May 2nd to 5th 2014, Unstone Grange, Derbyshire
Over Mayday bank holiday weekend a wide range of environmental, workplace and social activists met at The Breaking the Frame gathering, to discuss how different technologies impact our lives and how we might begin to get them back under human control for the benefit of all. Around 60 people attended the event, organised by Luddites200, Scientists for Global Responsibility and CorporateWatch. Participants included industrial and knowledge workers, fracktavists, farmers, and climate change, peace, and environment campaigners. Scroll down for video of plenary talks.
As David King explained in his welcoming remarks before the opening plenary, the gathering came out of the experience of technology politics campaigners dissatisfied with having to react to one new technological threat to society after another. Campaigners have been searching for a deeper understanding of the politics of technology and where these threats come from, so they can take a more proactive approach towards technology. He also stressed the general lack of attention given to issues raised by technology compared with the massive importance of technology in the overall way in which society develops. The current environmental crisis, caused by 200 years of industrial capitalism, highlights the urgency of the need to get a grip on the politics of technology.
In order to develop a broader perspective of technology and to ‘break the frames’ that keep campaigners in their single-issue boxes, the gathering was organised around workshops on topics as diverse as peace, food, energy, gender, health, information technology, alternative technologies, new/emerging technologies, mining and infrastructure and work and automation. After opening statements from speakers from the peace, women’s and environmental movements, and the Luddite left, we addressed basic issues in the politics of technology. These included: is technology neutral?; are the problems caused by it just because of how we choose to use it?; how is technology shaped by social interests and ideologies?; what kind of technology do we want?; what are your principles for a new politics of technology?
These discussions helped participants understand that there is an underlying politics of technology, for which some people use the term ‘technocracy’. The questions were pursued in the workshops on the specific areas of politics mentioned above, and helped people to realise that there was a commonality between their concerns. Sunday’s debates on ‘low technology’ or democratic control, and the ‘Mayday debate’ between socialist, anarchist and Luddite perspectives on technology, enabled further fruitful discussion of basic issues in the politics of technology.
From early in the weekend it became clear to many that issues of gender politics were central to these discussions, and a women’s caucus met separately to discuss them. This led on Sunday to a women’s presentation to the entire gathering which was generally felt to be extremely significant. It was a measure of the strongly positive and supportive atmosphere of the gathering that this intervention was able to take place without the conflicts between women and men that often attend such discussions. Some participants suggested that this was possible because of the overall stance of the gathering against technological dehumanisation.
The general goodwill, expressed in one post-gathering comment that ‘Bliss it was to be alive’, was furthered by delicious food from our sponsors, Veggies Catering Campaign, by the herbalism and alternative technology demonstrations, the walk in the surrounding countryside and the tour of the beautiful Unstone Grange grounds. We believe that some sampling of local hostelries may have contributed to the joyous atmosphere in the evening entertainments. Even the weather was nice to us.
Monday’s feedback session reflected the overall strong sense of community that the gathering had generated in the very diverse set of people who might not normally have come together, and the importance of the new personal relationships we had built. Many comments spoke of the advantage of talking about a wide range of technologies in a unified way, and a sense of convergence and commonality created by overcoming a focus on single issues. Others expressed their hope for the future from the sense of solidarity and shared thinking that we had created. It was widely agreed that a major focus for further development should be making connections with trade unions and addressing issues of surveillance through digital technologies.
These positive feelings were translated into a vibrant ‘where do we go from here’ session in which a huge range of possible new initiatives in the politics of technology were suggested and endorsed. There was strong interest in working with campaigners on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol, as well as a series of future Breaking the Frame events and initiatives. The success of the gathering can be judged by the fact that, despite pressures to disperse at the end of a long weekend, more than one third of all the participants attended an optional planning meeting for immediate follow-up and many offered to become part of a new Breaking the Frame hub group.
Closing the event, Unite member and Stop Hinkley C speaker Theo Simon said that while it was clear that the global elite, driven by the profit system, are implementing the new technologies in order to find new markets, the rest of us urgently need to defend our working conditions and our common environment by resisting them. We could only win permanent victories by uniting our efforts and developing a common message on all fronts. And we could only do that by making it safe for people to talk about their day-jobs and being honest about our own techno-dependencies. The weekend had been a small but immensely hopeful step forwards, showing that we are stronger and feel more optimistic when we support, listen to, and care for eachother, rather than competing over which issues are more important or urgent.
Overall, there was a strong feeling that Breaking the Frame was more than just one more radical political gathering, and that this was due to the fresh perspective on well-established issues that was brought by focusing on the politics of technology. The gathering was far from being a one-off event: the first follow-up meeting to talk about new projects is on May 15, 7pm at LARC 62 Fieldgate St, London E1.
Danny Chivers, No Dash for Gas
Gail Chester, The Feminist Library
Stuart Parkinson, Scientists for Global Responsibility
Alan Brooke, Huddersfield Luddites200
Low technology or democratic control debate
Simon Fairlie, The Land magazine
Helena Paul, Econexus
Mayday debate: Socialism, Anarchism, Luddism
Hilary Wainwright, Red Pepper magazine
Dave King Luddites200
Theo Simon, Stop Hinkley