Visualizing Urban Struggles. Video Activism as Utopian Practice.

Project Description 

Video activism is a form of bottom-up city making. Urban citizens and urban movements take audio-visual production in their own hands when filming videos of protests and police violence. The explosion in the availability of smartphones to record and social media channels to distribute videos have drastically transformed the production of visibility during the last decade. An opportunity that protest movements effectively seized upon to amplify the voices of marginalized urban citizens and repressed urban movements.

In the dissertation “Visualizing Urban Struggles” I have researched the concrete practices of video activism in Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro between 2014 and 2018. The empirical study employed a multi-sited ethnographic approach that focused attention on understanding the perspectives ‘from within’ video activists’ practices and positionalities. The comparison showed how filming as a globalized repertoire of contention cannot be understood without taking into consideration the contextual specificities and histories of any place. From the making of videos on the ‘streets’ to the distribution of contents in the online ‘net’, the research shows how the processes of urbanization and digitalization are inextricably linked in theory and practice. Hereby the profit-oriented organization of corporate social media in “communicative capitalism” and “data colonialism” poses a serious challenge to radically democratizing communication. Corporate social media tends to potentiate pre-existing asymmetries of power and attempts to commodify resistance. However, locally embedded organization and collective as well as individual initiatives have proven the power of appropriating smartphones and social media to visualize urban struggles for a tight to the city. Recording evidence of brutal violence and power abuses, amplifying voices of urban residents that are often marginalized and questioning symbols and structures of violence are powerful strategies employed by video activists worldwide. Presenting experiences of video activism from Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro the dissertation makes the tensions in the utopian practices of video activism palpable: the challenge of videographers to constantly oscillate between their power and vulnerability, between a here and there and between the streets and the net.

With the notion of utopian practices of video activism, the research describes how emancipatory bottom-up movements work towards a radical democratization of digital communication when the make videos, produce visibility and expose violence. By bringing the empirical observations about video activist practices into conversation with the concrete utopia of the right to the city (Henri Lefebvre) three key demands emerge: insisting on urban citizenship instead of user rights, the creation of commons instead of commodification and autogestion instead of algorithmic governance are required to realize video activism as an utopian practice.

The PhD-dissertation was submitted in August 2020 in Urban Studies at the University of Basel.

Supervisor: Sophie Oldfield (University of Cape Town)
Co-Supervisor: Christian Schmid (ETH Zürich) 

Portrait_Jacob Geuder_G3S

Jacob Geuder
Graduate School of Social Sciences
Petersgraben 52
4051 Basel

Tel: +41 61 207 13 87

Jacob Geuder studied Sociology and Political Sciences at the University of Konstanz (Germany) for his Bachelor of Arts. During this period he worked as research assistant for Prof. Andreas Reckwitz and tutored courses on sociological theory. In 2010 Geuder began his Master in African Studies at the University of Basel, where he graduated with a thesis on urban transformations in Bamako (Mali) and presented a photographic exhibition in Vienna in 2013. This was followed by a PhD in Urban Studies in Basel, which he started after receiving the start-up grant by the G3S in 2015. Working as research assistant at the Centre for African Studies Basel, Geuder taught five courses on Master levels, organized the walking tour Africa and Basel and was responsible for a group of 80 staff members during the 2017 European Conference on African Studies. The dissertation was financed by the generous grants of FAG Basel and the Research Fund of the University of Basel.

The research interests in urban transformations, social movements and audio-visual digital media have constantly driven his research endeavors in theory and practice. As active member of Basel’s right to the city group he has been involved in urban politics over long time. Having lived and worked in Ghana, Germany (Berlin), Mali (Bamako), Portugal (Lisbon), Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) and South Africa (Cape Town) his research is inherently multi-sited. This is being reflected in his newly starting project of building the Urban Video Archives, that attempt to create a platform to keep video activist works from around the world publicly available and support research initiatives in this field. 

Geuder, Jacob (accepted, forthcoming 2020):“Urban Video Activism”, in: Kenny Cupers, Emilio Distretti, Manuel Herz, Laura Nkula, Sophie Oldfield, and Myriam Perret (eds.), What is Critical Urbanism, Berlin: Ruby Press.

Alcântara, Livia/ Geuder, Jacob (2018): “(Urban) Space, Media and Protests: A Relational Approach”, in: Fischer, Robert / Bauer, Jenny, Perspectives on Henri Lefebvre. Theory, Practices and (Re-)Readings. Spatial Temporality. Practices-Concepts-Media. Berlin: De Gruyter.

