The Becoming Environmental of Power: Tactical Media After Control - Part I

There is a last enterprise that might be undertaken. It would be to seek experience at its source, or rather, above that decisive turn where, taking a bias in the direction of our utility, it becomes properly human experience. (Bergson, 1991: 184).

Tactical media (TM) was originally conceived during a period of widespread media diversification, enabled most dramatically through digital and networked technologies (Garcia and Lovink, 1997). In the original account, 'tactics' was used with reference to Michel de Certeau as an explanation for the material diversification and experimentation with media that could challenge and compete with forms of centralised mass concentration. In this respect, while TM was informed by the rise of the Web and a nascent participatory culture, in many ways the concept was still expressed in opposition to older hierarchical formations of congealed hierarchical power (The State, Mass Media). The key theoretical allusion carried along with de Certeau, of course, was the disciplinary dispositif of Michel Foucault, against which TM would be indirectly defined. This article re-examines theoretical legacies of tacticality in light of more recent debates on sustainable and strategic imperatives for politically invested media projects, particularly in the context of a transition to social media and organised networks.

A central underlying claim I make is that such discussions too easily accept the current spatio-temporal functioning of digital and networked technologies as preformed conditions of possibility. My argument works like this: while issues of scale and temporality are important for critical interrogations of media, these dimensions can no longer be anachronistically read through a lens based on disciplinary logics. The intensive and transversal qualities of networked power that characterise the current socio-political moment have complicated prior distinctions between strategies and tactics. This is not to suggest that uneven formations of power are overcome or displaced; on the contrary, these concentrations persist through radically different registers, settings and modalities. There is a need to grasp the stakes of these conditions. Accordingly, I highlight aspects of a number of familiar narratives to revisit tacticality in some (hopefully) unfamiliar ways.

De Certeau's notion of practices is considered through multiplicity, the control societies of Gilles Deleuze are read against ecological concerns, and the role of levelling is foregrounded within the security dispositif of Foucault. Here, I am interested in the implications of practices in more-than-human registers for each social sketch. Picking up on what Brian Massumi has described as the globally amplifying threats for large-scale disruption characteristic of the becoming environmental of power, attention is given to a different conceptual approach for critical media art projects in terms of ontopolitical problematics. Accordingly, I argue that taking account of changes in power and governance can usefully clarify the work of critical art projects as materially attending to - rather than resisting, opposing or orchestrating - crises over the morphology of the social. I suggest, moreover, that this ontopolitical field escapes dominant understandings of politics, since critical media art aims to directly subvert the conditions through which those definitions are founded.

The Concept of Tactical Media

For some time, TM has been a dominant theoretical framework for defining both politically engaged media art projects and aesthetically challenging modes of political mediation. The term 'tactics', of course, holds militaristic connotations (for better or worse) that refer to manoeuvrability and gaining advantage in warfare or conditions of battle. While Clausewitz famously outlined a distinction from strategy in terms of scale, tactics can be defined in terms of flanking, ambushes, negotiating or creating obstacles, provoking the enemy to make mistakes, and offering reconnaissance (Richardson, 2003: 123-128). The latter, in particular, was traditionally assigned to 'the vanguard' (avant-garde) - high-speed units that would scout out an adversary's movements in advance and secure positions of strategic importance. While such military techniques have been somewhat relegated to the past through the technologisation of war, these implications endure in the context of artistic practice, politics and everyday life in a number of interesting ways (Wilke, 2010: 39-55).

In the following section, I discuss subversive characteristics of TM carried over from these settings, but with an understanding of "the tactical" as multiplicity. Such traits include, for example, investments in critical knowledge work, and modification of standardised technologies and avant-gardism. Through this unpacking, I describe how characteristics of TM have been understood as contributing to the generation of radical political change; traits that have more recently been subject to criticism through new mappings or diagrams of power in network societies (Deleuze, 1999). Indeed, there have been calls to bury the concept, alongside a sense that the idea might simply need updating. To some extent, I move between these inclinations by advocating an emphasis on following errant practices in their complication of diagrammatic formats. This path is taken to argue for the more-than-human scope of intervention, suggesting a turn to working with the problematic complexity of things that should be taken as politics by other means.

