Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation.

Mubarak and Leo X, the anciens régimes

IT IS a familiar-sounding tale: after decades of simmering discontent a new form of media gives opponents of an authoritarian regime a way to express their views, register their solidarity and co-ordinate their actions. The protesters’ message spreads virally through social networks, making it impossible to suppress and highlighting the extent of public support for revolution. The combination of improved publishing technology and social networks is a catalyst for social change where previous efforts had failed.

That’s what happened in the Arab spring. It’s also what happened during the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago, when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts—and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.

Scholars have long debated the relative importance of printed media, oral transmission and images in rallying popular support for the Reformation. Some have championed the central role of printing, a relatively new technology at the time. Opponents of this view emphasise the importance of preaching and other forms of oral transmission. More recently historians have highlighted the role of media as a means of social signalling and co-ordinating public opinion in the Reformation.

Now the internet offers a new perspective on this long-running debate, namely that the important factor was not the printing press itself (which had been around since the 1450s), but the wider system of media sharing along social networks—what is called “social media” today. Luther, like the Arab revolutionaries, grasped the dynamics of this new media environment very quickly, and saw how it could spread his message.

… People on streets presage change. But do they as well signal transition? Transition means more than mere change: “transition” means a passage from a here to a there – but in the case of people on street or city squares only the “here” from which they wish to escape is given, but the “there” at which they aim is at best wrapped in fog. People took to streets in the hope to find an alternative society; what they’ve found thus far is the means to get rid of the present one; more to the point though, to get rid of one of its features on which their diffuse indignation – resentment, vexation, rancour and anger – have momentarily focused. As demolition squads, people taking to the streets are faultless – or almost. The faults surface though once the ground has been cleared and laying foundations and the erection of new buildings is to follow. And the faults derive their prominence from the same things to which the demolition squads owe their uncanny efficiency: from the variegation, contrariety and even incompatibility of interests suspended for the time of demolition but coming into their own and pushing to the fore the moment the job is finished; and from achieving the feat of reconciling the irreconcilable through synchronizing emotions – qualities notorious for being as easy to arouse as they are prone to burn out and fade – burn out and fade much, much faster than it takes to design and build an alternative society in which the sole reason for the people to take to the streets will be to relish the joy of togetherness and friendship. Or, as Richard Sennett has recently described the modality of the urgently called-for variety of humanism: for the sake of an informal, open-ended cooperation. Informal: that is, rules of cooperation not being set in advance, but emerging in the course of cooperation. Open-ended: that is, no side entering cooperation with a presumption of knowing already what is true and right – each being reconciled instead to playing the role of a learner as much as a teacher. And cooperation: that is, interaction being aimed at the mutual benefit of the participants rather than at their division into victors and the defeated …

A. Cócola Gant (2011). El Barrio Gótico de Barcelona. De símbolo nacional a parque temático. Scripta Nova, Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales. Vol. XV

Resumen. El Barrio Gótico de Barcelona fue construido en las décadas centrales del siglo XX. De hecho, su nombre también es una creación moderna, ya que tradicionalmente el espacio era conocido como barrio de la Catedral. Aunque en teoría los monumentos históricos nos remiten a épocas pasadas, en muchos casos han sido fabricados recientemente. La medievalización del centro histórico de Barcelona transformó físicamente el barrio institucional de la ciudad, dotándolo de nuevos significados simbólicos y de una apariencia antigua que hasta entonces no poseía.

Pero si en un principio la monumentalización de la ciudad histórica fue un proyecto de la burguesía local con el fin de exhibir la arquitectura nacional catalana, en la práctica las obras sólo pudieron justificarse por los ingresos que generaría el nuevo turismo urbano, el cual gusta de contemplar edificios de apariencia antiguos, sean o no originales. Por lo tanto, el texto analiza el uso político del pasado y su posterior conversión en una mercancía cualquiera, enmarcando el análisis dentro del llamado «marketing urbano», cuyo objetivo es crear marcas con las ciudades para posicionarse en el mercado internacional que compite por la atracción de inversiones y turistas.

Rodgers, C. P, E. A Straughton, A. J. L Winchester, and M Pieraccini (eds.) 2011. Contested Common Land: Environmental Governance Past and Present. London: Earthscan.

