DGV05: the zapatista effect

Actors, representations, and networks of the Chiapas conflict on the www
by Julia Pauli and Michael Schnegg

More than ten years ago, on 1 January 1994, the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) stormed and took official buildings and Municipios in Mexico’s federal state Chiapas. Ultimately war on the government was declared. At that time only few observers and actors understood the tremendous virtual and media potential this seemingly locally bounded conflict had. Only one year later US transregional newspapers like the Washington Post and Newsweek reported on the Mexican rebels with high tech weapons, fighting history’s first Internetwar. Different factors contributed significantly to the transformation of a local civil war into a global event. One has to mention: the Zapatista’s notedly charismatic doyen Subcommandante Marcos; the chronological coincidence with the beginning of NAFTA; and the general increase of anti-global movements since about the mid-1990s. But equally important is the virtual networking accompanying the uprise. In this presentation we will mainly deal with the structure of the conflict’s virtual representations. Our analysis shows that above all two important aspects of the Zapatistical virtual linking-up were decisive for the public success: The scrutinized homepages (N=72) are tightly linked. Besides the structural cohesion there is a significant topical overlapping. Most homepages connected to the conflict carry similar information, e.g. an archive of the Subcommandante’s messages, or collections of photographies documenting the uprise. Nevertheless this common virtual core leaves enough space for diversity. In consequence different groups (like human rights organisations or local NGOs) could be activated to spread the agenda of the Zapatistas.

Abstract of a presentation to be held at the workshop ‘cyberanthropology’ during the Conference of the German Anthropological Association (GAA aka DGV) – Halle / Saale, 4th – 7th October 2005.
translation of the official German abstract by zeph—put the blame on me