in 2009, energized by the connections forged through its work: Assalto al cielo (Assault on the sky) brought together media and grassroots organizations in and around Naples to rent a digital frequency and set up what would be the first open community channel in the country. This channel would give “voice to the cultural alternatives in the region, to environmental and anti-racist struggles, to bottom up democratic experiments and to social movements” (insu^tv 2010a).
In Campania, the region around Naples, most television frequencies belong to commercial channels—often owned by the Camorra—and grassroots organizations lack legal and affordable access to broadcasting frequencies. Since Italian legislation does not even offer the model for community television, the groups and their lawyers looked into European Union directives on community media and into international examples to build their framework. Assalto was an unprecedented and bold experiment, which, in its connective potentiality, intended to set up and amplify a community of viewers and users for social, cultural, and political projects, and to create a participatory production circuit as well as a participatory structure to guarantee financial sustainability. The project also included a parallel frequency for community radio, drawing on the experience of local free and pirate radios (insu^tv 2010a).
If successful, Assalto could have elevated media activism as a practice of autonomous collaboration to an unprecedented scale. The project scaled up the ideas about connectivity that started insu^tv, which envisioned this community channel as a collective effort rather than the enlargement of insu^tv itself. In that sense, the goal was to shift from a geographical area of neighbors to a deterritorialized community of affinity groups—a daring effort to expand the connective potential of media making (interview with Sandro, 2015). Unfortunately, Assalto did not work out for a series of reasons that the insulini, with hindsight, partly blame on not having recognized the changing field of action, and partly on bad timing. The launch of the project coincided with the climax of the financial crisis, when austerity politics effectively killed or paralyzed many of the organizations in the nonprofit sector that would have been involved. Lack of funding, precariously existing commitments, and even a long stint of bad weather that sabotaged a grand three-day open-air fundraiser put an end to any dream to build a channel that would have needed extensive resources for its programming. During this moment of instability the two directions that had formerly coexisted—the connective documentary and the Domenica Aut proxy-vision format—forked.
The documentary Wasting Naples was a huge accomplishment but also a colossal effort. The many decisions to make it, the responsibility toward the communities involved, the travel, the interfacing with the world of mainstream media, and the energy poured into Assalto all took their toll on the group. Some members had to move to different cities and countries; some had to take breaks for family reasons, reducing their willpower, enthusiasm, and ultimately their contribution. As new people joined, the dynamics of the group further reconfigured. Above all, the switch to digital broadcasting changed the circulation of energy through the assemblage, the energy it emanated, and the energy that fed it. And change the technological apparatus did, now organized less around spaces like the studios and formats like Domenica Aut and more around video distribution networks and online sites. Changing were many of the practices and processes of production. Changing were also the ties between the group and communities. I saw and experienced these changes working with the insulini often remotely on Skype, wikis, shared docs, and email; during the long weekly planning meetings, the grant writing, the editing and event planning; and through the visits and projects in Italy, Canada, and Germany. Such change was not inherently bad but it was certainly not as good as a much-needed rest.
One of the things that had struck me about insu^tv when I joined was that, unlike many other groups I had worked with, there was a generosity and light-heartedness to the activists that made this “work” an extremely pleasurable experience. A joyful attitude cheered insu^tv’s meetings and defused friction while still allowing for confrontation and disagreement.4 “Joy, fun, tears, humanity, a desire for contamination and experimentation”—these are the elements that, as Wadada reminds a podcast audience (Stein 2016), characterized nearly a decade of spontaneist connective activism.
Foucault wrote that one need not be sad to be militant (Deleuze and Guattari  1983). Insu^tv was a case in point: members’ sense of humor and cheerfulness was contagious and made collaborating with others easier. Remembering an old autonomist song from the seventies, “Lavorare con lentezza e leggerezza” (Working slowly and lightly), Asterix once told me, “If this becomes a task, then it will stop working.” Sara added, “Insu^tv works because it can die any minute.” These beliefs do not suggest a lack of commitment. The commitment is to the possibilities of an assemblage that needs to change once its productive potential is exhausted. Metastability as commitment means that rather than being ready to walk out the door and close it behind, this attitude translates into openness to innovation without seeing mutation and external influence as threats to the insu^tv assemblage.
The insulini examined the causes and potential effects of change in order to make decisions based on functionality, without betraying any personal or collective values. The latter orient the project; they do not define it. Already when I was in Naples in 2007 we organized focus groups and other kinds of reflection inquiries to understand how to grow the assemblage, how to streamline production and innovate technologically. During these self-analyses, we discussed how to better couple the process of collaborative production with recruiting new members, started an investigation of how to incorporate Moglus livestreaming into more of the programming, and brainstormed how to mobilize new available technologies. The idea of Assalto came out of reflections like these.
Of course, when the conditions of existence changed and the internal and external pressure and workload mounted, the joyous attitude dwindled. Until the end of TV broadcasting, interaction centered around the process of collaborative production rather than on the discursive negotiation and articulation of an identity for the group. With the antenna gone, what changed along with the flow of UHF frequencies was also the fact that there was less need to all work on common formats, and parallel projects pulled people in different directions. The molecularization of projects offered less opportunity to partake and share in the satisfaction of a collective final outcome: “The lack of sharing/partaking [condivisione] seemed to take away meaning and direction [senso] for the group” (interview with Fedina, 2015). More and more conversations about the collective orientation of the group filled the meetings.
As fragmentation returns individuals to themselves, there emerges a need to constantly reproduce the process of collective individuation at the discursive level to make up for the lack of closeness during the actual work and planning. I saw a strong collective subjectivity crack under the weight of overwork, rants, nagging, and finger-pointing. Group cathexis—the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object—and fragmentation changed the energy feeding the group as the obsessive refrain about collective identity replaced collective making, only to cause estrangement. Nevertheless, the breaking of the antenna with no use in fixing it, the switch to digital TV, and the move of many of us away for work did not discourage numerous attempts to consciously recompose, some more effectively than others in this erratic milieu.
Connective Documentaries as Movement Tools: The Question of Distribution
Genuino Clandestino (The genuine clandestine) (2011a) was the next experiment in large-scale connective media making. The project documented and networked the farmers, breeders, shepherds, and artisans who faced off the agroindustry economic paradigms to support traditional and local knowledge. After a chance encounter with a farmers’ association at a market, insu^tv followed the evolution of the local farmers’ movement, coproducing the documentary as a way to bolster organizing. Genuino Clandestino retraces the birth of this movement from the first farmer collectives in Bologna to the national meetings in Rome, Perugia, and Naples; it exposes the dynamics of the food market and how farmers resist industrial farming collectively. Genuino Clandestino supports the voices and work of the clandestini with information about the food industry, economic development, labor issues, environmental protection, and access to soil and water. In a country where direct distribution from farm to table still amounts to more than 10 percent of the market, the phenomenon portrayed is far from marginal and “these local realities and the evolution of collective upheaval emerge from this coral narration” (Angrisano 2011a).
The crowdfunding platform Produzioni dal Basso distributed the documentary all over Italy through farmer networks that organized public debates and food tastings. This collaborative production and distribution process made the documentary into a tool in the repertoire of the movement. Genuino was successful because “the people supporting it felt it was their own” (interview with Fedina, 2015). In this sense, the format and production process that started with Wasting Naples proved to be a very effective tool to spread awareness while bolstering a social movement. Large-scale connective documentaries are successful when those working on them can tend to the connections they foster and to the production and distribution process—they are energy and resource intensive. For this reason, it is hard to work on them with a small team, or when commitment is discontinuous. Shorter forms of documentaries are better suited for low-intensity production times.
