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  • Ryan Harnell

(ARCHIVE FEVER) Critical Pedagogy with Post-Internet Characteristics, by Ryan Harnell

A birds eye view of part of a close up map, with five roads interconnecting. The plots of land are yellow and the roads are white. Layered behind over the top of this image is red handwritten quotations which are not fully clear though we can sense that they are parts of quotations from theory.

While universal access to information courtesy of the Internet over the last thirty years has led to several waves of radical activity, the lack of physical spaces for activists to learn, critique and organise against Capital has for the most part failed to turn online awareness into tangible social change. Drawing on the ‘acid communism’ of Mark Fisher and ‘critical pedagogy’ of Paulo Freire, Ryan Harnell takes us on a journey through the history of consciousness raising on the Internet, from the World Wide Web of the 90s to the CoreCore of TikTok, anti-capitalist modes of gaming and community radio. What alternative tools are made possible and necessary by our post-internet reality? 


Critical Pedagogy, 1969-1999

In the beginning there was Paulo Freire. Or rather, in 1969 there was Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who saw the abysmal rates of working-class literacy under capitalism and decided to do something about it. A year later, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was released to global audiences. In it, Freire argued that traditional education, with all its authoritarian trappings, was designed to maintain the capitalistic status quo. In the traditional classroom, he said, there is a fundamental distinction between student and teacher, with the latter holding all relational power and using it to shape impressionable young minds. Though in the case of basic skills like sums and spelling such an imbalance is inevitable and even necessary, it runs the risk of transforming students into passive receivers of ideologically curated information. Growing up in a media-saturated society where every outlet is trying to persuade you to act in a particular manner, it is easy to see how such passivity can be harmful. Perhaps, despite being separated from him by half a century of technological advancements, we have more than a few lessons to learn from this Paulo Freire.

Image of Paula Freire. A black and white photo with an old bearded man with spectacles sitting at a table with books before him and a group of young girls behind handing over books and pages. The movement in the photo is slightly blurred.
Image of Paulo Freire,

For Freire, the solution to hegemonic messaging of this kind was ‘conscientization’ or ‘consciousness raising’  - the process of students becoming aware of all the contradictions in their social reality, that is to say, the social forces conspiring to maintain their poverty, oppression and depression, and subsequently taking action to change it. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes that conscientization can be achieved through an alternative ‘Critical Pedagogy’ rooted in participatory learning, whereby students and teachers collaboratively engage in dialogue and community-based direct action. Inspired by the principles of Freire’s pedagogical model, multiple social movements in the run up to the new millennium adapted it to non-educational contexts, the most famous of these being the ‘New Left’ and ‘feminist second-wave’ of the 1970s and ‘alter-globalization’ movement of the 90s. 

Meeting for the preparation of 'Radical Software'; a brown photo with a white tent against some trees. A group of men and women sit on the grass in front of the tent, three men standing, the rest sitting.
Meeting for the preparation of 'Radical Software', Volume II, Issue 5, 1973: Juan Downey, Marilys Downey, Frank Gillette, Barbara Goldberg, Beryl Korot, Letizta [-], Andy Mann, Ida Schneider (Raindance).

These groups surmised that the most important factor of consciousness raising was interpersonal dialogue, believing that confronting another human being in real time and in a social space encouraged co-operative investigation, critique and organisation. Nowhere is this more apparent than the ‘consciousness raising groups’ of the feminist second-wave, through which women gathered to share their experiences of patriarchal capitalism and take direct action to dismantle it, itself a successful tactic for growing the movement and kick-starting radical feminist social change. At the same time, alternative media collectives like the ‘Raindance Corporation’ in the U.S. and ‘Radio Alice’ in Italy, saw the potential for increasingly accessible communication technologies like Portapak cameras and two-way radios to complement the conscientization process, theorising that while the power of video imagery in a community’s hands could facilitate the exchange of radical ideas in a personal and disruptive manner, the radio could become a new social space for knowledge sharing and Critical Pedagogy. 

