Left-wing activists and radical academics logically use modernist discourses on ‘effective opposition’ to describe their resistance to large multi-nationals (like Microsoft) or global and regional economic and political bodies (like the World Bank or the European Union). It appears that the popular language of new media lends itself particularly well to activists and intellectuals with metaphors for ‘instantaneous’ action, personal empowerment, ‘hybrid’ techno-human subversions, and ‘networked, decentralised’ social change. In academia, the radical aspects of these metaphors have been happily picked up on in new social movement studies, certain types of cyber-feminist theory, and radical Italian philosophy. But despite the emancipatory utopias that drive such practices, Dr Hoofd’s research instead points towards the complicities of these activist and intellectual practices with the structures that they seek to subvert or overturn. The key to understanding this, her research argues, is that this complicity relates to the aesthetic properties of the new media and communication technologies, where speed becomes the central logic of neo-liberal globalisation.
One particular section of her research addresses the techno-utopian discourses in the philosophy of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and traces how these and several related European intellectuals – often lumped together under the rubric ‘radical Italian thought’ - have had profound impact on anti-globalisation and migration-activists. In their widely read and praised masterpieces Empire and Multitudes, Hardt and Negri sketch the potential that new technologies have in terms of bringing together the ‘multitudes’. What is more, they argue that the fusion of the multitudes with these technologies will eventually ‘automatically’ subvert global capitalism, because all these subjects and tools supposedly have in-built radical tendencies. But in spite of the huge popularity of such claims among activists, Dr Hoofd’s research concludes that Hardt and Negri themselves foremost make a case for their own privileged ‘virtual class’ (or ‘speed elite’, as she chooses to call that class) and the economic and technological arrangements that sustain it. As such, Hardt and Negri’s techno-happy rhetoric and its activist appropriations aggravate rather than relieve global structures of oppression through repeating the discourse of ‘speed’. This is worrisome especially because such complicities point towards the intrinsic entanglements of the humanist aspect of social justice that academic intellectuals and radical activists (implicitly) ascribe to. It also exposes how idealistic institutions and groups facilitate the ongoing creation of those technologies, like the Internet, that eventually paradoxically inform what Gayatri Spivak has termed a ‘withdrawal of responsibility’. New media technologies therefore are not simple instruments through which ethical action is pursued – they themselves problematically inform and alter ethical perspectives by their essentially disconnecting properties of speed.
- Hoofd, Ingrid. “Dialogues between Paul Virilio and Chela Sandoval. Towards a better understanding of uses and abuses of new technologies.” In: Genders. Presenting Innovative Work in the Arts, Humanities and Social Theories. Issue 39, 2004.
- Hoofd, Ingrid. “The migrant metaphor in radical Italian thought: Whose liberation are we talking about, anyway?” In: Cultural Studies Review. Vol.11, no. 2, Sept. 2005.
- Hoofd, Ingrid and Ursula Biemann. “Remote Sensing: Routing female bodies in the age of geographic information systems.” In: Static, Issue 2, March 2006.