Suraj Gogoi uses the idea of meshwork argued by Tim Ingold to explore counter publics and what microblogging sites can tell us about everyday politics.
Human correspondence comprises of a series of lines which meet and tangles in different forms. It can be a knot, or a mesh. Anthropologist Tim Ingold calls our social relationships as meshwork and we humans, are lines that tangles at different points of history. These lines are fluid like our human life, as opposed to solidity.
Re-interpreting a classical text in anthropology The Gift by Marcel Mauss, Ingold writes that human life begins in a fluid medium and is joined by a line to another body. Mauss, a student of sociologist Emile Durkheim, thought that fluidity defined human lives more than solidity. Ingold uses the human gesture of a handshake to show how solidity reflects the other end of society, which is the foundation of Durkheim’s sociology. When someone holds you by your hand, our minds also meet. In that human gesture where mind and body meet, is a ritualistic expression of collective consciousness of the society we live in. The gesture paves way to solidarity we adhere to as a society and one in which we are caught up with.
We are both caught up and caught with people and things. Up refers to a finitude of social relations, whereas with is a more fluid process, notes Ingold. I can write up my dissertation and submit it, but I think with my data or theory and it is a never-ending process. Words haunts us after being written, and we live with it. There is more room for breather in our social relationships which makes the ‘up’ a rather limited process to describe our everyday gestures and labour.
Lines or meshwork which shows us our social relations are essential to what we call public culture. A social world cannot move on or be possible without common publics. It is only possible with the public(s). Internet have expanded the sphere of public and how our life is assembled. We are no longer bounded by geography.
We are often introduced to ‘others’ or ‘strangers’ in public situations. The strangeness and otherness can blur or become prominent the moment we introduce each other or greet each other, even virtually. Like that handshake which brings us back to society, social media also creates these knots of lines that makes up our human lives of solidarity and fluidity. It creates a kind of public which are made up with different ideologies and cultures, even hopes.
Solidarity signals a lot of energy. Energy that is devoted for something, with a cause. Energy is also produced when there is friction. In essence, solidarity can never be seen outside of friction or conflict. It requires a lot of energy and commitment to bring people to a street or a public hall. Likewise, there is also friction in the public which gives us counter-publics and sub-cultures. These new cultures signal emergence of something new and different, something that gives alternate meaning to our social relations and the way we make sense of life and how our politics ought to be. Seemingly, we draw new lines everyday.
In India, thousands of tweeterites started to migrate to Mastodon after a history of profiles being taken down by twitter. A while ago, Dilip Mandal’s account was suspended for a while for his remarks on how people from oppressed castes groups in India are being targeted in the platform for speaking about the caste discrimination they face in everyday life.
It became a solidarity statement to stand for free speech and to get rid of such arbitrary filters done by twitter. The final nail in the coffin was the suspension of the profile of Sanjay Hedge, a prominent lawyer and a senior advocate of the supreme court which made this migration possible. His profile was taken down for posting a banner of anti-Nazi picture as his banner picture on his microblogging site. Twitter took down indicating that the picture carried “hateful imagery”, after blocking Hegde’s account on Sunday, October 27. The iconic picture was of August Landmesser wherein he is seen refusing to the Nazi salute at a rally. Twitter under pressure from the outpouring support of Sanjay Hedge restored his account only to suspend it again for re-posting a poem called ‘Hang him’, a post which dated back to 2017.
Mastodon, which was released in 2016, unlike Twitter is made up of many servers instead of just one, meaning, anyone can create a server and be in the main system. The system is decentralized and open source. Like any other conventional platform, users can post images and videos, comment, and follow others. There are currently about 2.2 million users as opposed to Tweeter’s 300 million users. Users and advocates of Mastodon argue that its anti-abuse system is also more robust in nature.
Mastodon is an exemplar of counter publics. It gained traction because of a friction with twitter for its un-democratic and arbitrary behavior. However, it is the fluidity of human life that makes such attachment of new lines with a microblogging site possible. Friction is necessarily not bad in social settings, and as we can see in the case of Mastodon, for it can let us into a different road, one that is more just, free and accommodative. Let’s hope that this meshwork of human lines that gets tangled with Mastodon and the energy can help us create just, alternative and meaningful counter publics. Let’s toot!
Suraj Gogoi is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at National University of Singapore.
Ingold, Tim. “On Human Correspondence.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 23, no. 1, 2017, pp. 9–27., doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12541. (Accessed 13 Nov. 2019.)