In January 2010 I received a very frustrated email from the insu^tv listserv: “We are screwed . . . apart from insu^tv, basically no one moved their asses, not even in Calabria!!! There is only someone from Cosenza. Talk about independent media . . . we are really screwed here . . . there is a media coverage desert . . . can we handle this???” Some insulini were coming back from Rosarno in the far south of the Calabria region, after an impromptu trip with little economic resources and a borrowed car that broke down on the highway. Still, the thirty-minute documentary Il tempo delle arance (Gone with the oranges) (2010a), ready for screening only eight days later, is a visually powerful, unmediated documentation of the eviction of five hundred migrant workers from an abandoned industrial site. On January 9, 2010, following a riot against the latest attempt to shoot dead some of the migrant workers hired to pick oranges from the orchards, local inhabitants trapped the migrants to make sure they would be deported, threatening them with bats and guns.
In the midst of the pogrom, the extreme close-ups of the angry and shocked African men speak directly to the audience. They not only denounce the shootings, the exploitation, and the racism but, above all, they blame and criticize the media for fomenting the hate. With no faith left in journalists who depict people of color as “troublesome, destructive, and as cannibals,” they accuse the corporate media of thwarting their political and media visibility. “The root of the problem is . . . the Rosarno people are killing us! . . . But Italians don’t know, because you, the journalists, don’t tell them! So now, we take you the journalists and the Rosarno people as the same, because when we speak the reality to you, you don’t tell Italians! So now Italians are taking us as the rioters,” says one of the men interviewed in front of a wall on which someone has spray-painted in English: “Avoid shooting blacks” (Angrisano 2010a).
Il tempo delle arance draws out the savage racism of some as well as the double standards of others, who need cheap labor to propel Italian oranges into the global economy. At the same time, it exposes the contradictions that are at the basis of a war between the poor and other minorities, pointing to the conditions of exploitation under which migrants have to live and work—often providing an intersectional analysis of how race plays out in the Italian and European economies. In this short documentary there is no voice-over. The close-ups of the people speaking, the guided tour of the migrants’ appalling living quarters, and the images of the police escorting the convoy speak for themselves, leaving the viewers to grapple with their emotions.
Members of insu^tv were involved in various kinds of collaborations with media activists around the world, from Gaza to Rojava, chronicling struggles and drawing connections among them. Attention to migration issues peaked as the Arab Spring and the violence that followed it brought ever more refugees from countries like Libya and Tunisia to the shores of Italy. Some of the insulini traveled to the island of Lampedusa, where many boats were docking and lifeless bodies were being washed ashore. They traveled to Tunisia to produce in-depth inquiries into the immigration phenomenon—often long before the mainstream media.5 Many of these inquiries are rendered in what insu^tv calls “instant doc,” documentary shorts on news neglected by the mainstream media that are produced over a few days to dig into the root causes of a current issue.6
Insu^tv has covered the attacks on migrants in the country: the forced evacuation of one thousand Moroccan workers in San Nicola Varco near Salerno (insu^tv 2009c), the murder of seven African workers by the Camorra in Castel Volturno, and the subsequent persecution and deportation of migrants by the authorities (insu^tv 2008), among others. Often, these instant docs are used as a starting point for discussions and for organizing events. Like other instant docs—for example Lampedusa Next Stop (2011b) and Via Padova è meglio di Milano (Via Padova is better than Milan) (2010b)—Il tempo delle arance was screened all over Italy at festivals and political events. It won best documentary at the festival Doc/IT and reached other countries in Europe, starting with Spain and Germany, where people are also organizing around migrant solidarity.
Although they are not produced collaboratively, instant docs are structured and distributed tactically, repurposing the films themselves (the files as well as the projection setting) to support organizing around specific issues. In certain ways, instant docs repurpose media once they are circulated within the movement through the contagious practices of screening, reflection, and mobilization. The events circulate energy across the available infrastructure of social centers, festivals, and community events, which become conductors as the instant docs are repurposed to mobilize action. Without being overly optimistic about the power of video to change the world, the discussions and use of these documentaries as visual inquiries form part of an infrastructure for organizing. It is no coincidence that some of the more successful media activist projects in Italy at the moment deal with the creation of distribution networks and autonomous digital infrastructure to cut through the information and video glut.