Originally formulated during the 1990s, TM has shown remarkable resilience as a concept. In the statement first offered by Geert Lovink and David Garcia for the Amsterdam-based Next Five Minutes (N5M) events, de Certeau's work on everyday life (tactics as 'the art of the weak') was famously linked together with the possibilities of digital consumer culture ('cheap electronics') to capture a sense of an emergent media aesthetic directed toward specific political goals:

Tactical media are media of crisis, criticism and opposition. This is both the source their power ('anger is an energy': John Lydon), and also their limitation their typical heroes are: the activist, Nomadic media warriors, the pranxter, the hacker, the street rapper, the camcorder kamikaze, they are the happy negatives, always in search of an enemy. But once the enemy has been named and vanquished it is the tactical practitioner whose turn it is to fall into crisis - Tactical Media are never perfect, always in becoming, performative and pragmatic, involved in a continual process of questioning the premises of the channels they work with. (Lovink and Garcia, 1997)

Now associated with groups like the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), ®TMark, The Yes Men, the Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT), Luther Blissett, UBERMORGEN.COM and the Bureau of Applied Autonomy (among many others), TM projects were originally defined by a shared technique of amplifying 'provisional' and 'temporary' reversals of power through appropriative uses of media technologies. This would operate through fleeting interventions and reflexive targeting of the micropolitical variety, resulting in conditions for agency comparable to the Temporary Autonomous Zone originally described by Hakim Bey (1991). In the orthodox account, this was related to an 'end of history' mindset: a shift from dialectical struggles to molecular events brought about by the general sentiment that strategic organisation only leads to blockages or authoritarian oppression, 'born from a disgust with ideology' (Lovink, 2008: 187).

While there are other non-European and non-Western histories of practice that can be mapped in terms of TM, it's worth stressing the key significance of Garcia and Lovink's framework. Their model suggestively linked together an array of experiments with these technologies into a broadly inclusive schema for widespread socio-political change. At the time, this mode of engagement was also positioned against an opposition to corporate capitalism and excesses of governmental power. As an artistic-activist practice, TM equally corresponded with the multifarious practices of culture jamming or 'subvertising' aligned with anti-corporate movements, although Garcia and Lovink's proposal extended well beyond the semiotics of advertising culture by allowing a broader spectrum of action to be linked by non-commercial socio-political agendas (Klein, 2000: 63-85; Dery, 1993). Reflexively performing the participatory ethos being invoked, the concept itself was offered up for reconfiguration - for Garcia and Lovink, TM would involve a constant relay between theory and practice. In 1999, the organizers of the third N5M event offered a useful summation:

The term 'tactical media' refers to a critical usage and theorization of media practices that draw on all forms of old and new, both lucid and sophisticated media, for achieving a variety of specific noncommercial goals and pushing all kinds of potentially subversive political issues. (N5M, 1999)

Although stressing a non-commitment to any particular technological form (old or new), as mentioned during the introduction, TM was actually first conceived against mass broadcast systems; for instance, with the possibilities of hacking, refiguring and utilising televisual and video technologies inspired by examples like Andrei Ujeika and Harun Faroki's Videograms of a Revolution (1993), or Brian Springer's documentary Spin (1995), and the new possibilities suggested by portable camcorders (van Bergeijk & van Dijk, 1992; Holmes, 2009). Activist AIDS campaigns during the 1980s also formed an important influence on the concept, along with deeper histories of alternative independent publishing, zines, subcultures, pirate radio and television, and feminist media activism. However, during the period of N5M events, the rise of the Web and popular use of the Internet quickly became a significant contributing factor. As Garcia explains, this was a communications revolution which, 'like the music of the 1960s, acted as a universal solvent not only breaking down discipline boundaries but also the boundaries separating long established political formations' (Garcia, 2007: 6). Here, the effectiveness of TM conceptually quickly became obvious by illuminating the makeshift pragmatism that underpinned a great diversity of experimental practices with new media technologies at the time, from hacktivism and electronic civil disobedience to journalistic initiatives like Indymedia (Meikle, 2002).