“The Right to the City ”, in: Pensa, Iolanda/ Siegenthaler, Fiona et al. (2017): Public Art in Africa, Geneva: Metisse Presse.

“Retracing Africa in Basel – A walking tour” in: A*Magazine, No. 1, June/ 2017.

“Digitale Ambivalenzen - Medienaktivismus in Rio de Janeiro, in: Widerspruch, Nr. 67/2016, p. 107-115.

“Transformation and Production of urban spaces in Bamako, Mali“, in: Afonso, Aline (2015), Informality and Urbanisation in African Contexts: Analyzing Economic and Social Impacts, Lisbon: Centro de Estudos Internacionais do Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, p. 29-50. ISBN: 978-989-732-580-9.

“The Utopian Practices of Video-Activism”, Brownbag Talk @Witness, New York 11/2019.

“Das Recht auf Stadt digitalisieren? Video-Aktivismus in Rio de Janeiro und Kapstadt ”, guest lecture in the course on “Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf das Städtische”, ETH Zürich 4/2019.

“Public Art For Whom?”, Annual Meeting of the Institute for Public Art, Shanghai 11/2018.

„Videoactivism as an Urban Phenomenon: Rio De Janeiro and Cape Town“, Panel: Ubiquitous Images and Collective Video Practices in the Public Sphere, ISA World Congress of Sociology, Toronto 07/2018.

“Planetary Apartheid, Local Exclusions and the World Wide Web” with Dr. Luregn Lenggenhager, Conference “Beyond Planetary Apartheid“, Lisbon 05/2018.

“Digital Democracy or Digital Apartheid: Videoactivist Visions of Cape Town”, in: Research Collquium Namibian and Southern African Studies, Basel 03/2018.

“Practices of video-activism in Cape Town: producing digital apartheids or digital democracies?”, Panel 24: Collaboration and the politics of engaged urban methodologies, ACC International Urban Conference, Cape Town 2/2018.

“Digital apartheid or digital democracy?”, Panel: Social media and the political sphere in Africa: reshaping democratic engagement?, 7th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Basel 07/2017.

“Utopische Praktiken”, 3rdLefebvre-Workshop “Everyday Poiesis. Zur Platzierung des Politischen bei Lefebvre“, Basel 05/2017.

“Digital Apartheid or Digital Democracy?”,symposium “Beyond the Hashtag: Social Media in Africa”, University of Edinburgh, 04/2017

„Troubleshooting the Network“, poster presentation at Swiss Researching Africa Days, Bern 10/2016.

“A posição do pesquisador – uma reflexão num campo politico”, conference of the Insituto de Estudos Sociais e Politicos (IESP), Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro 12/2015.

“The YouTube Dispositive: Right to the City protests in YouTube videos”, Panel: Right to the City, urban conditions, and experiences of Sub-Sahara Africa, 6th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Paris 07/2015.

“Portraying the Right to the City: Representations of urban protests in YouTube-videos”, Panel: Radical Memories - Imagined Futures. Practices of History-Making and Prefiguration in Social Movements, 12th Conference of Société International d’Ethnologie et de Folklore (SIEF), Zagreb 06/2015

„Images of Movements: The mutual infiltration of urban and digital spaces in online-videos“, Swiss Researching Africa Days, Bern 10/2014.

„Images of movements: The art of resistance and its representation in videos of protests“, Workshop Regionalizing African Civil Societies, Uppsala 10/2014.

„The Transformation of Urban Spaces in Bamako“, Panel: Urban Imaginaries in Africa, 5thEuropean Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Lisbon 06/2013.

„Über die Herausforderung, Raumtransformationen in Bamako zu beschreiben“, Research Colloquium of Institut of Sociology, University of Basel 04/2013.

„Durch das Auge des „weissen Mannes“: Der „dunkle Kontinent“ im Farbfilm“, Eikones Summerschool, University of Basel 9/2012.

„Gebannte Erinnerungen“, Workshops „Erinnerungsorte, Kollektivsymbole und Identität“, University of Yerevan 03/2009. 

„Wem gehört die Stadt? Kulturgeschichte des Bodeneigentums und sozialräumliche Effekte der städtischen Eigentumsordnung“, Co-Teaching with Jonas Aebi and Luisa gehringer, University of Basel, Spring 2020. 

„African Digital Revolution or Digital Revolution in Africa“, University of Basel, Spring 2018.

„Writing Workshop“, University of Basel, Fall 2017.

„Urban Africa – Urban Africans. New encounters of the rural and the urban“, University of Basel, Spring 2017.

 „Writing Workshop“, University of Basel, Fall 2016.

„The Right to the City in the Global South“, University of Basel, Spring 2016.