The dawn of the Internet in the 1990s took this merger of communication technology and consciousness raising to new heights, galvanising anti-capitalists of all stripes in the subversion of Capital and presenting an array of fresh opportunities for those seeking to raise consciousness amongst the Oppressed. Coinciding with the 1994 Chiapas Rebellion, the personal use of Internet platforms not only allowed for near-instant communication between Zapatista communities, but coalesced the powerful alter-globalisation movement in support of their cause. The creation of digital music, zines, art and the spread of discourse between previously detached social justice groups set the stage for a tumultuous decade of action to bring down the neoliberal status-quo, opening up pockets of alternative social organisation in which consciousness raising and direct action could flourish. If history ended in 1999, one might predict the demise of global capitalism was right around the corner.

Capitalist Realism, 1999-The Present

Unfortunately, despite the early benefits of networked, participatory, two-way communication, the exploitation of cyberspace by neoliberal forces since the new millennium has increasingly commodified information, while highlighting the chronic lack of social spaces for activists to organise through. Sadly, the proliferation of personal computing and access to the Internet ran (and continues to run) parallel with the hyper-atomisation of modern society. As earlier groups had highlighted, even in the context of the Portapak and two-way radio, some element of face-to-face dialogue and co-operative investigation is required for conscientization to take place. In other words, revolutionary social change cannot take place without direct action.

In the last three decades, while social media and the wider Internet have undeniably facilitated an awareness of capitalism’s internal contradictions, they have equally made organising direct action more ungainly. As if the sheer mass of imagery and information surrounding the average netizen is not enough to make them feel overwhelmed, the dismantling of spaces like public libraries and self-managed social centres, both at the hands of authoritarian governments and neglect by radical groups in favour of online activism, has left them no outlet for participation. Indeed, where are budding anti-capitalists supposed to go if they want to do something tangible? Granted, organisations like trade unions and political parties exist, but in many cases are so exposed to the business ontology of capitalist society that they have become indistinguishable from established institutions. In this sense, it is all very well having the access to information provided by the Internet, but without simultaneous direct action, such access is meaningless.

It is the case that, as the late Mark Fisher noted in Capitalist Realism, the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism. The conspiracy of capitalist social forces to undermine an organised affront to their power has for a long time hinged on this ubiquity of information and entertainment. It is the case that, rather than censoring their opponents like the dictators of antiquity, modern authorities have provided everyone with the tools to fire off their opinions into an empty void. Through detached social media use anyone can say anything without the repercussions of face-to-face dialogue, not to mention that they can share misinformation without consequence.

A classic meme format with a line drawing of a man in a hoodie smoking a cigarette on the  left with the caption 'thank you for changing my life' and the front cover of Mark Fisher's 'Capital Realism: Is there no alternative? on the front with the caption beneath 'i am literally the reason you can't enjoy anything anymore'
Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, Know Your Meme,

In Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han conceptualises this malaise as neoliberalism’s propensity to control consumers through an over-abundance of ‘pseudo-participation’ - a state of affairs whereby consumers are able to communicate and interact with one another without inhibition, but in doing so ‘willingly expose themselves’ to digital surveillance. Han sees a transformation from the old model of surveillance dominated by intelligence agencies to a new model in which consumers are exposers of their own data via cookies, tweets, likes and public comments. By extension, he reasons that neoliberal institutions have capitalised on the vastly superior efficiency of mass auto-exploitation to traditional totalitarianism. In this ‘more efficient system’, the pervasive individualist ideology of neoliberalism has been internalised by consumers who now chastise themselves over their own lack of productivity. This is exacerbated by social media which encourages users to share only positive images and information about themselves. In this suffocating web of online abuse, tragic news and mind-numbing entertainment, it has become all but impossible for anything but a cancerous false consciousness - completely antithetical to what Paulo Freire envisioned for the Oppressed - to take root.