Insu^tv’s collaborative documentaries and instant docs are supported by Open Distribuzioni dal Basso (Open DDB, Distributions from Below), an on-demand library for independent documentaries, film, books, music, experimental cinema, and inquiries licensed under Creative Commons.7 The platform promotes emergent, independent authors; it builds “spaces of encounters and knowledge sharing between authors and online users in order to foster collective debates and harness content (public screenings, pitches, festivals); . . . construct networks and connections between independent productions in Italy and abroad; . . . experiment with modes of support based on new economic relations and gift economies.”8
This kind of project exists as part of a newer radical media infrastructure responding to the current challenges and recompositions of media activism, where distribution quickly becomes a dominant concern once the resources for production are available.9 In an environment awash with independently produced content, revealing the hidden sides of a story hardly mobilizes viewers: the targeted distribution of platforms like Open DDB ensures that the videos produced effectively circulate among audiences, and that producers are networked and connected to their viewers. Distribution infrastructure is a key component in recomposing media activist assemblage around new practices and networks of mutual support.
Proxy-Vision on Social Media
I had left Naples again at the tail end of the garbage crisis, when the direst effects of the 2008 financial crash and the politics of austerity forced movements to reset their priorities, campaigns, and modes of struggle. In the following years, as precarity dug its dirty nails even deeper into the fabric of the city, there developed a large movement for housing rights, alternative care and education infrastructures (e.g., childcare, assistance to migrants), and cultural production. Naples saw hundreds of occupations of houses for homeless families, students, artists, activists, occupied theaters, and cultural centers, in some cases benefiting from a somewhat sympathetic administration under the new mayor, Luigi de Magistris. The housing rights movement in particular has made strides as a diverse network of activists, working-class families battling precarity, homeless people, students, the unemployed, and migrants. Among the most active groups is Magnammce o’pesone (Mop)—a Neapolitan dialect expression meaning “let us eat the rent check” and referring to the choice many people have to make between paying rent and eating. Naples is experiencing one of the fastest gentrification rates in Europe, an acceleration that digital platforms like Airbnb.com have visibly facilitated. Between 2015 and 2016 the number of apartments rented to tourists through Airbnb has grown a whopping 219 percent (Gervasio 2018), making housing in the historical center and around other UNESCO-designated heritage sites inaccessible to its former inhabitants. Mop aids families who have received eviction notices, offers legal services, has anti-eviction squads to protect vulnerable individuals, and organizes protests and occupations.
Some insulini are directing their energy to this movement. Insu^tv was also involved initially in the occupation of the Asilo Filangieri (in 2012), a large sixteenth-century school building in the historic center of Naples that now functions as an autonomous, co-run cultural center and space for artists and workers in the culture and entertainment industries (interview with Iasus, 2015).10 Here, the insulini seeking to update formats like Domenica Aut collaborated with the artists and cultural workers of the collective La Balena on the talk show Stalking Asilo (2014). Unfortunately, Stalking Asilo did not receive the same attention nor did it achieve the same connective potential of Domenica Aut for a variety of reasons. Noteworthy was the lack of audience in the room that diminished the power of proxy-vision and left a product unsuitable for distribution on the now popular social media platforms: “It was a lot of work but without appropriate distribution channels; no one was watching it. Officina had a community whereas here the community had splintered on social media. I realized that that kind of product only works if there is community, otherwise no one watches it because it is not a format that works well online” (interview with Sandro, 2015).
Stalking Asilo was a 50/50 collaboration with art professionals building a production center at Asilo Filangieri. Unfortunately, the project did not pay enough attention to the necessary distribution channels and to the production processes—something that insu^tv had tended to when making television at Officina 99. Additionally, the high degree of professionalization and the expectations of many of those involved were hard to match with the DIY character of Domenica Aut, thriving on connectivity rather than aesthetic finessing.11 To make matters worse, some technical glitches with the recording apparatus lowered these standards for one of the episodes to the point of being unwatchable, while the face-to-face event could not garner enough traction because it had no social basis: “We were too tired to optimize our efforts and poured so much energy in a project and left none to distribute it, causing people to lose interest. . . . The first episode still had a good audience but once we eliminated it to make the production more practical, we could not find a purpose for the show and no one watched it. What’s the point if no one watches it?” (interview with Fedina, 2015).
