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Hashtag Publics

The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks


Edited By Nathan Rambukkana

This collection investigates the publics of the hashtag. Taking cues from critical public sphere theory, contributors are interested in publics that break beyond the mainstream – in other publics. They are interested in the kinds of publics that do politics in a way that is rough and emergent, flawed and messy, and ones in which new forms of collective power are being forged on the fly and in the shadow of loftier mainstream spheres.
Hashtags are deictic, indexical – yet what they point to is themselves, their own dual role in ongoing discourse. Focusing on hashtags used for topics from Ferguson, Missouri, to Australian politics, from online quilting communities to labour protests, from feminist outrage to drag pop culture, this collection follows hashtag publics as they trend beyond Twitter into other spaces of social networking such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr as well as other media spaces such as television, print, and graffiti.
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#Introduction: Hashtags as Technosocial Events



In “On Actor-Network Theory” (1996), Bruno Latour theorizes around the fundamental ontological nature of things. From his science and technology studies perspective, he explodes the modern understanding of the social sciences as describing some form of pre-existing substance (“the social”) and drills down into and unearths their other major aspect, that which looks at the process and becomings of social forms (1996, p. 2). To do this, he draws on chaos theory and event theory, viewing order as emergent, contingent, slices in time of networks of influence in which actants—both human and nonhuman—come together in assemblages that create the things we think of as ordered: social structures, technologies, discourses, relationships, movements, concepts, personalities, behaviours, histories, even matter (1996, p. 3).

This is a big theory, a top-level theory of everything in which there is “[l]iterally nothing but networks, [and] nothing in between them” (1996, p. 4). This anentropic theory—in which orders are understood as contingent, local and emergent states of a productive and underlying chaos, a “careful plaiting of weak ties” (1996, p. 3) into stronger threads—meshes with understandings as differently situated as M-theory, a development of string theory in which even physical constants such as the speed of light and force due to gravity are understood as contingent and local expressions that might be differently articulated in other universes; and a rhizomatic understanding of social structures, in which social forms are messy and multi-filamented entities that...

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