Acid Communism: Critical Pedagogy 2.0

Towards the end of his life, Mark Fisher moved on from diagnosing Capitalist Realism to developing a consciousness raising project not unlike Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy, though in the context of the 21st Century, i.e. in light of the gadgets and gizmos of the Internet. This project, rather enigmatically termed “acid communism”, pursued a synthesis between the psychedelic counterculture of the New Left and the more hard-boiled workers’ movements of Italy and France in the run up to May 68’. In his final lectures Fisher argued that without the modes and aesthetics of consciousness raising encouraged by counter-cultural groups, i.e. musicians, artists, poets, alternative media, etc., the labour movement is vapid, devoid of an inspired, positive social vision, and without the labour movement counterculture lacks a grounding in material reality, not to mention a sizeable chunk of the working population. In order to overcome the malaise of Capitalist Realism, he said, activists must construct spaces and technology enabling the ‘…liberation of human consciousness from capitalist social norms…

Despite “acid communism” existing only as the ghost of a programme for social change, it is my feeling that even in the midst of widespread societal collapse, disenchantment, inequality, corruption and ecological evisceration, the faintest kernels of a ‘Critical Pedagogy with Post-Internet Characteristics’ are already beginning to sprout…  

New Semiological Guerrillas

In Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare, the best work of Situationist theory by someone who wasn't a Situationist (and probably better than those that were), Umberto Eco outlined a strategy for subverting Capital with media tools. In his words, ‘…what must be occupied, in every part of the world, is the first chair in front of every TV set…’, that is to say that in order to challenge Capital activists must engage audiences in the construction of media messaging, whether by proliferation of media literacy or simply the wherewithal to use media tools themselves. Eco’s strategy became highly popular amongst the aforementioned alter-globalisation movement the 1990s, who, through the methods of ‘subvertising’, ‘brandalism’ and ‘culture jamming’ sought to include consumers in their own consciousness raising through the redirection of State and corporate messaging, ideology and infrastructure. In other words, literal ‘dialogue’ in the Freirian sense.

Today, the Internet offers an opportunity for activists to culture jam in a multitude of fresh, creative ways, with wider participation than ever before. Gone are the days when small cells of activists would replace billboards by hand with carefully constructed messages criticising the State. Gone are the days when radicalised theatre-kids would burst into spontaneous song and poetry in drawing attention to socio-economic violence. Now, anyone at least cursorily confident with digital media tools can cut together images, videos and text to achieve similar results. In fact, if you’ve ever used TikTok, shared a meme or, even better, made a meme yourself, you’ve already demonstrated such radical prowess.

Perhaps the best example of this is the surprisingly resilient CoreCore of TikTok. CoreCore, in essence, refers to the trend of splicing together seemingly unrelated media, ranging from poetry, songs, film scenes, interviews and sports highlights, with the aim of putting forward a unified thesis or worldview. Though, like all online trends, there are many examples of creators using CoreCore as a purely aesthetic exercise, demonstrating a user’s love of film or music or literature for example, this movement works at its best when undermining consumerist, capitalist and anti-ecological ideology.

Although digital culture jamming is not enough to bring about conscientization on its own, it is entirely reasonable for the very act of creativity employed in cutting, editing and putting together videos, images and memes critiquing Capital to constitute such consciousness raising in its own right. David Gauntlett, a media theorist specialising in so-called ‘makerspaces’, articulates this in the context of media production more generally, saying that the very act [of media production] can transform the ‘self-concept’ of a ‘maker’, thereby facilitating what Freire would call conscientization. Moreover, the very fact that CoreCore has remained resilient in a world of constantly evolving tastes and attention spans, suggests that under the surface of this digital ocean of numbness we call the Internet, any of us can rebel against Capital and none of us are alone in doing so.