In this way, the N5M events brought together independent activists, artists, media practitioners, students, scholars and theorists in an attempt to delineate an emerging style of media practice. In a somewhat utopian register, the goal of TM might be favourably compared with the notion of 'the artist as producer', the assertion famously made by Walter Benjamin that revolutionary change could only be inaugurated by directly altering the means of production or apparatus (Benjamin, 2008: 79-95; Cox and Krysa, 2005). The concept seemed to offer precisely such a flexible program for engineering difference by interrogating the conditions through which political content was materially shaped and distributed, and by pushing modes of work intended to bridge the divide between producers and consumers in the first place.

To a certain extent, by leaving open the specific manifestations through which a TM work could unfold, the malleability of this concept was initially met with widespread support from creative practitioners. As I gradually elaborate here, the ability of TM to encapsulate a wide diversity of projects was consistent with de Certeau's definition of tactics as individuating differences carried along as an immanent manifold. This set the concept in motion as an adaptive and responsive modality of engaging with both artistic and political conceptions of autonomy. While stating that any act of definition was risky since a concept might be easily co-opted through explication, CAE nevertheless described a 'feeling of relief' in both the interpretative and collaborative diversity that TM allowed - 'artist, scientist, technician, craftsperson, theorist, activist, etc., could all be mixed together in combinations that had different weights and intensities' (Critical Art Ensemble, 2001: 5). This particular feature, moreover, drove the ongoing influence of the idea. There is a strong sense that TM has persisted since it has become a discursive space or topos - a topic that arranges theoretical and practical engagements with problematic themes of the network condition, including politics, standardisation, economics, agency and aesthetics.

An example can be seen in the 'Virtual Casebook Project at NYU' site, which contains the submission form with the question 'What is Tactical Media for You?'. The range of responses illustrates the multiple interpretations that can emerge around the term (and also potential disagreements): for instance, Garcia argues in favour of the radical variety of practices that should be aligned with TM, including individual projects, as opposed to examples of collective campaigns, but always working against 'legitimate objectives'; David Holmes suggests that TM requires a fundamental consideration of universal rights such as political representation to begin with; while Natalie Jeremijenko simply states 'tactical media is what tactical media artists do' (Virtual Casebook Project, 2002).

Arguably, this range of views is tied up with the conceptual design of TM in the first place. Such radical pluralism could even be seen as the most crucial asset: if anything, TM opens onto multiplicity - that is, conditions that complicate any reliance on an essence or a higher unity: 'multiplicity must not designate a combination of the many and the one, but rather an organisation belonging to the many as such, which has no need whatsoever of unity in order to form a system' (Deleuze, 1994: 182). On the one hand, this invocation can be read as connecting with the complexities of contemporary network societies; however, it is also sustained through genealogical work. For tactical projects, a sense of multiplicity stems equally from relations forged with prior techniques of artistic, materialist and activist experimentation. This channels concepts of autonomy in labour, nonhuman agencies and avant-gardist institutional critique into specific interrogations of the socio-technical problems of the present. These genealogical sources are approached as virtualities to be actualised over and again as individuated expressions.

TM then draw from the archival past, especially to the extent that the modality of the tactical is tied to lineages associated with the historic avant-garde. Another trajectory can be traced back to Benjamin here; in this case, the argument from his influential essay on technological reproducibility, that artistic works affectively anticipate regimes of experience and hold a capacity to prepare perception for the coming shocks of modernity (Benjamin, 2008: 19-55). With the shift in media technologies during the final decade of last century, TM similarly aimed to construct new ways of working with socio-technological infrastructures on both formal and political levels. Indeed, as Tobias Wilke observes, rather than medium, an important term throughout Benjamin's famous thesis is 'tacticality' (taktisch) - a neologism that combines both the tactile and tactical to describe technological art as an experimental act with futurity (2010: 39-55). This was, significantly, an idea that borrowed from the avant-garde in a reading of aesthetics as a militarised training ground for the senses; but the approach is also aligned with the material tangibility of art as work, a kind of knowledge only achieved by 'touching the world'. The perpetual reorientation and undoing of regulated experience meant that art practice was less concerned with the maintenance of a formal style, than with an ontological confrontation of differences in kind. TM has similarly inherited a tendency to defy being categorically pigeonholed beyond anything other than a differential field, routes that led to the virtual through praxis, what László Moholy-Nagy once described as an aesthetic for 'tireless pioneers' (qtd. in Wilke, 2010: 43).