The issues taken up at Stalking Asilo were certainly timely—precarity and gender, among others—and yet it was harder to feel connection during the show. Repurposing could not work in a context where objectives and processes were too disjointed, and connection in the space was a little contrived; Stalking Asilo continued only for a few more episodes, generating some content but no excitement for the already overstimulated online audiences. Perhaps, Stalking Asilo also repurposed television—its genres and medium—for the internet at the wrong time: its potential audience had already swapped their tether to the TV set for one attaching them to their smartphones, tablets, and computers. A DIY talk show on social media lacked the tantalizing character of the new flashy video formats, Instagram-curated images, and targeted, bite-sized content. These factors held the videos within the group boundaries of the established constituency of Asilo Filangieri.
Users of social media tend to be grouped together according to algorithms and design criteria that seldom map onto the heterogeneity of the social fabric of the city.12 Corporate social media networks are organized by proprietary, for-profit algorithms that work along the hardly porous principle of homophily (Chun 2016): customized selections keep users within their networks of friendships and media consumption habits and it is usually hard or expensive to tap into different content distribution flows.13 Beyond enjoying the random viral amateur YouTube video, viewers have quickly gotten used to high production standards, which render the DIY character of homemade television underwhelming and perhaps a bit too vintage to like and share online. Importantly, the quantification habits cultivated on corporate social media have also impacted the relation between the media produced in other contexts and the energy it generates: “Social media make you think that you have to have tons of likes and hits. We didn’t use to really think about this but now people ask themselves what all the work is for when only fifty people watch but you get two-hundred and fifty likes for a selfie” (interview with Sandro, 2015). Many insulini mention the metric-driven character of media consumption today, even when they propose a variety of solutions.
Insu^tv de/re/composition unfolds in a milieu where producing and managing content are increasingly complex (Alfio, qtd. in Stein n.d.), and corporate social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook are ubiquitous among organizers. Many of these new relations to technology impact the media activist field and its relation to activist and community groups. Younger media producers, often alone more than in a group, have taken to reporting about rallies on the street with their live feeds.14 In previous years, this activity kept media activists embedded within social movements and established reference points between activists and audiences. The nature and simplicity of the new technology allows individuals to work alone. An army of solo live streamers has joined the front lines to chronicle protests all over the world, in some cases going viral and tapping into different networked audiences; “the lack of TV apparatus made it impossible for insu^tv to get into people’s houses” and narrowed the audience (interview with Sandro, 2015). Live streamers mostly reach a very select public.
It seems that movement communication in Naples today is tied to specific projects and is less concerned with forging larger alliances and collaborative networks to retain porosity. Radical filmmakers are seeking to build a shared distribution infrastructure to circulate their films while citizen journalists and independent media tied to social movements seem mostly tied to proprietary and readily available platforms. In this sense, even when organizing is in full swing, the circulation of information seldom spills out of its own insular (platformed) channels: “We entered a new phase. Insu^tv had lost the role of those taking a video camera to the street because now there are many micro-web channels. We don’t have that role anymore” (interview with Sandro, 2015). This molecularization transpires in the new media landscape of individual or small cells of media activists; it seeps into intergroup relations.
Networked social media are active agents that carry with them an associated milieu that reproduces and organizes the functions of technology. Their vectors of enclosure and molecularization can be found in the architectures, interfaces, and discourses promoted and their larger interoperable assemblage of networks—you can read a Facebook post that takes you directly to a blog, then tweet the YouTube video embedded in it, and so on, all within interoperable and interconnected spaces of control (Langlois 2014; Renzi 2015). These processes join individual and machine through a flow of affects productive of habituated gestures, serialized acts, and, in many cases, hollowed-out notions of participation and solidarity. Simultaneously, they interpellate individuals as entrepreneurial subjects through precoded roles and functions as reporters, protesters, moderators, and voyeurs at political events. Platform users are not simply subjectified as producers and consumers of information; they are simultaneously turned into relays of information and data, generating energy that often only circulates online and that feeds the corporate system.
