Anti-Systemic Movements in the Attention Economy
Engaging the Cultural Political Economy Approach
Keywords:anti-systemic movements, ICTs, attention economy, culture, discourse, information and communication technologies
In recent decades, anti-systemic movements feature new forms of communication for organizing efforts: the use of information and communication technologies. Research on information and communication technologies suggests that mobile phones and internet access have increasingly facilitated horizontal communication for anti-systemic movements across the world-system, creating space for rapid and instantaneous organization and mobilization. However, existing scholarship benefits from a critical evaluation of claims about horizontality by addressing the political economy of information and communication technologies from a world-systems analysis perspective. Specifically, information and communication technology devices and platforms—from cellphones to social media channels—are designed by powerful corporations that are often based in powerful core and semi-periphery nations. The majority of these corporations are based in the hegemonic core of the United States. Within the present context of waning material resources across the world-system, these corporations profit from an online attention economy. Just as traditional material economies exploit the labor and natural resources from the periphery to extract wealth for core states, the attention economy exploits the psychologies and behaviors of periphery populations to extract wealth for core countries. Thus, some of the most powerful institutions in the world-system control the algorithms and structures where anti-systemic movements compete for peoples’ attention. This study utilizes the Mass Mobilization Data Project 1990-2018 historical dataset to determine which kinds of anti-systemic movements thrive as information and communication technology access expands globally. Using population-averaged negative binomial panel models on protest counts, I determine that as information and communication technologies expand, anti-systemic movements that are unlikely to threaten U.S. hegemony thrive, and conversely, anti-systemic movements that pose serious threats to U.S. hegemony and the present capitalist world-system are stifled. To unpack these findings, I draw from the cultural political economy approach, a framework that describes how some imaginations become a zeitgeist over competing imaginations for economic and political realities.
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