But there is something more to this: through such mixtures of past practices, TM also highlights the significance of concepts for network societies, especially by elucidating a nascent field, even a set of disregarded prospects. If Lovink's work is familiar, it is for this conceptual approach to socio-technological networks. Think of terms like Data Dandy, Distributed Aesthetics (with Anna Munster), Organised Networks (with Ned Rossiter) and Internet Criticism (in general). That many such concepts are co-created is further evidence of an investment in the connective principles of networking. Lovink's earlier writings with ADILKNO (The Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge) similarly took the form of collectively authored small manifesto-like statements described at the time as 'UTOs' or 'unidentified theoretical objects' - Sovereign Media, Total Media, Vague Media and so on - all of which can effectively can be read as precedents for TM (ADILKNO, 1998). While this approach is not easy reduced to a 'method' per se, since concepts emerge through intuitive inquiries, Lovink has nevertheless consistently placed an emphasis on the importance of this aspect in his writing. For instance, in a short piece with Florian Schneider, 'New Rules for the New Actonomy' (2001), concepts are highlighted as mobilising desire to particular socio-political ends through viral dynamics: 'these days a well-designed content virus can easily reach millions overnight. Invest all your time to research how to design a robust meme which can travel through time and space, capable to operate [sic.] within a variety of cultural contexts' (2001). Similarly, in discussing the failed fortunes of the dotcom era, he writes:

The crucial step is to shape, armour and then blow up concepts, 'memes' and ideas so that they then become operational entities. A productive discourse is not mere talk. The creation of a compelling ideology is not just a matter of talent. The killer application is not just people but the collective ability to mobilize and direct the Network Spirit. (Lovink, 2002)

Striving to pursue change through connectivity - if not with the Network Spirit, than at least it's unconscious - Lovink's program suggests an abstract yet ultimately pragmatic model of cultural activism (2011). The technique might be compared with Scott Lash's assertion that any critique of information can only occur immanently by connecting up with information itself (Lash, 2002: vii, 220). Here, the most crucial aspect is based on distributing critical ideas through viral contamination: a recurring characteristic of the informational aspects of digital networks that evokes properties such as emergence and non-linear causalities (Terranova, 2004; Sampson, 2007). This situation is related to the infrastructural deployment and maintenance of 'panspectric' media that are not concerned with cultural containment per se, but on premediating modes of contagion (Kullenberg and Palmås, 2009). While TM is clearly subject to these contexts, whether the goal should be based on competition - fixated on attempts to outgame Silicon Valley, for instance - is perhaps unclear. There are more productive ways to approach this kind of work than simply going viral.

In general, Lovink tends to avoid the idiosyncratic vocabulary of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Their description of philosophic concepts is, however, helpful for providing some insights into how TM and tacticality might be otherwise conceived. Concepts for them are 'anenergetic' condensations that channel energies into a range of sites and practices (Deleuze and Guattari, 1995). Rather than fixed solutions, concepts are intensities that immanently transform states of affairs (Alliez, 2004: 17-31). They are formed, moreover, in confrontation with badly posed or understood problems. However, this cannot be taken as a subjective projection, since problems 'do not exist only in our heads but occur here and there in the production of an actual historical world' (Deleuze, 1994: 190). They serve a pedagogic function by seeking a resolution through novel re-configurations or modifications to other pre-existing concepts on an immanent plane or network: 'a concept requires not only a problem through which it recasts or replaces earlier concepts but a junction of problems where it combines with other coexisting concepts' (Deleuze and Guattari, 1995: 18). These resolutions, however, are only found at a virtual point; they are set in motion along such dimensions through processes of experimentation and learning.

