Creative Communication and Climate Activism

Creative Communication
and Climate Activism
PhD Silas Harrebye ([email protected])
Institute of Society and Globalisation
Roskilde University
The Discursive Huddle
“Radical activists shall not make a
fool of the police force. The police
can easily take care of such a bunch
of radicals. Even if there are many of
them, they are not very bright. I
mean, they did not invent very many
sharp knifes… in the drawer. And
they are not very strong either. They
are high and stoned. They are
drunk. And so on. Therefore the
police can easily control them”
(Danish Minister of Justice at the
time Brian Mikkelsen)
“As long as we are talking about
peaceful people demonstrating (…)
we do not have a problem with
them. But it is something else with
those who have a different agenda.
Those people I will call activists”
(Flemming Steen Munch,
Vicepoliceinspector and chief of
information, Copenhagen Police)
1. The Militant Activist
 Logic of violence
“Relations between challengers and
authorities are turned from a confused
many sided game into a bipolar one in
which people are forced to chose sides allies defect, bystanders retreat, and the
states’ repressive apparatus swings into
action“ (Tarrow)
2. The Confrontational Activist
Logic of disclosure
”These activists are revealing the true
colours of the representative
democracy’s force to the public”
3. The Creative Activist
Logic of the outsider
Tentative definition:
Creative activism can tentatively be
defined as a civic citizenship participation
where critical perspectives on a societal
issue or a political system are
communicated in creative ways through a
strategic political happening characterized
by an ironic attitude in order to provoke
reflection in the public sphere – and as
such it must be seen as a reaction to the
dominant political rationale and the
medialised public in which it thrives
4. The Professional Activist
Logic of lobbyism
“Mostly, they want to be taken
seriously as prudent and
competent partners who have a
wide conception of the political as
a discursive construct. Therefore
they also tend to place negotiation
and dialogue before antagonism
and opposition” (Bang)
5. The Occational Activist
Logic of numbers
“The logic underlying such action is
totally coherent with the principles of
representative democracy: An attempt is
made to influence public opinion, the
final repository of political power ” (Porta
and Diani)
6. The Everyday-Maker
Logic of do-it-yourself
“They prefer to be involved as
reflexive individuals participating
with other reflexive individuals for
getting a particular and very
concrete project going, right where
they are (…) They aim to encourage
more spontaneous and lowly
organized forms of involvement than
those of expert citizens, who typically
will seek to professionalize all
‘spontaneity’” (Bang)
From Category to Jam Session
“These varieties of action constitute a repertoire
in something like the theatrical or musical
sense of the word; but the repertoire in
question resembles that of commedia dell’
arte or jazz more than that of strictly classical
ensemble: people know the general rules of
performance more or less well and vary the
performance to meet the purpose at hand”
Operating in a Media Paradox
“The attention paid to the immediate impact of
symbols seeks to facilitate the diffusion of the
social movement message in a situation where
the media tends to report superficially: ‘If the
message is embedded in the activity, then a
report of the activity makes people think
about the issue as well”
Wooloo Productions
Participatory network
online with over 13.000
members in over 140
Festivals of hospitality
The private summit
“New Life Copenhagen is promoted as “an art festival and
social experiment that takes place in thousands of Danish
homes during the United Nations Climate Change
Conference” (
“Rather than traditional activism I would characterize the
work that we do as social design or social architecture.
Through the framing of specific social scenarious we allow
people physically, not only through discourse, to experience
and explore new ways of living together” (Sixten, Co-Director of
Wooloo Productions)
A platform
“By using artistic, performative, and narrative
means we turn New Life Copenhagen into
something more than a housing project”
– Cokenhagen (with The Yes Men)
– Ecological Burial (with Superflex)
– Climate Justice Fast (with hungerstriking activists)
– Etc.
Creative activism?
“We opererate as cameleons in a nomadic
discourse across disciplines” (Martin, Co-Director of
Wooloo Productions)
”Earlier you produced beauty. Now we are – only
– taking point of departure in the beautiful or
creative production” (Martin, Co-Director of Wooloo
Inside or outside?
“What is stressed in mainstream participatory
models is never that lay people can make a
real difference to the structuration of the
political regime from inside the political
system. The focus is always on how people
orient themselves to government from outside
in civil society, whether actively, as virtuous
citizens, or passively, as obedient subjects” (Bang
s. 118)
On one hand…
“Civility now has to be entrenched globally before it
can be guaranteed nationally and locally, but the
guarantors of civility in the old national state, a
legal system, rights, a judiciary, police, political
representation and administration under the law,
have no global equivalents. Democratic behavior
then has to be lodged at a deeper level than in
institutions alone” (Albrow and Glacius)
On the other…
• “The greater the opportunities of access to the
decision-making system, the more social
movements tend to adopt moderate strategies
and institutional channels” (Porta)
Systematic Integrative Mechanisms?
“The difference is that we are put in a rather fixed
situation where we are limited by the official framing.
We like to work the other way around and challenge
the space in which we interact – as citizens, as lovers,
consumers, friends, etc. So, our possible participation in
officially staged fora, whether advisory boards or policy
innovation commissions, depends on how I would be
treated, positioned, used, and instrumentalized. We
would have to be taken serious and not just be the
funny clowns – which I believe is a real risk in such a
(Sixten, Co-Director of Wooloo Productions)
“Our creative approach to activism largely
depend on the rules and the framing that we
construct as a conscious and productive
constraint for our social sculptures”
(Sixten, Co-Director of Wooloo Productions)
Political or cultural phenomenon?
“In contrast to traditional art festivals and biennials, our
aim with the NEW LIFE festival concept is not to
represent a set of cultural conclusions, but to create a
model for a fluid cultural landscape”
“We aim beyond the traditional art exhibition to become
an active organizer of experiments in civic engagement
and social empowerment”
“What is political is very much in the eye of the
beholder, and what is regarded as legitimately
political is policed by the state. To analyze
politics and political participation, we need to
rethink the claim that individuals who do not
participate in politics in conventional,
orthodox ways are politically apathetic”
(Marsch et al.)
“Critical? We are critical in our own way through a
poetic approach. We try to vary our critique so it
is dressed up in different garments. But overall
critique of the nation state, of immigration
policies, of capitalism, of individualisation and use
of resources is a central motivation in our work.
We try to deliver it in a way that is entertaining,
experimental, and challenging. Because we want
to reach people and get them engaged”
(Sixten, Co-Director of Wooloo Productions)
Effects of Creative
What is the aim?
Change of policies, or
A critical collective consciousness
and a development of a deep
democratic culture
Pessimists: ”Just a drop in the
Optimists: ”Like rings from a drop
in the ocean change will come
Creative Communication
and Climate Activism
PhD Silas Harrebye ([email protected])
Institute of Society and Globalisation
Roskilde University