The pamphlet is ephemeral, occasional, cheaply produced, often a one-off. It’s reactive and responsive: it may form part of a series but its production doesn’t require the continuous flow of related material that a journal might. It’s passed among friends and associates, sold or distributed in one-to-one encounters in the street and in the margins of political gatherings, in bookstores on racks of similar things. It prompts and supports interactions between people, between ideas, and between people and ideas. Its political function is inherent in the social, economic and material relations in which it is embedded (all media are social media).
Similar kinds of small publication such as newsletters and reports hold constituencies of supporters together around organizations both large and small. They are a form of distributed cognition, a way in which members of a group or community come to know and debate what it is they have in common. They are an essential way of doing so in the absence of meeting, and they have been replicated and elaborated in form and function by digital media.
Emails and tweets
In their study of the People’s Assembly formed in response to austerity budgets in the UK, Mercea and Yilmaz found that retweeting was a way of sharing information about protest actions: where to meet, for example, or how to respond to police manoeuvres. But it also made for a kind of sympathetic bonding between different parts of the movement:
Jervis Anderson, A Philip Randolph. A biographical portrait, Berkeley: U California Press, 1972, cit Gary Younge, The Speech, op cit, p 69
Fabian Tompsett, publisher and printer of Unpopular Books, in Nicholas Thoburn, Anti-Book. On the art and politics of radical publishing, Minneapolis: U Minnesota Press, 2016, p 102
The idea that documents form communities is from John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid (1996) ‘The social life of documents’, introduction by Esther Dyson, First Monday, 1 (1); it’s also at the core of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, London: Verso, 1983
Naisargi Dave (2011) ‘Activism as ethical practice: Queer politics in contemporary India’, Cultural Dynamics 23 (1) 3-20
Hermann Maiba, (2005) ‘Grassroots transnational social movement activism: the case of People’s Global Action’, Sociological Focus 38 (1) 41-63; ‘I am also sending…’ is p 57
Dan Mercea and Kutlu Emre Yilmaz (2018) ‘Movement social learning on Twitter: the case of the People’s Assembly’, Sociological Review 66 (1) 20-40; The TUC retweeted…’ is p 34
Led by Donkeys were interviewed by Tim Lewis for the Guardian, 19 October 2019