While Deleuze and Guattari refer strictly to philosophy as operating in this register, their formula ('the concept of the concept') can be usefully translated into the context of TM. More specifically, it can illuminate something of the 'non-philosophical' transversal dynamics brought about at divisions between scientific method, political activism, artistic practice, cultural theory and philosophy (Fuller, 2008). I refer to this transversal tacticality as reticular aesthetics - a transformative practice that engages with problems or topical issues (Dieter, 2009). Drawing from Bergsonian thought, reticular aesthetics can be described as inquiries that counter the tendency to fabricate the world as differences in degree. The role of such approaches, rather, is to intuitively move through cases of solution towards an alternate sense and perception of the problem; as Deleuze puts it, 'only intuition decides between the true and the false in the problems that are stated, even if this means driving intelligence to turn back against itself' (1991: 21). To be clear, problems are multiplicities. Nevertheless, as I go on to discuss, exclusively associating such dynamics with TM has become an increasingly complex exercise today. Critical discussions around 'the tactical' has, accordingly, begun to question how critical media art is tied to problems for politics, including temporal dynamics of appropriative action and a tendency to become easily re-absorbed after execution.

Circuits and Circulations

Despite the resilience of TM, there is no question that changing historical conditions have significantly complicated investments in tacticality. This is most obvious in discussions that have fixated on the sustainability of TM as a viable program for long-term change, or more recently, in a turn to consider durable strategic realities (Becker, 2009). While altering the debate to focus on persistent structures or formats of power might seem like an inevitable case of the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, there are immediate issues that explain this interest (Krapp, 2005). In particular, certain projects aligned with TM have been perceived as a threat from the perspective of the United States government in the context of a post-9-11 world and the so-called 'war against terror' -  notable here is the arrest of Steve Kurtz from CAE (a case that was eventually be dropped after being cleared of all charges) and more recent accusations against Ricardo Dominguez, for instance. While acknowledging the significance of these events, the judico-legal injunctions imposed against critical media art projects need to be interpreted through an analysis of security and control regimes established for managing networked materialities (Munster, 2005). There is a related concern regarding the presumed natural correlation between the tactical and progressive politics. However, critiques of this sort deliberately confuse 'tactics' with militaristic connotations of violent conflict, rather than 'tactics' taking on a particular mode of inquiry (von Clausewitz, 2003: 132-137).

My interest lies mainly with the relation of these practices to communicative capitalism and the possibilities of reshaping existing patterns of social organisation. Of course, it should be obvious that no technique or technology is ever 'neutral'; approaches are transformed over time, even altered diagrammatically. This section deals with some of those changes by offering a broader understanding of power capable of gauging concerns that inform critical readings of TM. Of particular importance in these settings are the uncertainties of capture and the circulation of content. TM is often criticised for the fleeting eventfulness underpinning its model of intervention; my argument is that this critique is centred on a conception of politics that does not account for the transversal tacticality of these projects, a reticulation of things that works on problems in ontopolitical conditions.

A special issue of Third Text edited by Gene Ray and Gregory Sholette - 'Whither Tactical Media?' - is exemplary of the sense of malaise that has gathered around the idea of doing political mediation differently. The issue is premised on a claim that the influence of neo-conservative macro-politics and grand narratives, along with the global consolidation of economic rationalism, has brought about a situation where TM appears as a futile and inhibited gesture. In their editorial, Ray and Sholette view tactics as struggling to perform radical modes of criticality, especially by connecting with conditions of labour and scaling otherwise temporary interventions. Regarding the former, they highlight conditions of global precarity, from maquiladoras and export processing zones to knowledge-intensive or creative sectors of employment. Anything tactical is described as lacking legitimacy by being too far removed from the most brutal politico-economic realities of these almost uninhabitable worlds. While TM demonstrates a capacity to liberate desire by appropriation of the apparatus, precisely in a Benjaminian mode, this characteristic has so far failed to effectively translate into applications or involvement at the level of collective enunciation in conditions of immiseration. This critique is driven by a concern with how tactical practices are vitally connected to socio-political formations; however, it additionally presumes a specific definition of what TM currently is and might become (it would be interesting, for example, to examine such claims against the recent events of WikiLeaks, Take the Square and the Arab Spring). While historically, avant-garde and activist movements might have aligned themselves with subaltern and minoritarian politics, the TM ideal, as Ray and Sholette have it, is now a terminal figure: 'a dissipated and distracted spectator constituted by historically unique sensory experiences made real by the rise of new media technologies' (Ray and Sholette, 2008: 521). This image of the perceptually and sensorially overloaded is a disaster: how do the performative aspects of any project register in the 'creative noise' of informationalism? What is the relationship between this panic-inducing informational excess and immediate political matters? Even with the possibilities of alternate pathways for distributing content via networked technologies, there is the recurring question of what reconfigurations can be claimed from these projects. Jodi Dean's commentary on the flattened network as ultimately subservient to communicative capitalism is relevant here. This situation, more often than not, undermines the formation of viable solidarities:

Instead of engaged debates, instead of contestations employing common terms, points of reference, or demarcated frontiers, we confront a multiplication of resistances and assertions so extensive that it hinders the formation of strong counterhegemonies. The proliferation, distribution, acceleration, and intensi?cation of communicative access and opportunity, far from enhancing democratic governance or resistance, results in precisely the opposite, the postpolitical formation of communicative capitalism. (Dean, 2005: 102)

Dominant networked media systems are also configured for exploitation in significant ways (Dean, 2010). Moreover, in relation to political discourse, it is the wrong kind of expression or engagement that pervades: individualising, scattered, consumptive. In this situation, progressive interventions then encounter the dilemma of competing with all manner of sentiments that also feel appropriative. Tactics appear as the norm; perhaps supported by the presence of avant-gardist techniques as presets of the 'meta-medium' of software (Manovich, 2001; 2008). This network is of another cast; inhabited by what Quentin Meillassoux calls the communicator, a persona that embodies 'a certain obstinate silliness, of a frenetic openness to whatever appearances of novelty come along' (2007: 105). Everyday practices are folded into flexible formations governed by logics of possession and profit; niche-orientated Web platforms accept all content, just another segment of the Long Tail.

Excesses of memes, remixes, mash-ups and the churn of Net flotsam are indicative of these accelerated conditions of communicative capitalism (Parikka and Sampson, 2009). But what happens when contagion, creativity and modifiability (some cited goals of TM) have become default settings? Arguably, these circumstances are well beyond what Deleuze and Guattari perceived as the appropriation of conceptual thinking for commerce, that 'most shameful moment' where computer science, marketing, advertising and design come together for 'products to be sold' (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 10-12). Here, a representative example of the embedding of tacticality into the flows of participatory network dynamics is The Contagious Media Experiments (2005) initiated by Jonah Peretti, a media project funded partly by the Eyebeam Gallery in New York. Tapping into the possibilities for disseminating content through media convergence, the main goal of this initiative was targeting what Peretti described as 'the Bored at Work Network (BWN)' - a population estimated at hundreds of millions of office workers constantly using social networking sites, instant messaging, blogging and email:

These experiments illustrate the practical application of concepts like emergence, 6-degrees of separation, and tipping points. Each project starts small and spreads virally to millions of people without any promotions, advertisements, or press releases. In the end, the mass media picks up the story as a trend, and the project is able to permeate the culture at multiple levels. This low-budget, bottom-up approach makes it possible to create a global cascade that begins with a small group of friends and extends to the set of CNN or the Today Show. These Contagious Media Experiments suggest new opportunities for artists, activists, companies, and entertainers in the networked age. (Peretti, 2005)