A sociotechnical assemblage that is too reliant on corporate media platforms built on for-profit homophilic logics holds a limited capacity to adapt and recompose. With Simondon, I have insisted on framing the question of technology as part of an account of co-constitutive relations among organic and nonorganic beings where technical individuals also individuate thanks to a generativity that leaves them open to innovation and new compositions. Jonathan Zittrain’s definition of the internet as a “generative technology” that can be coded for new uses that are in turn sources of more innovation exemplifies how individuating technology works (Zittrain 2008; see also Deseriis and Renzi 2014). As a given technology branches out, its functions are defined in connection to its users while retaining the openness for further change.
Telestreet’s television technology too was generative, and it individuated with every new hardware and open-source software hack or appropriation of available platforms. DIY technical solutions, hacking, and the rigging of old and new media engineer new social connections. Each reuse, fork, customization, and expansion in Telestreet and insu^tv generated production and transmission technology that reshaped the project with its attendant proxy-vision and connective approaches. Each recomposition with these technologies was generative of new relations that modulated individuality and collectivity. The co-constitution of the I and the we took place in this milieu of humans and machines where desire and affects flow and generate energy in the process of collaboration. Proprietary platforms cannot be hacked or modified and thus they limit the scope of repurposing within activist assemblages.
The black-boxed platform-based media infrastructure and molecularized activist practices affect the field of potential for resistance and the spaces of intersubjectivity that emerge around media—important aspects of a connective activist practice. In addition to providing alternative sources of information, insu^tv’s connective and proxy-vision models had forged new relations among communities and strengthened those that already existed. As media technology in its effective functioning changes, insu^tv’s connective potential weakens. This is because the collaborative and lengthy production processes of insu^tv are no longer necessary if a single individual can use a smartphone or small camera to produce video, post it on their own YouTube channel, and promote it on their social media networks. The ties forged during the process of media making are crucial for connective activism more than the fact that insu^tv reported on protests and events.
The physiological reactions taking place in a social media user’s body generate plenty of energy within a mediascape where flows of information trigger processes of signification that hyperconnect users, interfaces, hardware, fiber optic cables, data and metadata, and so on. Still, individuations that technical objects mediate are by no means intrinsically emancipatory; on the contrary, they may entrench habits and semiotic processes that subjectify and enslave simultaneously (Lazzarato 2014).15
The platforming of activism through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and the like has had an impact on the technological generativity, practices, and psychosociality of activism. My analysis shows that, currently, corporate social media platforms work against the power of proxy-vision because they replace the technical objects that Simondon says are the “support and the symbol of that relation that we would like to call ‘transindividual’” (1989, 247). As the technical object changes, so does the milieu of transindividuation, reshaping the relationship between the physical, biological, and psychosocial. The decomposition of their DIY assemblage and recomposition around proprietary platforms have resulted in a repatterning of the transindividual milieu that molecularizes collectivity, even when it appears more networked through technology. In the context of connective activism, repurposing needs to support the conditions for collaborations that scale up political action by fostering more porosity. For this reason, rethinking the modes of connective activism requires that one pays close attention to technical objects whose function and potential for hacking is still in the process of emerging. This rethinking for recomposition can only happen in combination with an inquiry into the changing fields of struggle. Ultimately, the connective potential that propelled insu^tv’s TV model for years emanated from the interaction of the practices and processes I discussed. It would not be a cutting-edge new direction of production alone but the recomposition of the entire assemblage that would allow insu^tv to go on generating porosity.
