The Concept of Tactical Media

Tactical Media emerged when the modest goals of media artists and media activists were transformed into a movement that challenged everyone to produce their own media in support of their own political struggles. This "new media" activism was based on the insight that the long-held distinction between the 'street' (reality) and the 'media' (representation) could no longer be upheld. On the contrary, the media had come to infuse all of society.

For a brief period, approximately from 1993 to 1999, Tactical Media existed as something close to a movement, though some (like video artist and ‘camcorder activist’ Paul Garrin) would be quick to emphasise that Tactical Media were not so much invented as 'named'. I.e. they were always constituted through and as practice rather than by any formal definition.

What most commentators do agree on, however, is that the Next 5 Minutes festival series (1993 - 2003) was where this naming of ‘Tactical Media’ took place. And it was in this context in between the second and third edition of the festival that two of its principal organisers and editors, David Garcia and Geert Lovink, wrote a short text that became something most closely approximating a ‘manifesto’ of Tactical Media: The ABC of Tactical Media.

The question of how to define or understand the concept of Tactical Media remains a slippery one, as it is continuously re-articulated through practice. Tactical Media never was and never aims to become an academic concept or (even worse) an academic discipline. Tactical Media as a concept exists to emphasise not itself, but the (nomadic) practices that constitute it.

In line with this slippery nature of the concept, rather than opting for a singular definition we offer three different takes on the concept of Tactical Media, by Next 5 Minutes co-founder David Garcia, media researcher Michael Dieter, and media theorist and TMF’s chief editor Eric Kluitenberg. Though there might be, as the texts assembled in this collection already point out, as many takes on the concept as there are commentaries on it.

So please consider this short collage as an invitation for further exploration (in this collection and beyond) of a concept that somehow seems to retain its vitality under continuously and rapidly changing (media) technological and cultural / political conditions.

[ This introduction is part of the collection 'The Concept of Tactical Media' ]

'Tactical Media': An Overview
David Garcia

"Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet), are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture…"
(Garcia & Lovink, "The ABC of Tactical Media", 1997)

Tactical Media was a movement that combined art, experimental media and political activism. Although it had been present around the world in various forms many years, Tactical Media as a movement was first identified and named as such, by a group of artists, media pirates and theorists in Amsterdam in the 1990s.

Tactical Media took the concepts and techniques of contemporary art and design out of museums and advertising agencies and applied them directly to political protest and campaigns. The key principle of Tactical Media remains to this day, not to set out to describe or explain things but rather to do things. Instead of propositions it dealt in 'media acts', frequently taking the form of hoaxes, hacks and sometimes shocking and provocative media pranks.

The origins of Tactical Media lie deep in the 'quick and dirty' ethos of the camcorder revolution. Many of its early practitioners were media pirates with a DIY aesthetic, who were dissatisfied with the sterility of museums or the pop anthems of MTV. Instead, they sought to re-engage with video's origins in a live medium, whose core aesthetic carried a forensic immediacy and mobility.

As with other Art-into-life movements (such as Situationism, Fluxus and Dada), Tactical Media celebrated the avant-garde principles of freedom, disruption and experimentation. But to these it added a strong belief in the power of electronic media, and the emergent internet, to spread their principles further and wider than ever before. Imagining these as a real possibility became feasible, in large part, because the first cracks had already begun to appear in the monolithic edifice of main-stream media. The movement of Tactical Media made a significant contribution to forcing those cracks to open up wider still...

– – – – –

Written at the occasion of the exhibition series "As If.. / How much of this is fiction - The media artist as trickster", at Framer Framed, Amsterdam, FACT Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool and HEK - House for Electronic Arts, Basel, January - May 2017.

[ Back to the collection 'The Concept of Tactical Media' ]

Tactical Media
Michael Dieter


Coined in the 1990s, tactical media (TM) is a form of activism and artistic practice that took shape in the midst of a transition from primarily mass broadcasting environments towards settings increasingly characterized by media convergence and participatory cultures. TM is based fundamentally on the recognition that protest and politics increasingly unfold across mediatized dimensions of everyday life. The term can refer to a broad range of non-commercial interventions, from politically informed artistic projects to aesthetically informed political activism, including practices like hacktivism, culture jamming and subvertising. It is largely transdisciplinary in nature (at times anti-disciplinary), allowing for different combinations or weightings between activism, avant-gardism, scientific inquiry, reportage, amateurism, and critical theory, all according to the issue at hand. Despite being at times declared 'obsolete' or 'outdated,' TM has nevertheless demonstrated considerable vitality as a general conception of oppositional media practices.