Critical Escapism

With the advancement of Internet-based technology over the last three decades has come a complementary boom in nominally radical New Media - in particular, a plethora of video games encouraging participation, critical thinking and consciousness raising. In contrast to hyper-militaristic war games, which have admittedly also seen their popularity grow, indie gems like Solarpunk simulator Stardew Valley are offering an anti-consumerist, communitarian alternative for audiences. In this example, players are members of a tight-knit community at constant risk of exploitation by the forces of Capital, whereby they are encouraged to help others, live sustainably and explore the wilderness. There are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ (beside cartoonishly accurate social forces) in Stardew Valley, ironically painting a much more realistic picture of life in agrarian communities largely untouched by industry. Though Stardew Valley seems fanciful in its quaint depiction of escaping Capital, games like it provide a critical escapism for burnt-out audiences with little to no interest in perpetrating simulated violence, in turn challenging the values our society holds up as sacrosanct. 

A birds eye view of a graphic from the video game Stardew Valley. A pixellated scene of a garden path with a small wooden house and two figures wearing hats and dungarees. A well can be seen on the right with vegetable patches, and trees bordering.
Stardew Valley website,

Another example of participatory gaming emphasising conscientization is the award-winning RPG Disco Elysium, also a game with distinct anti-militarist, anti-imperialist and ecological themes, though packaged in a much more fantastical and layered aesthetic than Stardew Valley. Developed by ZA/UM, which began life as a left-wing art collective, Disco Elysium explores a post-revolutionary society populated by corrupt cops, shady union bosses and morally bankrupt politicians, encouraging Players to make a range of choices informing the very fabric of not just their character but the intensely political world around them. One of my favourite examples of this is the infamous ‘Mr. Evrart is helping me find my gun’ exchange, in which the Player must reckon with the (very relevant) stagnation of capitalistic

trade unions. In having to do so, not only does the game incite critical reflection (as all RPGs do by nature) but it provides a mirror image of oppressive forces in the real world for players to identify, challenge and overcome. Alternatively, if players decide to uphold these structures, Disco Elysium facilitates a level of understanding as to how they are maintained, itself a powerful consciousness raising tactic.  

A still from the video game Disco Elysium. A 3D graphic of a messy old fashioned office scene can be seen on the left hand side with a band behind the desk and another figure facing him. In the forefront is the graphic of a cross with the words Damaged Morale -1. On the right hand side of the image is a script of words between You and Evrart Claire, indecipherable on this image.
Office of Evrart Claire, Image from Disco Elysium website,

Developments in New Media technology combined with the plummeting barriers to entry for working-class people and independent developers involved in video game design, has provided space for activists and artists to supplant the top-down information model of film and television with a much more participatory alternative. Although, just like CoreCore, video games, especially solo-RPGs, lack the social space and interpersonal dialogue necessary for true consciousness raising, games like Stardew Valley and Disco Elysium lay the groundwork for a participatory temperament foundational to revolutionary social change. 

The Technology of Spoken Information

Between video games and social media, it is apparent that although a desire to resist and escape Capital exists, the very nature of communication technologies like the Internet and New Media remove human beings from direct confrontation and interpersonal dialogue with one another, thereby removing the opportunity for consciousness raising in the Freirian/Fisherian sense. In an interview about his involvement with Radio Alice during the 1970s, Franco Berardi conceptualised the medium of radio as a ‘…middlepoint between the very slow, distant communication of the written text and the simultaneous form of communications of music, video and drugs…’, in a roundabout way (though I do not think this was his intention) making the case for the value of radio in the context of ubiquitous Internet-based technology. 

This surely sounds absurd. Isn’t radio a medium of the past? Who (other than your grandparents) listens to the radio anymore? As a matter of fact quite a lot of people, especially in the Global South where it is the most widespread mode of communication and in many instances is the sole distributor of news, entertainment and information. For millions around the world, radio serves as a connector and source of knowledge that, like most communication technologies monopolised by Capital, shuts them out of the discourse, discourages community organisation and impedes the proliferation of consciousness. Structured and utilised in its current fashion, it would be unwise for activists and social movements to discard the radio as the relic of a bygone era. Instead, let us ask how it might be used for consciousness raising and social change.

