Tactical Media

Critical Writing
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2009
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Abstract (in English): 

Rita Raley’s Tactical Media covers the “spectrum ranging from direct action (e.g., denial-of-service attacks and game space interventions) to symbolic performance (e.g., data visualization)” (150).  Raley ties together a movement which eschews grand narratives and the contrapuntal teleological declarations of manifestos, identifying a strain of media activism that is, to use deCerteau’s term, “tactical”.  What ties these practices together is a combination of “virtuosic performance and cultural critique” (Raley 150).  As Raley maintains, and as the work reflects, tactical media is characterized not by its ability to instigate a widespread revolution, rather it is in the ability of relatively powerless operators, through skill and creativity, to turn systems of power against themselves, exposing, however fleetingly, the illegitimacy and injustice of their own authority. 

The text covers three chief thematic areas which are seem to roughly characterize the dominant subjects of tactical media: Chapter 1: Border Hacks (which addresses the vast pool of tactical media that has arisen to critique the politics of globalization and human migration), Chapter 2: Virtual War (which focuses on those works which exist to raise critical consciousness about war and conflict), and Chapter 3: Speculative Capital (which deals with works that aim to shed light on the practices of global financial markets).   In addressing these three areas, Raley does not necessarily confine “tactical media” to such subject matter, rather she highlights the chief discursive threads whose point of convergence to form a critique of neoliberalism.  Here is where this activist movement is able to establish its center, if it can be said to have one at all.

But beyond offering a useful delineation of “tactical media” and a strong theoretical frame from which it can be understood, Raley’s work points to the limitations of such work.  In reviewing the corpus of works selected and the movement’s general rejection of generalities in favor of short term, ephemeral, and technologically facilitated acts of opposition, one cannot help but notice the tension that exists between an art movement that is overwhelmingly in solidarity with the dispossessed, yet seems to resist statements of solidarity in theoretical matters, which believes in the power of art and the symbolic to intervene in the construction of reality, yet doubts the possibility of human-generated interventions we call revolutions. 

Teaching Resource using this Critical Writing:

Resource Teaching Resource Type Author Year
Authoring 2.0: Writing Digital Culture (ENGL 5380-001) Syllabus Carolyn Guertin 2012
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Davin Heckman