University of Leicester
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Anarchist Cybernetics: Control and Communication in Radical Left Social Movements

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posted on 2016-05-18, 13:24 authored by Thomas Robert Swann
This thesis develops the concept of anarchist cybernetics in an attempt to elaborate an understanding of the participatory and democratic forms of organisation that have characterised radical left-wing social movements in recent years. Bringing together Stafford Beer’s organisational cybernetics and the organisational approaches of both classical and contemporary anarchism, an argument is made for the value of an anarchist cybernetic perspective that goes beyond the managerialism cybernetics has long been associated with. Drawing on theoretical reflection and an empirical strategy of participatory political philosophy, the thesis examines contemporary social movement organisational practices through two lenses: control and communication. Articulating control as self-organisation, in line with cybernetic thought, an argument is made for finding a balance between, on the one hand, strategic identity and cohesion and, on the other, tactical autonomy. While anarchist and radical left activism often privileges individual autonomy, it is suggested here that too much autonomy or tactical flexibility can be as damaging to a social movement organisation as over-centralisation. Turning to communication, the thesis looks at social media, the focus of another kind of hype in recent activism, and identifies both the potentials and the problems of using social media platforms in anarchist and radical left organisation. Importantly, the thesis takes social media as information management systems and speculates on several core aspects of alternative social media that might be more suited to the kind of activism anarchist cybernetics helps elucidate. By introducing and expanding on the idea of anarchist cybernetics, the thesis provides an account of what anarchist organisations have been, what they are and what they could be.



Dunne, Stephen; Puig de la Bellacasa, Maria

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Management

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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