Changing Technologies and Social Reproduction
Insu^tv’s first signal had come from the roof of a housing complex in Scampia, thanks to the support of the local Committee for Housing Rights. This collaboration ties housing as a site where fundamental unpaid labor for the care and reproduction of the social takes place in another site of social reproduction: the airwaves where communication happens. Autonomist feminists like Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Leopoldina Fortunati, and Silvia Federici identify reproductive care and affective labor as key components of the persistence of capitalist systems: this labor produces the workforce and is hence integral to the reproduction of capitalism (Dalla Costa and James 1975; Fortunati  1995; Federici 2012). Communication and language are important elements of social reproduction because they are attached to the worker’s living body (Deseriis 2015, 146). As communication takes on more space in private and work life, it too becomes fraught terrain. Networked communication technologies in particular are important aspects of the reproduction of the social: “As much as the foods we eat, the beds we sleep in, the love we make so too are communicative technologies elements that permit the quotidian replenishment of human beings and of labor power” (Thorburn 2016).
The monetization and surveillance of affects, fears, desires, love, and friendships has come to the attention of those who research the contested role of communication in information-based capitalism (Terranova 2000, 2014; Coté and Pybus 2011; Scholz 2014). Black-boxed platforms possess a kind of generativity that is proprietary and captures communication acts into networks of value extraction. The impact of networked media platforms on individual and collective habits is considerable, in the sense that networked media platforms subsume and monetize time; they orient individual and collective desires toward immediacy and instantaneity and away from the affects, perceptions, and emotions of belonging that come from the touch and empathy of sharing spaces, of making and hacking together, or of having to work out differences and affinities (Serra 2015). For Fulvia Serra, we are seeing an erosion of intimacy and the enclosure of the social relations that are necessary for reproducing one’s own identity and the collective identity of movements. The process of enclosure of shared spaces of production and of social relations “can be redefined as a process that aims not only at the accumulation of capital and resources but, more importantly, at creating political paralysis and dependence, reducing workers’ ability to negotiate and cutting off the possibility of freely accessing forms of self-sustenance” (Serra 2015). These new platforms conform to and transduce the individualistic logic of neoliberalism even in the activist field where, for instance, online the visibility of campaigns often becomes more relevant than long-term investment in communities on the ground.
The collaboration between the Committee for Housing Rights in Scampia and insu^tv—and later on its connection to the new housing rights movement—draws attention to some of the ways groups subtract the spheres of social reproduction from capital through the occupation of housing and the airwaves first, and then care for the spaces they have created. In the case of the Committee for Housing Rights, since the initial occupation of twenty thousand housing units after the 1980 earthquake, the committee has fought to improve living conditions—and therefore life lived—in the buildings, while insu^tv has developed technological solutions and collaborative production processes to support alternative forms of sociality. Both cases are not just reminders of the importance of thinking about social reproduction in struggles for justice; they also and especially call for a discussion of the unpaid and unrecognized work of care to keep movements going.
Silvia Federici has pointed out that “political movements that fail to create new forms of social reproduction are destined to be reabsorbed into the mechanism of the capitalist system” (qtd. in Serra 2015). Two insights from my fieldwork are worth emphasizing in connection with this warning. First, at a time where communication has become an important site of struggle, media activism needs to involve more projects and practices that wrestle the sphere of communication from processes of overproduction and redirect them toward social reproduction within movements. Second, it is important to recognize the strategic importance of sustenance, care, and affective work within movements to allow porosity, healthy interactions, and scaling up. This may require a reconceptualization of what is considered political work.
Withdrawing social reproduction from the capitalist machine becomes an act of resistance in its own right at a time when regimes of ownership and control that enforce fees for or restrict access to basic necessities “enclose the material conditions of life, making it virtually impossible to reproduce ourselves and each other free of waged work” (Armstrong 2012). Amanda Armstrong and Rada Katsarova call the forms of resistance and autonomous organizing that develop skills, resources, networks of mutual care, and forms of collective governance insurgent forms of social reproduction (Armstrong 2012; Katsarova 2015). The austerity regimes instituted in many countries after the 2008 financial crisis seem to have multiplied the insurgent forms of social reproduction that strive to build the commons.
