AMC Day 2: The Benefits of Exile in Cyberspace

Summer is conference season and MAP is reporting live. Over the next few days I’ll be reporting from the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and David Faris will be reporting from the Global Voices Summit in Nairobi.Check out this blog and ourTwitter streamfor reports and ourFacebook pagefor photos

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People come to theAllied Media Conferencebecause of sessions like “Radical Organizing from the Dancefloor.” The conference, its presenters, and participants are not afraid to look for deep cultural meaning – and opportunities for resistance – in seemingly benign practicese.

Exilic space facilitates new expression of gender and dance in Jamaica. Exilic spaces exist online as well.

The session was co-lead byanthropologist/DJLarisa Mannandimmigrant rights activist/media producerThanu Yakupitiyageand explored how to create safe spaces for the creation of joy and social capital at the intersection “political activism and the pleasure and experimentation of the dancefloor.” Yup, sounds awesome.

During the session Larisa brought forth a concept from her research: “exilic space” – spaces of exile. In a blog post explaining the concept she writes:

Subordinated people have always relied on “exilic spaces” for survival and renewal. These… spaces are carved out by practical and creative acts. In exilic spaces like underground dance events, the uncivilized can make the most of their independence from the constraints of “civil” life: the unruly and vulgar embrace grime and glamour, playing with categories of gender, sexuality, race and class.

What happens in these spaces could be called “leisure” or “parties” or “hedonism.” But serious work can happen… if it is truly exilic. People create and share cultural/material resources on terms not dictated by mainstream society…. People play out alternate identities….

While exilic spaces can be sites of struggle against dominant power, they are often not seen as revolutionary either by more mainstream political movements and organizers, or by the state or elites, who prefer to police them in relation to concepts of propriety and property.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? It reminds me of insular online communities like 4chan and groups like Anonymous where members also develop alternate (or anonymous) identities in a space not governed by civil life through creative media-making. The outside world sees their activities and creative output as acts of hedonism, trolling, or perversion, but these are also spaces for the development of new culture (4chan had a major roll in popularizing visualmemes).

Larisa studies physical exilic spaces of music and dance culture, but these spaces exist in the online world too, and may be seen as analogous in that they are also spaces for the safe germination of new ways of being. Isolation in cyberspace can be harmful, but is can also be helpful in nurturing the subcultures that keep mass culture innovative and resilient.


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