The short essay 'The ABC of Tactical Media' by Geert Lovink and David Garcia (1997) is often taken as a founding statement on TM. Written for the Amsterdam-based Next Five Minutes (N5M) events, the text combines Michel de Certeau's (1980) work on everyday life (tactics as 'art of the weak') with the new potentials enabled by digital consumer technologies ('cheap electronics') to describe an emerging ecology of practices. The piece is worth quoting directly to convey a sense of the language and style at the time,

Tactical media are media of crisis, criticism and opposition. This is both the source [of] their power ('anger is an energy': John Lydon), and also their limitation. their typical heroes are: the activist, Nomadic media warriors, the pranxter, the hacker, the street rapper, the camcorder kamikaze, they are the happy negatives, always in search of an enemy.… Tactical Media are never perfect, always in becoming, performative and pragmatic, involved in a continual process of questioning the premises of the channels they work with.
(Garcia and Lovink, 1997)

While TM can occasionally be exclusively associated with a number of artists such as the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), ®TMark, The Yes Men, the Bureau of Applied Autonomy, or the Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT) (among others), the idea gained significant momentum from the general ethos that drove the great diversity of experimentation with the early web, including, electronic civil disobedience and journalistic initiatives such as Indymedia. The N5M events to a certain extent catalyzed these experiments by bringing together independent activists, artists, media practitioners, and theorists in an attempt to define and innovate new styles and approaches.

Within a broader context, historical lineages drawn into TM include alternative publishing, subcultures, feminist independent media, pirate radio and open access television, along with avant-gardist art practice from Situationism to Neoism. More immediate influences included AIDS media activism and hacker scenes, along with documentary films like Andrei Ujeika and Harun Faroki's Videograms of a Revolution (1993) or Brian Springer's Spin (1995) that demonstrated the capacity to intervene with or outright hijack televisual transmissions. Such activities might broadly be characterized as 'creative dark matter', following Gregory Sholette, or the bulk of artistic practice in post-industrial societies that has typically gone unrecognized by official cultural institutions: "makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organized practices – all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world" (2011: 1). Obviously, documenting these practices gives rise to significant complexities, as apparent in experimental resources like The Tactical Media Files as an evolving or living archive accessible online.

From a theoretical perspective, the link to de Certeau's anthropology of the everyday (1984) provides further insights into the anti-institutional dimensions of TM, especially the notion of tactics as the 'art of the weak', acts of cunning, ruses or tricks played to gain advantage over consolidated structures of power. While De Certeau's work has been utilized for any number of theoretical projects – within traditions of cultural studies, in particular, that place an emphasis on active audiences, resistant or oppositional readings – it is worth highlighting how everyday practices in his account always exceed any 'grid of discipline.' Tactics are, moreover, always accompanied by other nonrepresentational modes of practice, including stubborn, 'hidden' or extensive modes of conduct (Highmore 2006). For TM, these traits speak to performative intercessions that remain irreducible to strategic capture. However, it also reveals how TM is characterized by a complex disjunction from institutional authority. Indeed, it was precisely this tension that represents a shortcoming of TM and has placed the concept itself in question as an approach to progressive political change.


Several commentators and theorists have raised questions regarding the expediency of tactics following the configuration of digital and networked technologies into new corporate controlled platforms and services. Moreover, the tightening of state surveillance, along with the long-term destructive consequences of neoliberal economic policies and financial capitalism, has brought about a situation where TM increasingly appears as a futile and inhibited gesture. There have been criticisms that TM is essentially disconnected from actually existing conditions of political struggle, that the rise of social media has fundamentally transformed the landscape of communication technologies, and that, ultimately, the term avoids the more pressing issues of developing sustainable long-term alternatives for the common.

•    Disengagement. One central strand of critique has been directed at questioning the connections between TM projects and actually existing political movements. Critics like Gene Ray and Sholette (2008), for instance, have questioned a perceived disconnection between TM practices and conditions of global precarity, from maquiladoras and export processing zones to knowledge-intensive sectors of informational employment and the creative industries. Given such contexts, it has been claimed that TM has entered into conditions of stagnation by being too far removed from these most problematic politico-economic realities. The implication is that TM are at best short-lived spectacles or, at worst, exist to circulate in art and media festival circuits for mainly academic contemplation. This evaluation is driven by a concern with how TM practices are vitally connected to politics; however, it also depends on a particular presumed definition of what TM is, one that additionally might be subject to some revision given recent events and phenomena like WikiLeaks, Anonymous, the Arab Spring, 12-M Movement and Occupy.