Recalling Alan Lui's study of informational cool and 'cyber-bad attitude', this audience is potentially analogous to that envisioned by TM with the info-worker enrolled as anticipated 'participant' or witness (Lui, 2004). The Contagious Media Showdown (2005) is one project in this series, which combined the efforts of Peretti, Cory Arcangel, Ze Frank, Ann Poochareon, Paul Berry and Mike Frumin to compete over a period of a month to create content memes. The success of this project led in part to the establishment of BuzzFeed, a website dedicated to tracking all manner of viral and user-generated content, offering tags to further disseminate trends such as 'geeky', 'LOL', 'WTF' and 'OMG'. In this way, the site aims to chart what content is massifying across various network segments; often resulting in a deluge of celebrity scandals, amateur art, viral marketing or YouTube remixes. While electronic civil disobedience might persist in IRC chatrooms and distributed denial-of-service attacks, unruly innovation is here a consumable circuit of vernacular content, what David Berry sees as the riparian user of real-time streams (Berry, 2011: 144). Tacticality is both promoted and tamed by computational devices; an RSS feed, viral dashboard or downloadable app away.

From another perspective, the actual impact of socio-technical activism has been where TM has come under intense scrutiny. Significantly, in their theoretical proposal for the concept of organised networks, Ned Rossiter and Lovink offer an incisive critique of the concept as a pragmatic approach for progressive political change in light of accelerated changes associated with post-Fordism:

Tactical media too often assume to reproduce the curious spatio-temporal dynamic and structural logic of the modern state and industrial capital: difference and renewal from the peripheries. But there's a paradox at work here. Disruptive as their actions may often be, tactical media corroborate the temporal mode of post-Fordist capital: short-termism. (Lovink and Rossiter, 2005)

By highlighting the affinities between this style of working and conditions of flexible capitalist accumulation, they claim that tactics are now politically inadequate as an end in itself. For Lovink and Rossiter, the main challenge is to shift attention towards the strategic dimension of networks in an appeal for new institutional forms of sustainability built on creative labour. As Rossiter states elsewhere, however, tactics are still relevant as a legitimate 'source of renewal' in this theoretical schema - 'without the tactical, organised networks collapse into stasis' (2006: 23). Indeed, a number of long-term TM experiments like The Yes Men, Indymedia, Makrolab are seen as viable resources, but they are not seen as relevant examples for the formation of organised networks themselves (2008). The latter are emergent institutions immanent to the socio-technical dynamics of Internet-enabled systems. They are described at times precisely in the language of meta-modelling developed by Guattari (Rossiter, 2006: 17-24). For Lovink and Rossiter, organised networks resemble hybrid arrangements that lie somewhere between tactics and proper institutional structures. The challenge is to scale up otherwise short-lived projects to allow for more long-term alternatives to be established during the period of uncertainty or structural instability marked by neoliberalism.

Whether or not this specific critique of TM that informs the organised networks concept is convincing - and it needs to be acknowledged that critical media art projects are generally not concerned with building institutional formations in any obvious way - I nevertheless draw attention to the conceptual ambiguity of the conjoined aspects of these apparently distinct modes of operation. This can be considered as a result of a framework cast as a flat ontology. However, it additionally refers to a well-known characteristic of networks. They consume difference: even strategic positions cannot be maintained against their purported inverse, but must be rendered as tendencies, scales and gradients. For Rossiter and Lovink, only through the intensification of networking can subsumption be outpaced and alternatives projected as scalar formations. Organised networks, interestingly, can be said to broach upon a missing third military-inspired term between strategies and tactics in this appeal: the role of logistics (Wark, 2003). But here, I should highlight another rather obvious point, that organised networks must additionally 'corroborate' somehow with speculative economics. They are, therefore, forced to confront another quandary raised by following neoliberal conditions, including a struggle to offer differential categories of access, accountability and legitimacy. I would say that the ramifications from such dilemmas, in this respect, are greater than simply speaking in 'the unattractive language typically associated with neoliberalism' (Rossiter, 2006: 14).

Adopting languages involves translation; things necessarily get formatted. I mean this not just abstractly, but concretely, in terms of funding, resources, labour and measures of success. These moments of translation have implications for the constitution of a network, including what actors, agencies and actants benefit from getting organised or not. It has been a clear tendency of neoliberal governance to exacerbate hierarchies precisely by eroding frameworks for regulated procedures. For organised networks, beyond the continual search for material resources other than free labour and grant funding, learning to deal with these uneven tendencies and inequalities is an additional problem; and perhaps this is also why the question of tactics cannot be so easily done away with.

