Democracy or autonomy? Indymedia and the contradictions of global social movement networks

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Abstract

In this article, I examine the indymedia movement as exemplar of a transnational network where the dynamics of democracy and local autonomy come into tension. Indymedia was launched during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. Since 1999, indymedia has mushroomed into a transnational social movement based network. Through the lens of indymedia's networked structure, I examine the tension between participatory decision-making and local autonomy. In specific I look at the decision of the global indymedia network to reject a large grant from the Ford Foundation because of Ford's history in the Argentine dirty wars. The heated episode, which almost forced the growing network to shut down, brings to the fore the complex contradictions of local autonomy and shared decision-making in the age of networks. Moreover, this episode and indymedia in general, brings to light the inability of decentralized networks to build proactive power, highlighting the disorganizing and at times debilitating logic of contemporary social movements.

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