The struggle for survival that swallows migrants and locals alike, as they find themselves in need of spaces and strategies to nourish the body and mind, comes front and center wherever austerity policies rule, when white supremacy and xenophobic populism take over governments. In Naples, new experiments are adding to decades of fighting for housing, setting up autonomous crisis management infrastructure, independent unemployed movements, and spaces for cultural production. The work of insu^tv cannot be considered in isolation from these and other transnational and local movements. With social media use informing new habits of communication and resistance that increasingly fragment and molecularize, few still recognize the political potential of collaborative/connective work to oppose the monetization and fragmentation of social relations—a key component in the capitalist reproductive sphere today. I consider, with autonomist feminists, connective media activism an insurgent mode of social reproduction, especially because it fosters intimacy and social ties (Serra 2015)—what many in Naples have called porosity for a long time. In this sense, insurgent social reproduction is entangled with the concept of repurposing the social for politics.
The story of Italian media activism, how one of its deviant ramifications started with abnormal uses of radio, reached for the internet, and eventually birthed Telestreet and insu^tv, is a reminder that collectivity and connectivity—sociality—whether face to face or mediated, are not intrinsically political but need to be politicized. The move from the social to the political is a conscious one that requires putting into relation and communication the larval energies that traverse a specific social field. Political energetics—as an ethics of connection—involves engaging metastability as such and fostering “the event-invention which crystallizes into a new configuration” with potential to transform again (Toscano 2012, 92). I think again of the beaming and bodiness of Ma.gi.ca TV in the hacked milieu of Scampia’s passion for entertainment and what is in common. Experiments like the ones I have described can be key sites where the work of social reproduction and the care for collectivity take place because they hijack existing relations of production and reproduction.
As I write these final pages, insu^tv has been meeting again to tie up some loose ends. In the past few years (2013–18), when production slowed down and the directions of the collective were unclear, a few of us talked about the legacy of insu^tv and the necessity to create an archive. The opportunity to work on this has come with the development of a new international cooperative network for social justice and the testing of new F/OSS decentralized technology for archiving and collaboratively editing video.16 Both initiatives are part of a larger context of experiments for bottom-up welfare and the creation of infrastructures rooted in the principle of the commons. It is not surprising to me that, in a network that strives to build alternative financial infrastructures, including a fair crypto currency, one of the tools developed is a platform to support video archiving. Memory is a key discursive and affective component of the process of collective individuation, as well as an important resource to develop new practices of resistance.
Social media’s ephemeral feeds and short attention span hardly valorize collective memory. As Asterix pointed out during a meeting in 2014, many young people today come to activism through social media, not through social spaces like the CSOAs, youth groups, workplaces, or schools. For this reason, they are excluded from certain kinds of conversations, knowledge exchange, intellectual investigations, and intergenerational contact that shaped struggle in the past decades—and that engendered important frameworks and practices in reaction to older ways of doing politics (e.g., decolonial, intersectional, antiracist critiques of old feminisms or labor organizing). Storytelling about the political past and collective knowledge gathering and dissemination are part of a practice of care and social reproduction that need to be preserved as political tools. This is especially the case if they can be mobilized to support processes of co-individuation.
At this juncture of new forms of resistance to neoliberal immiseration and to the hyperconnectivity of enclosed communication platforms, it is still unclear what connective activism can look like. In this context, the question for activists but also for engaged scholarship becomes one of how to understand and facilitate the composition of new assemblages that attend to the specific ways in which the technical, the social, and the somatic interlock as much as possible outside the enclosure of individualizing systems. Some of the formats that Telestreet and insu^tv developed and some of the concepts I present herein may be taken up and repurposed in a different context. Most likely it will not be insu^tv that rethinks connective activism and media repurposing for the future, even though production continues. Others will have to develop new concatenations of social forms, knowledge, and technology to “build forms of social solidarity that are capable of re-activating the social body after the long period of its isolation and subjugation to competitive aggressiveness” (Berardi, qtd. in Hugill and Thorburn 2012, 213).