ANTIGONISH, N.S. - It’s a topic of wide-ranging interest and one that continues to play a major impact in how politics are played and governments are viewed throughout the world.
St. F.X. Sociology Department associate professor Stephen Marmura has taken on WikiLeaks as the topic for his new book; The WikiLeaks Paradigm: Paradoxes and Revelations. An official launch event will take place on campus Jan. 25, in the Physical Science Centre building’s faculty lounge (top floor), at 2 p.m.
“Rather than assuming that WikiLeaks has changed the rules of the game vis-à-vis activism and/or of journalism in a fundamental way, this book takes the premise that Assange’s organization has encountered serious problems in terms of successfully engaging the public from the outset, and that this situation was inevitable,” a brief description of the book on the publisher’s (Palgrave MacMillan) website reads.
“It came at the cross-section of a lot of things I was already interested in,” Marmura said of his subject choice.
“I’ve been interested in mass media for a long time, in surveillance, propaganda, web-based activism; this seemed like the perfect thing for me to look at.
“Also, I had been watching it for a while, what it was doing and wondering about the reception; why it was or wasn’t galvanizing a public response, how it was being depicted in the mainstream media, that kind of thing. That intrigued me so I thought I would take a closer look.”
Marmura was asked about capturing a subject which is still very fluid.
“It’s such a novel and controversial organization,” he said. “I was interested in the trajectory of its overall career, because it seemed like the organization began with considerable optimism that if it just acted as a kind of clearing house for leaked information that it would have this stimulus effect on the public, creating activism and demands for social change which didn’t really seem to be happening, at least at first, especially the U.S. case, which most of the leaks had a lot to do with.
“I thought that is interesting; initially the organization and its leader Julian Assange seemed to be disappointed by the responses or lack of them coming from the public to the information they leaked. Other times, they did seem to get more of a marked response; in different times and places. So I was interested in why and how they were like or unlike other activist organizations in that regard; and what were the forces at work helping explain their success and failures at different times … this kind of uneven career they had.”
As for conclusions, Marmura talked about what he “argues” in the book.
“Over time, WikiLeaks became better positioned to effect media discourse and political discourse, especially in the U.S.,” he said.
“And that, partly, had to do with the group’s attempts to establish ties with a broad range of mainstream and alternative media, but at least as importantly with a changing political atmosphere. People are getting more and more upset with the political status quo in the U.S., as we saw with the 2016 election, the electorate was really getting fed up with both parties.
“Outsiders – supposed outsiders anyway – like Bernie Sanders on the one hand, Donald Trump on the other, had a certain appeal with large sections of the population because they were not typical of their own parties, if for no other reason. And I think when WikiLeaks came along and disclosed the DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails, that really fed in to that sense of dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole, and I think that backdrop helped them be more effective over time.”
He talked further about WikiLeaks’ broad appeal stretching across the political spectrum.
“Oddly enough,” he said. “Everyone from left wing anti-globalization activists who one might expect to sympathize with WikiLeaks – because that is who they kind of see themselves as part of, I think – but also to groups on the right; media outlets like InfoWars with Alex Jones who is a big conspiracy theorist in the U.S., and even Breitbart News which is more of a far-right or ‘alt-right’ thing.
“The one thing that the populists and activists who have an interest in WikiLeaks’ disclosures hold in common is a shared dissatisfaction with the political status quo – and with related issues like the nature of global trade deals and a highly interventionist (U.S.) foreign policy.
“A lot of people were picking up on what WikiLeaks was disclosing and it had this sort of cumulative effect through different channels of stirring trouble – which is kind of what they want to do.
In that sense, over time, they fulfilled their capacity to do that. But still, are a minor player in all of this, of course.”
Marmura will read excerpts from the book during the launch. The book is available now online for purchase.