•    Distraction. TM has been described as ineffective when faced with social media systems dominated by a conjunction of capitalist accumulation with principles of democratic participation, access and deliberation. For a tactical practitioner, media channels are potentially overloaded with user-generated-content that competes with expressions of political antagonism: how does a TM event unfold in conditions of information overload? Even given possibilities for elaborating new techniques for intervention, there remains a nagging question of what tangible gains are made in confrontation with constantly recirculating user-generated-content online. Here, any progressive interventions encounter a dilemma of contending with an attention economy where all manner of creative products and initiatives also appear appropriative, playful and subversive.

•    Capture. At the level of infrastructure, the development of mass commercial hosting companies for blogs, online video and social networking raises significant new challenges for TM due to the corporate ownership of these platforms, the intensive capture and mining of data and the preformatted logics of exchange (Stadler 2009). There is, as Lev Manovich (2009) puts it, a curious semi-reversal or interlinking of strategies and tactics that occurs with these web platforms, where the regularities of the strategic can be mapped onto the quantified work of users, while Google or Facebook exhibit all of the variable creativity once associated with the everyday. The stakes for TM, accordingly, might not just depend on navigating vast swaths of amateur and non-professional content, but negotiating the prevailing influence of these corporations: their capricious skill for deploying programs directed at the accumulation of audiences, attention and standing-reserves of data. In this case, theorists such as Tatiana Bazzichelli (2013) have argued that it is time to learn for critical artists and activists not to resist, but learn from disruptive logics of Silicon Valley: in other words, "don't hate the business, become the business."

•    Disorganization. From the perspective of organization studies, the incapacity to scale of socio-technical activism has been one significant dimension of criticism. In a conceptual proposal to turn towards the development of organized networks, for instance, Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (2005) have revisited and questioned TM as a pragmatic approach to progressive political change in conditions of real subsumption or post-Fordist accumulation. Signaling the affinities between this style of working and regimes of flexible labour, this perspective claims that there remains a need to push otherwise short-lived tactical projects into stable institutional forms: a dynamic that might be described as moving toward the strategic by developing prototypes, technical protocols, funding models and new techniques of working.


Despite critiques of TM, the concept and practice demonstrates an ongoing resilience, especially as tactical practices are translated into a number of challenging new perspectives on contemporary political problems. Such frameworks include interpretations of 'new materialist' agencies, responses to the increasing awareness of the environmental costs of digital affordances, evaluations of infrastructural everyday and regimes of labour, and theories devised following the inventive use of media technologies in the eruption of 21st century political movements.

Formulated at the N5M2 event by Andreas Broeckmann (1996), a unique perspective on media ecologies has become one highly productive slant on TM across more-than-human performative domains. This perspective draws significantly Manuel DeLanda's reading of the machinic phylum – itself imported from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – and has since been adapted further to topographic descriptions of media power and complex reflections on the environmental dimensions of digital technologies (Fuller 2005). Such perspectives develop through TM, and dovetail with a current interest in logistics as a category missing from the distinction between strategies and tactics (Wark 2002), especially as this draws together standardised infrastructures that facilitates the distribution of resources and labor power in global capitalism. Indeed, reflecting on such techniques for knowledge work in particular – i.e. data structures, procedural manuals, spreadsheets, auditing software, and other 'gray media' – has been a task that Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey (2012) have recently explored as operative constructs or stratagems of so-called evil media.

Finally, the eruption of radical politics and activism marked by the events of the Arab Spring, Take the Square and Occupy have provoked a profound reconsideration of how older modes of public demonstration seemingly neglected by TM are now collectively hybridized through reticulated media and mobile devices (Kluitenberg 2011). These events arguably have ushered through a reimagining and collective reinvention of tactical practices and techniques pioneered in the 1990s, from the prevalence of citizen journalism, electronic civil obedience through DNS attacks or the improper name like Anonymous. Such events, significantly, reveal how tactical modes of doing media politics are being continually reinvented network societies, along with the potential for an immanent postmedia future.

This short text on the concept of Tactical Media was originally written for the Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities project at Leuphana University's Center for Digitcal Cultures in Luneburg, 2014.
(no longer available online)


Bazzichelli, T. (2013): Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art,
Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking, Aarhus: DARC Press.

Broeckmann, A. (1996): 'Tactical Media: Some Points of Departure', Next Five
Minutes, Rotteedam / Amsterdam.

Critical Art Ensemble (2001): Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media
New York: Autonomedia,

de Certeau, M. (1980): 'On the Oppositional Practices of Everyday Life', trans.
Fredric Jameson and Carl Lovitt, Social Text (3), pp. 3-43.

Dean, J. (2005): 'Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of
Politics', Cultural Politics 1 (1), pp. 51-74.

Fuller, M. (2005): Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and
Technoculture, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Garcia, D. and Lovink, G. (1997): 'The ABC of Tactical Media', Nettime

Goffey, A. and Fuller, M. (2012): Evil Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kluitenberg, Eric (2011) Legacies of Tactical Media, Amsterdam: Institute of
Network Cultures.

Lovink, G. and Rossiter, N. (2005): 'Dawn of Organised Networks', Fibreculture
Journal (5),

Manovich, L. (2009): 'The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life', Critical Inquiry (35),
pp. 319-331.

Ray, G. and Sholette, G. (2008): 'Introduction: Whither Tactical Media',
Third Text 22 (5), 519-524.

Sholette, G. (2011), Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise
Culture, London: Pluto Press.

Stalder, F. (2008): '30 Years of Tactical Media', Public Net Base: Non-Stop Future,

Wark, M. 'Strategies for Tactical Media', Real Time 52 (2002),

[ Back to the collection 'The Concept of Tactical Media' ]

Tactical Media: By Any Media Necessary
Eric Kluitenberg

In their book Digital Resistance, published in 2001, the American artist collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) precede the introduction with a startling image of a man wearing a dark coat and hat, standing in the streets of a major American city, perhaps New York or Chicago. He holds a sign in front of his chest and belly that reads 'By Any Media Necessary'. In the background, on the pointed edge of a building that looks a bit like Manhattan's Flatiron Building, a billboard reads 'Fun and Games and Murder!'. This is odd; after all, murder is neither fun nor a game. A theatre in the background advertises Stir Crazy, which may be the title of a nightly show, or perhaps a description of the entertainment on offer.

Where are we? Is this an entertainment district? Who is this man standing in the street? What does the sign mean? Could it be a reference to Bob Dylan's iconic 1965 music video avant la lettre Subterranean Homesick Blues, shot as part of D. E. Penebaker's cinema verité documentary film Don't Look Back? Was the sign actually on the street, or retroactively pasted in? Where is the medium in this picture? Is it the man as a moving billboard? Or is this a sad outgrowth of capitalist exploitation advertising, which has still not properly been recognised as a crime against humanity? Is it the sign itself? Does the sign compete with the bright advertisements in the background, or does it compete with entirety of the entertainment district?
And what, after all, is the relationship between this image and the idea of 'digital resistance'?

In the introduction, Critical Art Ensemble explain that their book is a reflection on Tactical Media as an emerging 'politicised interdisciplinary practice' that many groups and individuals from around the globe had collectively initiated, mostly through parallel invention. CAE state that the methods needed to actualise this practice are being researched and tested the world over. For a working definition of Tactical Media they refer to the description used in the run-up to the third 'Next 5 Minutes Tactical Media Conference' organised in Amsterdam in 1999:
The term "tactical media" refers to a critical usage and theorisation of media practices that draw on all forms of old and new, both lucid and sophisticated media for achieving a variety of specific non-commercial goals and pushing all kinds of potentially subversive political issues. [11]

Critical Art Ensemble understand Tactical Media first as a form of digital interventionism. However, they do not want to limit the scope of Tactical Media to digital technology: 'By "digital" CAE means that tactical media is about copying, re-combining, and re-presenting, and not that it can only be done with digital technology.' [12]  For Critical Art Ensemble the emerging political practice of Tactical Media exists foremost as the appropriation of any kind of medium, any form of knowledge or visual production, and any social or political process, challenging hierarchies and false dichotomies as it goes along.

According to Critical Art Ensemble,Tactical Media is as heterogeneous in its current manifestations as it is in its roots. One can trace these roots back to the historical avant-garde, but in the process of their adaptation and appropriation these roots have been transformed beyond recognition. Most of all, the linkage to the avant-garde has been freed from the weight of its designation as Art, as well as Art's often insular existence within its own circuits of circulation, disconnected from the rest of the social and political body. On the 'media question' Critical Art Ensemble write:
The tactical media practitioner uses any media necessary to meet the demands of the situation. While practitioners may have expertise in a given medium, they do not limit their ventures to the exclusive use of one medium. Whatever media provide the best means for communication and participation in a given situation are the ones that they will use. Specialisation does not predetermine action. This is partly why tactical media lends itself to collective efforts, as there is always a need for a differentiated skill base that is best developed through collaboration. [13]

It is this transversal move, cutting across not only different disciplines and fields of professional practice, but also established hierarchies of knowledge production and their valuation systems, that makes these 'digital' interventions truly political. Access is understood here not simply as access to the means of production, but as access to the very systems that define what counts as knowledge, and how and where value is created. Not surprisingly, Critical Art Ensemble put specific emphasis on the value of amateur practice:
In conjunction, tactical media practitioners support and value amateur practice – both their own and that of others. Amateurs have the ability to see through the dominant paradigms, are freer to recombine elements of paradigms thought long dead, and can apply everyday life experience to their deliberations. Most important, however, amateurs are not invested in institutionalised systems of knowledge production and policy construction, and hence do not have irresistible forces guiding the outcome of their process such as maintaining a place in the funding hierarchy, or maintaining prestige-capital. [14]

Interestingly, these comments seem to foreshadow the intense debate on affective labour that has recently gripped much of critical network theory. While amateur practice might have been seen as a relatively marginal practice, operating largely outside the economic value chain, the situation has shifted dramatically in recent years. The phenomenal rise of self-produced media expressions distributed via the internet has moved these amateur practices from the sidelines to centre stage, through blogs, video blogs or 'vlogs' released via video portal sites such as Vimeo, YouTube and others, and most prominently at this moment, via social networking platforms.
Nobody will dispute the place of amateur practice in the economic value chain of current networked media production these days. While amateur practice still challenges established hierarchies of professional knowledge production, and with that the definition of what constitutes valuable knowledge, it has now become strangely encapsulated by professional market machines and monetising mechanisms. They have successfully commodified the love, amor, at the root of the word 'amateur'. [15]

The second remarkable aspect of Critical Art Ensemble's observations is their deliberate and almost complete denial of strategic professional devices such as 'institutionalised systems of knowledge production', 'policy construction', and 'funding hierarchies' [16]. The critical interdisciplinary practice they envision can exist precisely because it denies all of these institutional mechanisms and reverts back to the amateur's amor, the vital source of energy.

In 1997, media scholar and activist Deedee Halleck arrived at quite the opposite conclusion in regards to this critical interdisciplinary media and political practice, although she does not directly refer to it as Tactical Media. [17] Halleck reflects on a two part television program produced for Paper Tiger TV, documenting the March against the Moguls, held in conjunction with the 1997 'Media and Democracy' congress in New York. This protest march, staged in opposition to the increasing marginalisation of the public broadcast system, highlights the growing awareness that the appropriation of media structure alone is not enough to bring about the desired balance of strategic and countervailing power. Halleck recognises that a sustainable infrastructure for contestational public broadcasting and public access media production is profoundly missing, a realisation that had been curiously absent from other members of the media democracy movement.

Felix Stalder's echoes this observation in his essay 'Thirty Years of Tactical Media', produced for Public Netbase's 2009 book Non Stop Future. Stalder notes that while these tactical projects were geared towards quick interventions that could be realised with low budgets and high ingenuity, they were not geared towards setting up or maintaining long-term infrastructures. According to Stalder, such a short range approach was well-suited to experimental exploration of the new media environment, which was rapidly emerging but still largely unstable. While marginal, these projects played an important role in 'experimentally establishing media practices adapted to the new conditions of open networks'. [18]

While the loose nature of such tactical projects, and the coalitions that supported them, was particularly well-adapted to the rapidly evolving technological and social conditions of global communication networks, globalisation of markets and new forms of global politics, the task of providing sustainable infrastructures for such projects quickly overburdened these networks. Stalder observes that the demise of Tactical Media as a more or less coherent movement was in part due to the absence of consolidation, whether deliberate or not. In his view, however, Tactical Media as a practice continues to flourish, catalysed by the radical dispersal of digital media tools and internet-based distribution infrastructures that have become available to basically 'everybody' in the last five to ten years. Stalder concluded that 'increasingly people were doing tactical media without thinking about Tactical Media.' [19]

Halleck writes about a similar dynamic in the radical video movement she had been part of:
From my vantage point as a participant/observer, there was an assumption by us "video freaks" that authentic radical video would alter the vision of the viewing public, in the way that many of our own heads were changed by our home-grown stashes or dried mushrooms. There was a belief that the revelatory video of Wood- stock consciousness would convince people not to put up with the "vast wasteland" of commercial television, as FCC commissioner Newton Minow pronounced it in 1962. There was no doubt in our own expanded minds that sooner or later everyone would become conscientized. It was only a matter of time before video would change the world. It has, but not quite in the way we envisioned. It is a sign of our naivete, our faith in the power of McLuhanesque aphorisms and perhaps our impatience with boring meetings that most did not spend much time thinking about concrete strategies for changing the world - even that part of the world that most concerned us: media policies. [20]

The hopes placed on the value of amateur practice mirror the failing belief in the efficacy of radical video to restore the balance between civic engagement, media production and democracy, and to challenge the dominant wasteland of commercial television. Tactical Media exists in a far more complex space of coercion and strategic power. Its greatest strength lies in its refusal to become strategic. However, this also denies the efficacy of strategic action. In a truer sense, Tactical Media must always remain tactical, on the move, and on the lookout for opportunities, as French philosopher Michel de Certeau has observed in regards to tactics and the tactician. [21]

Tactical Media: A Non-Movement without a Definition

While a great number of characterisations have been ascribed to Tactical Media, I have so far avoided a definition. It is a recurrent question, even critique of the concept, whose answer remains strangely elusive. Tactical Media never was and has never become a movement. Even though Critical Art Ensemble claims that the act of naming Tactical Media gave it a roughly definite form, wildly heterogeneous and often contradictory characteris- tics are still given to Tactical Media, a number of which have been described above.

This is no reason to despair. There is no true founding manifesto of Tactical Media, no ultimate place of birth, but merely a rather temporary convergence of disparate practices that would in a few years just as easily diverge again. However, one important point of convergence that galvanised the wider adoption and circulation of the term has been the series of Next 5 Minutes festivals and Tactical Media conferences, irregularly organised in Amsterdam four times between 1993 and 2003.22 Significantly, these events have always been collective efforts from a network of local institutions and singular actors acting together as a loose temporary alliance, without a fixed organisational form, let alone an institution.

Within the context of this series of events some of the most important writings about Tactical Media and its principal concerns have appeared. They have proven to be extremely influential in shaping critical thinking about the relationship between media, radical politics, dissident culture, and emerging technologies. The text that comes closest to a Tactical Media manifesto was also written in the context of these events, following the second edition of the Next 5 Minutes in 1996, and before the third edition that would eventually take place in early 1999.

This text, 'The ABC of Tactical Media', written by David Garcia and Geert Lovink in May 1997, provides the most accurate description of what this emerging field of interdisciplinary political practice entails. In the opening sentence of the text, Lovink and Garcia write: "Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture." [23]

Garcia and Lovink distinguish Tactical Media from other media genres primarily through their participatory character: "Tactical Media do not just report events, as they are never impartial, they always participate and it is this that more than anything separates them from mainstream media."

A specific conjunction of activism, art, media, and technological experimentation has always been a defining characteristic of Tactical Media. Garcia and Lovink point towards this aesthetic moment in Tactical Media practices, identifying it as a media-verité specific to the 1990s: "A distinctive tactical ethic and aesthetic that has emerged, which is culturally influential from MTV through to recent video work made by artists. It began as a quick and dirty aesthetic although it is just another style it (at least in its camcorder form) has come to symbolize a verité for the 90's."

As a convergence of art, media, and politics, this aesthetic moment introduces its own specific poetics. It derives its power not from a disinterested position as an observer, as in the Kantian formula of the aesthetics of beauty, but from its rootedness in contestational politics and dissident lifestyles. David Garcia has observed that from this precarious and complicated position Tactical Media articulates 'a political poetics for the media age'.

Rather than understanding Tactical Media as a preconceived formula, it can now be understood as the result of the availability of new potentialities, and the methods primarily nonprofessional media producers use it to meet their desires. Tactical Media then is regarded as matter of fact, and not as a movement that requires a manifesto or institutional form. Given the deeply sensitive, contradictory and precarious terrain onto which Tactical Media ventures, it is logical that the organisers of the Next 5 Minutes series shied away from any attempt at a final definition, or the creation of a movement with definite shape. Tactical Media was understood mostly as a moment to be seized, after which it would be time to move on, as Geert Lovink has repeatedly asserted. [24]

On 'the tactical' in Tactical Media

The notion of 'the tactical' in Tactical Media is indebted to Michel de Certeau, mentioned earlier, and his influential ideas in The Practice of Everyday Life. The incorporation of dissident or contestational media practices with De Certeau's understanding of the tactical was introduced during the first edition of the Next 5 Minutes in 1993, when the event was still focused on 'tactical' forms of TV making. Bas Raijmakers in particular advanced this connection in the N5M Zapbook, the reader produced in preparation for the first Next 5 Minutes. In his introduction to the book, Raijmakers writes:

"N5M is about the individual media-activists trying to get their message across via public access channels but also about small production companies testing the limits of mainstream tv from the inside, about tv-art projects using television techniques to develop a new kind of poetics, community tv fighting for the right to access and people within big tv institutions developing radical new program concepts. The richness and diversity that all these initiatives bring to the world of television is too often overlooked.
This richness consists of tv-makers as different as New York's Paper Tiger Television, who made "the Gulf Crisis Project", Budapest Black Box who is piling up tapes with recordings of Hungary's main political and cultural events in the Szechenyi Library, Amsterdam's Staats TV Rabotnik who bring to local cable interviews with independent Yugoslavian journalists working under war conditions, Bangkok's Media on Society and Culture who buys a weekly independent half-hour on commercial tv and finally all the people that are in possession of a camcoder, ready to shoot the next "amateur video".
What these tv-makers have in common is a social and cultural position. An important aspect of that position is that they have no fixed institutional or discursive relationship with the world of television. What they do have are tactics; tv-tactics depending on very specific circumstances in space and time. The positions that result from their tactical status give them the freedom to experiment with the medium and to express their own ideas and opinions. Since we feel that this use of tactics is something that cuts straight across the marginal-mainstream dichotomy, we decided to use this word to describe which part of the tv-world caught our interest.
" [25]

De Certeau is notable for utilising the distinction between 'the tactical' and 'the strategic' to identify a space of agency for the 'weak' in opposition to strategic power. De Certeau remarks that it is a defining characteristic of strategic power that it invariably attempts to claim a space of its own and then to keep it by any means necessary. Those who lack power cannot claim a territory or define a space of their own, but they can operate in the strategic spaces defined by others. Obviously such operations are always temporary incursions. The only way in which the weak can expect to hold such territories, after all, is for them to become strategic brokers of power themselves, at which point they are no longer operating in the tactical mode.

Tactics, de Certeau writes, have no base at their disposal from where they can capitalise on their advantages, prepare their expansions, or secure their independence from circumstances. Instead tactics insinuate themselves into the places of others. They operate on the terrain of strategic power, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety. Whatever gains these tactics win they cannot keep. [26] Therefore, tactics are inevitably nomadic. The space of the tactical is always precarious. This mobility and precariousness is exemplified by the movements of the current squares and the occupy movements, which also show how disadvantaged parties can effectively contest strategic power. This nomadic quality is the simultaneous strength and weakness of the tactical moment.

Tactical Media ecologies

Art historian Andreas Broeckmann offers a slightly different account of Tactical Media practices. Broeckmann mainly refers to the work of Felix Guattari to develop his 'points of departure' in an attempt to pinpoint Tactical Media's elusive character.

Broeckmann references Manuel De Landa's military analysis of the notion of tactics in his book War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. For DeLanda, a War Machine is composed of distinct levels: The hardware of the weapons, its material underpinning, the tactics that integrate men and weapons into formations, the strategy that directs these formations towards political goals, and the logistics that provision the War Machine with agricultural and industrial resources.

Broeckmann feels that borrowing this analysis from a military scenario can 'help us understand at which operative level media tacticians are engaged – whether their cause is the dissident struggle against an oppressor, or the attempt to create a new social form at a juncture of need and possibility.'  [27] He then applies De Landa's reading of the War Machine to the Media Machine: "The media ecology is a machine composed of several distinct levels: the levels of media and related tools and instruments; the level of tactics, in which individu- als and media are integrated into formations; the level of strategy, in which the campaigns conducted by those formations acquire a unified political goal; and finally, the level of logistics, of procurement and supply networks, in which media practice is connected to the infrastructural and industrial resources that fuel it." [28]

While such an analysis runs the risk of becoming purely functional, or even utilitarian, a point which Broeckmann readily acknowledges, it nonetheless suggests a crucial space of possibility for Tactical Media practices. Broeckmann argues that "What I regard as crucial for the assessment of tactical media practice as it is be- ing attempted by the Next 5 Minutes, is the realisation that the relative structural weakness of a tactical approach and the absence of a unified political goal among media tacticians has its strengths in the flexibility, in the compatibility with other initiatives, and in the ability to form alliances notwithstanding political and ideological differences." [29]

Broeckmann emphasises an ecological reading of the media environment, particularly of the emerging environment of the internet in 1996. For him, 'ecological' means regarding the media environment as a social space, as well as encompassing the concerns over the sustainability of the media environment, and indeed of the entire planet. Broeckmann writes:

"Media ecology as I understand it describes an interrelated series of material, practical and theoretical trajectories which constitute a 'formation', a stratum, a spatial and temporal machine which is driven by other machines, as much as it helps to drive them. If this definition is accepted, the contentious issue is whether we should use the eco- prefix for something that is unrelated to the natural environ- ment. I believe it is worth recovering a wider meaning of the notion ecology where it denotes not so much the relation between humans, animals and plants and their natural environment, but the knowledgeable engagement with, as Félix Guattari calls them, the three ecological registers, that is the environment, the social relations, and human subjectivity. [30] It has become virtually impossible to think nature without culture: "We have to learn," writes Guattari, "to make our thought traverse the interrelations and mutual influences between eco-systems, the material world, social and individual relations." The critical understanding of the media ecology, which Guattari calls ecosophy, is a way for media activists and artists of enabling themselves to conduct their social and political lives in a considerate and responsible way." [31]

He returns to the idea of a media ecology at the end of his paper, and observes that a 'new regime' for this area has been taking shape in the 1990s. Electronic networks and the internet are particularly influential in opening up a huge field of interaction in which generating, distributing, accessing and deploying information all take on novel forms and trajectories. Broeckmann argues that 'We first need to learn what the structures, the possibilities and the limitations of this new ecology are, in order then to be able to under- stand the agency of information which we are dealing with.'

For Broeckmann the question of how power functions in this 'socio-mediatic environ- ment' is of great importance, as it challenges established understandings of how power is supposed to operate. Broeckmann writes that 'The question now is in how far such power structures are being changed through the formations of the electronic networks, how pow- er concentrations are reconfigured, and how institutions and structures are reorganised.'

Ultimately, the activities of Tactical Media operators in this emerging media ecology should be understood as a subset of attempts to deal with the ecological crisis in a more 'productive and differentiated way' than the indifferent or violent reactions it has mostly invoked. Guattari identifies this crisis as the principal threat not only to human existence on this planet, but also to that of many other species. Across Guattari's three ecological registers, the environment, the social relations, and human subjectivity, technology plays an integral role in intensifying the crisis, but simultaneously constitutes the arena where new solutions must be found.

Eric Kluitenberg, Legacies of Tactical Media: The Tactics of Occupation - From Tompkins Square to Tahrir, Network Notebook No. 05, Institute of network Cultures, Amsterdam, December 2011, pp. 13-21.


11 |
12 | Critical Art Ensemble, 2001, p. 7.
14 | Critical Art Ensemble, 2001, p. 8 – 9.
15 | See also this interview with Amateur Enterprises' CEO, Peter Blegvad: and:
16 | See also: Critical Art Ensemble, 2001, Chapter 4, 'Observations on Collective Cultural Action', p. 59 – 73.
17 | Deedee Halleck, 'Putting the Demo Back in Democracy: March Against the Moguls', Afterimage (1998),
18 | Felix Stalder, '30 Years of Tactical Media', in Public Netbase: Non Stop Future New Practices in Art and Media, Novi-Sad and Vienna: New Me- dia and World-Information Institute / t0, 2009. Available at:
19 | Stalder, 2009.
20 | Halleck,1998.
21 | Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.
22 |
23 | Garcia and Lovink, 1997.
24 | Geert Lovink, 'Tactical Media, the Second Decade', preface to the Brazilian Submidialogia publication, (October 2005) Sao Paulo, www.
25 | Bas Raijmakers, 'Introduction' in Amsterdam Cultural Studies (eds) N5M1 Zapbook, Amsterdam: Paradiso,1993. Available at:
26 | De Certeau, 1984, p. xiv.
27 | Andreas Broeckmann, 'Some Points of Departure', introductory essay for the second edition of the Next 5 Minutes Festival of tactical media, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, 1996,
28 | Ibid. 29 | Ibid.
29 | Ibid.
30 | Félix Guattari, Les Trois Écologies, Wien: Passagen Verlag, 1994, p.12. 31 | Broeckmann, 1996.

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