‘Radio Alice’, founded in 1973 in Italy, is the most prominent example of consciousness raising radio. Unlike licensed radio stations, through which mediatized messages were disseminated from an omnipotent producer to alienated consumers, Radio Alice facilitated a feedback loop of workers who could communicate and share important news with one another via telephone, live on air, in turn raising the consciousness of participants through dialogue. This strategy maintained a free flow of ‘counter-info’ amongst its audience, not only serving an educational function but directly challenging the agenda set by corporate and State-sponsored forces. Radio Alice, as explained by Berardi, employed ‘…the technology of spoken information…’, and experimented with expressive form and content, in order to challenge the primacy of commercialised mass culture. Tragically, the accelerating pace of public attitudes and desires in the late 1970s meant that this exploration waned in popularity and led to the station’s demise. Paraphrasing Berardi, radio just wasn’t quick enough.

A poster with glitchy black graphics against a white background. A collage of a cityscape with figures in the forefront huddled together and collages of small text. On the left hand side, the writing reads 'radio alice' and letters dance haphazardly across the right hand side of the page.
Poster from Bologna, (probably) 1977,

During the 1990s, minority and working-class communities in London used radio to a similar end. Adopting Radio Alice's two-way model of communication whereby callers could participate in any given station’s programming, ‘Tower Block Radio’ sought to challenge the dominance of licensed radio, which up until that point, had been seen as sidelining alternative music, culture and voices. Its efforts were largely successful in that the musical genres of ‘jungle’ and ‘garage’ received a platform for development and experimentation in these social spaces where they wouldn’t have on commercial radio. Though not as explicitly anti-capitalist as Radio Alice, Tower Block Radio was nonetheless political by its very nature as a network of unlicensed broadcasters challenging the Pop and Rock dominated status quo. Just like Radio Alice before it however, Tower Block Radio fell apart due to a mixture of social factors, primarily stricter enforcement of broadcasting standards.

Today, I think it is both entirely reasonable and necessary to rescue radio from the confines of radical history. Despite their respective defeats, Radio Alice and Tower Block Radio demonstrated how the medium, as a social space for interpersonal dialogue, creativity and organisation, contains enormous potential for conscientization amongst working-class communities. Not only does Radio have a broad reach and, when structured horizontally, allows for live participation, but it combines written, visual and sonic communication in a way other mediums cannot. The big advantage held by activists and social movements looking to utilise radio today however, can in the wrong hands be our greatest foil - the Internet. Moreover if, as 'Robida' in Italy and 'Refuge Worldwide' in Germany have shown, we can marry the reach and transience of the Internet with the communal spirit of radio, then a consciousness raising programme capable of overcoming the 'abstract parasite’ of Capital, that is to say a realisation of the theoretical work of Paulo Freire and Mark Fisher, moves increasingly within grasp. 

Further Reading

  • Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

  • Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare by Umberto Eco

  • Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han

  • Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures by Mark Fisher

  • Disco Elysium by ZA/UM

  • Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe

  • Interview with Franco “Bifo” Berardi, 

  • Robida Collective website, 

  • Refuge Worldwide website, 


Text: Ryan Harnell


1) Ryan Harnell

3) Meeting for the preparation of 'Radical Software', Volume II, Issue 5, 1973: Juan Downey, Marilys Downey, Frank Gillette, Barbara Goldberg, Beryl Korot, Letizta [-], Andy Mann, Ida Schneider (Raindance).

4) Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, Know Your Meme,

6) Office of Evrart Claire, Image from Disco Elysium website,

7) Poster from Bologna, (probably) 1977,

TikTok: - John Rising/@highenquiries.

Published: 26/02/2024


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