Reviewed by Tine de Moor

The book Contested Common Land is the result of an interdisciplinary research project (2007–2010) but contrary to many joint publications that such projects deliver, with articles written by various authors, this book is a real common publication. In many other ways, this is a unique publication, that connects the vast historical literature on commons to the present-day situation of commons in England and Wales. This book is a fine example of true interdisciplinary research, within a wide time frame, although the geographical scope is fairly limited (England and Wales). The book consists out of two main parts: an introductory part which gives a very clear overview of the situation of common land in England and Wales in both past and present and the theoretical framework – largely based upon Ostrom’s work – to understand the institutional diversity the various types of commons in England and Wales represent. A second part is composed out of four studies on geographically distinct cases (situated in Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Powys and Norfolk), with differing types of resource use, legal arrangements and environmental problems, which should help to understand how environmental governance on a national level affects commons on the local level and at the same time they try to trace how governance mechanisms used at the local level since the 17th century reflect changing concepts of sustainability.

One of the remarkable sides of this book is that the authors manage to explain the long-term evolution of the complex legal structure, and connect this with both the ecological changes the commons have gone through and the changes in use of the common resources over the past 3 centuries. Parallel to this they sketch the changes in the perception of common rights, in relation to new functions – e.g. from agricultural to recreational in the late 19th century. The historical descriptions form a solid basis for the evaluation of the present-day management and future perspectives that are given for each case study. In a last summarizing chapter they bring the case-study material and theory back together. Contested common land is a very solid study on commons in England and Wales, that should serve as the starting point for commons scholars and practitioners in England, Wales and the rest of Europe. The only “missed” opportunity in this book is the potential such comparison would give in terms of more systematic analysis of regulation, but that might be something for a “contested common land, vol. 2.”

In my opinion, macroeconomics has lost its way. The kind of models that many people use—general equilibrium models—start from assumptions of perfect competition, omniscient consumers, and various like things which give rise to an efficient economy. As far as I know, there has never been an economy that actually looked like that—it’s an intellectual construct. But many people claim that the outcomes of that economy are natural outcomes. When you say “natural,” you already have an emotionally laden term. Deviations from the “natural”—say, like, minimum wage laws, or unions, or governments that give food stamps, or earned income tax credits—are interferences with the natural order and are therefore “unnatural.”

A parallel notion within the field is that our goal as economists is to maximize efficiency; we should leave all the other things to other people. Now, when you take the theory of efficiency, it turns out that there are an infinite number of efficient equilibria, each corresponding to a different distribution of income. Equity and efficiency are different kinds of things.

A Writing Revolution § Seed Magazine
Number of authors who published in each year for various media since 1400 by century (left) and by year (right). Our prediction for the imminent future appears as the extrapolation of the Twitter-author curve (dashed line). The horizontal scale of time has one grid line per century (left) or per year (right). The first blog appeared in 1997; Facebook was launched in 2004; Twitter, in 2006. Note that the colored curves on the right have roughly the same steepness as the black curve on the left, despite the hundred-fold increase in the time scale between left and right. This indicates that the new media are growing 100 times faster than books. The book-authors line is not really broken; it’s still growing at the same old rate, tenfold per century, but looks flat when plotted by year. The vertical scale is number of authors per year, as a count (left) or percent of the world’s population (right). The logarithmic vertical scaling, increasing by powers of 10, displays growth clearly because the same percentage increase is always represented by the same upward shift on the graph. Plotted with this scaling, many growth phenomena, including epidemics, produce straight lines, which are particularly easy to recognize and describe. (Click here for methodology and full list of sources.)

A Writing Revolution § Seed Magazine

Number of authors who published in each year for various media since 1400 by century (left) and by year (right). Our prediction for the imminent future appears as the extrapolation of the Twitter-author curve (dashed line). The horizontal scale of time has one grid line per century (left) or per year (right). The first blog appeared in 1997; Facebook was launched in 2004; Twitter, in 2006. Note that the colored curves on the right have roughly the same steepness as the black curve on the left, despite the hundred-fold increase in the time scale between left and right. This indicates that the new media are growing 100 times faster than books. The book-authors line is not really broken; it’s still growing at the same old rate, tenfold per century, but looks flat when plotted by year. The vertical scale is number of authors per year, as a count (left) or percent of the world’s population (right). The logarithmic vertical scaling, increasing by powers of 10, displays growth clearly because the same percentage increase is always represented by the same upward shift on the graph. Plotted with this scaling, many growth phenomena, including epidemics, produce straight lines, which are particularly easy to recognize and describe. (Click here for methodology and full list of sources.)

And a few un-/anti- manifestos: