‘Pandemic and Protest, Revolution and Reflection: The Online Manifesto in 2020-2021’

Abstract (in English): 

In 2015 a colleague and I set up a Tumblr and Twitter account called Crap Futures. The tagline was a quote from Ray Bradbury: ‘People ask me to predict the Future, when all I want to do is prevent it.’ At the time it felt slightly pessimistic — not to mention unscholarly, as we were using the blog to work out ideas from our research. Then came the double surprise of the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US election, and by 2020 ‘crap futures’ felt downright tame, almost conventional wisdom. At the same time we felt it was important not to fall into the trap of doomscrolling, apocalyptic paralysis, and the aesthetics of collapse. Instead we should start building the future we want — a point we made in our manifesto — and hold onto a glimmer of hope.

The flourishing of manifestos of all types showed 2020 to be a period of both action and reflection. More precisely it was a year of reflection (spring) followed by action (summer) followed by hope (autumn) followed by reaction and acceleration into near collapse (winter). The manifesto is the ur-genre of the avant-garde, reflecting (and often encouraging) crisis and upheaval in politics, society and the arts. The genre’s high period, what Mary Ann Caws calls the ‘manifesto moment’, was a century ago during a similarly tumultuous decade — 1909 to 1919 — the decade following the first manifesto of Italian Futurism; there have been several waves since. Most studies of the manifesto, however, were written before 2008, so they (largely) miss the latest wave — the digital manifesto — and the unprecedented changes that accompanied this newly invigorated form between 2008-2020. I wrote about some of these issues in The Manifesto Handbook, which came out in February. In March, Breanne Fahs’ extensive anthology Burn It Down! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution was published. Through social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, as well as niche and alternative platforms, the manifesto has reclaimed its function as a primary marker of history in the making. But whether analogue or digital, the manifesto has always served extremely diverse aims and movements.

In this paper I will survey some of the dozens of manifestos that have appeared online in the past year and attempt to draw some conclusions and place them in a wider context of online culture. As I note in my book, manifestos are always at the bleeding edge of culture and politics. The threats they contain are potent because they are sincere: there is always enough instability, enough wildness about the manifesto to give it real menace — the possibility, near or distant, of real danger, real action, actual revolution. What kinds of manifestos will we need going forward into the 2020s — a decade that (let’s face it) is not off to an easy start, and that urgently requires our active engagement as scholars and citizens? What kinds of manifestos do we deserve, and what kind will we get?


ELO 2021: Platform possibilities and beyond, May 28

The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Daniel Johannes...