Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Persuasion and Protest

The Deterritorial Support Group (DSG) was an ultra-leftist, anti-authoritarian collective. Their name being a parody of London’s Metropolitan riot police, ‘territorial support group’. Aiming to create and spread propaganda that depicted the difficulties that capitalism produces, with a particular emphasis on social classes.
In 2013, DSG and Metahaven, a publishing group, produced Void Mystique DNA. This book disorients the observer, with each cover being the mirror negative of the other. Inside there are 288 blank pages.
What were DSG trying to do when producing this book? As stated above, the aims of DSG were to create and spread leftist propaganda. DSG succeed in this first aim. Void Mystique DNA generated more interest in the political group upon its release, with the term ‘Deterritorial Support Group’ being googled far more at the end of March until the end of December 2013 (figure 1). The second goal, the preceding creation of the propaganda is more interesting in this case. Why would DSG create this empty book to represent the struggles created by a class system? It’s a subtle message. A definition of the technique Détournement is important.
Détournement is the alteration of everyday objects or ideas into forms into surprising and intriguing forms. This alteration shows how the object or idea is really just a construction produced by society. Taking this into account, Void Mystique DNA can be seen as doing exactly this. DSG take the idea of a book, and reinvent it. They deconstruct several characteristics of a book: a clear front and back cover, a clear title and most importantly words on the inside. Alongside these deconstructions, other key elements are kept: an ISBN and the physical nature of a book. This, arguably, captures the observer’s attention and forces them to rethink what a book truly is.
Figure 1 - Google trend report from 2013 for the search term 'Deterritorial Support Group'. Shows a clear increase in the number of searches around the release of Void Mystique DNA. 
DSG were trying to deconstruct the identity of a book, because books are a means of power for those in the higher classes of society. It takes money and power to produce a book, the elements of society that DSG are so opposed to.
Can a theory of persuasiveness explain how Void Mystique DNA could influence anyone’s behaviour?
Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) claims that there are three elements that are important in producing behaviour: attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Each of these factors influences the intention to behave in a certain way, which of course mediates how we behave.
DSG attempted to influence two of these factors leading alterations in intention. Using Détournement, they attempted to restructure attitudes towards reading books. In modern society, books represent a way in which the upper classes can distract lower classes from the problems they experience. By taking a book and deconstructing its identity, DSG were attempting alter attitudes towards reading. An important factor in altering
Furthermore, DSG may have been trying to subvert the academic process of referencing. Releasing a completely blank book that comes with a full ISBN, authors and publisher means that any people in possession of the book could write and reference their own ideas. This could give power to those who do not have the time or money to climb the ladder of academia.

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