Choreography of assembly, a concept used by Paulo Gerbaudo (2014) to refer to 'the mediated 'scene-setting' and 'scripting' of people's physical assembling in public space' as a key-ingrediënt of 21st century social movements. With the conceptualization of this concept, Gerbaudo (2014: 21) stresses that even in the digital age 'collective action is never completely spontaneous given that pure spontaneity does not exist'.
Swarms, slacktivism and the choreography of assembly
Gerbaudo introduces this concept to stress the fact that in the netwerk society activism is not the result of 'swarms' or 'leaderless networks'. Gerbaudo is critical of such 'ideologies of horizontalism', which he thinks obscure 'the forms of organising underlying contemporary collective action and the forms of hierarchy'. Social movements in the 21st century still need to 'mobilize' people.
Utopistic accounts of the impact of digitalization on social movements do look at the very concrete practice of 'how people are assembled'. From the moment one tries to answer that question, one sees that there are 'centers of mobilization' and 'reluctant leaders'. Authors like Gladwell (2010) and Morozov (2011) then claim that this massive mobilization through digital media is only successful because it lowers the threshold. One does not have to risk one's live anymore, one click is enough. Digitalization, for them, is nothing more than 'Slacktivism - slacker activism'. These dystopian accounts have a very particular bias: they only look to the online dimension, and they only look at 'like', 'share' and sign the petition type of activism.
Choreography of assembly adopts an empirical perspective, stressing that digital media can be used to organize offline resistance and even revolutions. It is a correction on the idea that in the digital age revolutions and resistance are the work of autonomous, spontaneous outrage. Gerbaudo stresses the fact that media are being used by real people 'to organize' revolt. On the other hand, choreography of assembly does not celebrate digital media as inherently democratic or political, nor does sketch a fully dystopian view on digitalization and resistance as inevitably 'slacktivism'.
Choreography of assembly: the concept explained
The concept of 'choreography of assembly' focuses on the 'online-offline'-nexus and tries to give an answer to 'how exactly people are mobilized'. And because of that, it focuses not only on the 'bodily and emplaced nature of collective action, but also crucially on its symbolic and mediated character, on the fact that media practices intervene in preparing the terrain, or setting the scene, for people coming together in public space.' (Gerbaudo, 2014: 40).
Choreography - deriving from the Greek word of dance- 'incorporates the idea of a symbolic mediation of bodily action'. Whereas 'assembly' refers to the work of Fanon (1967) who stresses the importance of media-technologies (in the case of Algeria the radio) to create a mediated, or in the words of Anderson (1983) an imagined, community which sustained the national liberation movement. Only when people are assembled, can they engage in a struggle.
Anderson B. (1983 (2006)). Imagined communities. Reflections on the Origin and spread of nationalism. London, New York: Verso.
Fanon, (1967). A dying colonialism. New York: Grove Press.
Gerbaudo, P. (2014). Tweets and the Streets. Social Media and contemporary activism. PlutoPress.
Gladwell, M. (2010). Small Change. Why the revolution will not be tweeted. New Yorker.
Morozov, E. (2011). The net delusion. How not to liberate the world. London: Penguin.