Elsewhere, Rita Raley has outlined her own interpretation of TM and offered a rejoinder to the organised networks proposal with an analysis of projects that have responded to the global neoliberal order (2009). Raley does so by acknowledging the changes in tactics characterised by increasingly sophisticated yet more dispersed techniques of intervention, and offers readings of border hacks, persuasive gaming and the data visualisation of financial markets. Well-known work by Electronic Disturbance Theatre, John Klima, DoEAT, Joseph DeLappe, Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez, UBERMORGEN.COM, Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway all feature in Raley's discussion of heroic dissent within these transformed conditions of power. She responds directly to the 'radical media pragmatism' of Lovink and Rossiter by stressing the performativity of these works:

The right question is not whether tactical media works or not, whether it succeeds or fails in spectacular fashion to effect structural transformation; rather, we should be asking to what extent it strengthens social relations and to what extent its activities are virtuosic. (Raley, 2009: 29)

Accordingly, Raley's position places an emphasis on the aesthetic dimension of TM and highlights, in particular, the participatory significance of the audience with reference to the concept of relational aesthetics from Nicolas Bourriaud and the performative qualities of virtuosity drawn from Paolo Virno's writings on multitude (Bourriaud, 2002; Virno, 2004). Her argument hinges on the role of spectators as witnesses that complete the 'signifying field' of the piece by 'recording a memory of the performance' (Raley, 2009: 12). Raley suggests that there is no obvious extrinsic product from these events since they are engagements that experientially transform the social or 'general intellect'. This claim is, to a certain extent, congruent with the move towards thinking of how to inhabit the common; it's based on searching for other ways of doing politics since 'there is much in the world to protest' (1). And in this respect, I am in sympathy with her position, even allied. Nevertheless, I phrase my response like this: TM has never been concerned foremost with solutions, but with problems. This has involved a confrontation with differences in kind cast through the artistic, political and everyday notions of autonomy that are made available by existing legacies of institutional critique. Such genealogies are (re)sources for tactics as it becomes an embodied discourse based on imaginative transgressions, refigured modes of knowledge and experimentation with problems for politics. Materialist trajectories increasingly matter in this contract with difference; in other words, the relations that critical media art establishes by occupying the emergent terrain of environmental power are key. In the next section, I elaborate on this perspective through the becoming environmental of power. Suffice to say, Raley's study mainly leaves questions of anything more-than-human unexamined; or more accurately, she does not deal with how tactical behaviours twist the machine and nonmachine within apparatuses of social reproduction.

Whatever the consequences of social media and the infrastructures of neoliberal capitalism, it has become obvious that the very notion of tactics is now complicated, even confused. Critical media art projects perform some kind of important work. However, the debates outlined above demonstrate the inability of existing frameworks to adequately take their political significance into consideration. In what follows, I reflect on these dilemmas by discussing a number of ambiguities in the notion of the everyday first devised by de Certeau, especially regarding differences along more-than-human registers. Arguably, channels of distribution (circuits and circulation) have not been a concern of TM due to an emphasis on alterity founded on an orientation toward processual politics. Or, perhaps more accurately, it has been because TM has remained antithetical to the particular model of quantification proper to calculative regimes of informationalism. I offer a particular reading, in this respect, of the everyday that argues that an important facet of de Certeau's work is a recurring sense of multiplicity. This term is perhaps often used in a rather straightforward sense as referring to the multiple or numerous, rather than philosophically linked to duration, sense and ontology, the conditions of making and unmaking experience. Acknowledging that political action is forced to reckon with the new diagrams of power, I suggest this concept illuminates an important strand of TM: multiplicity makes 'the tactical' germane as a mode of work for uncertain lives. In this respect, the final section of this article can be read as returning to the question of whether tactics should be taken as an intrinsic 'good' or end in itself. In some ways I question the sovereignty of the actions involved. Here, my argument is that the tactical involves reticulating problems in a confrontation with difference.

> conitnue to part II


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Michael Dieter, Media Studies, The University of Amsterdam.

In: Fibreculture Journal, Issue 18, 2011 / 126

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