IR12 paper: Web crawling, network narratives and performing political identities

In IR12, my paper was part of the panel Political subjects and political fields: Or how technology happens twice, with Dr. Caroline Bassett and Dr. Kate O’Riordan. Axel Bruns (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia) has blogged about the paper.

Further to my previous post about Seattle, here is the Abstract of my paper:

Digital mapping tools, like the Issue Crawler, have been employed to visualise networks of civil society organisations and other political actors around specific issues. This application poses questions about how objects of study, like the mediated activity of emerging political collectivities, can be thought in relation to research tools. What is the role of network mapping in framing and enabling activist identities? This paper draws on empirical work which studied a network forming around the Feminism in London 2009 conference and foregrounds the disarticulation between individual ethnographic accounts and the narrative provided by web crawling. In this case, the performance of political identities, fostered by imaginaries of a networked movement, informs the formation of agenda issues. The intensification of issue-oriented political activity and its mediation online involve practices of reading and the exchange of stories which stabilise these identities. Digital maps showing this mediated activity only manage to depict a single issue bound to a single political identity. In other words, web crawling absorbs the tensions, heterogeneity, and the complex practices of imagining, interpreting and archiving narratives involved in the making of contemporary feminist identities. In this way, Issue Crawler is at the same time a representational technology and a digital narrative which creates the conditions for certain political identities to be publicly visible. It therefore needs to be critically approached as itself a context which legitimises certain stories over others and therefore, along with the researcher, as a political actor in the production of knowledge.

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