Digitally Enabled Social Change

Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age

Jennifer Earl
Katrina Kimport
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Digitally Enabled Social Change
    Book Description:

    Much attention has been paid in recent years to the emergence of "Internet activism," but scholars and pundits disagree about whether online political activity is different in kind from more traditional forms of activism. Does the global reach and blazing speed of the Internet affect the essential character or dynamics of online political protest? In Digitally Enabled Social Change, Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport examine key characteristics of web activism and investigate their impacts on organizing and participation.Earl and Kimport argue that the web offers two key affordances relevant to activism: sharply reduced costs for creating, organizing, and participating in protest; and the decreased need for activists to be physically together in order to act together. Drawing on evidence from samples of online petitions, boycotts, and letter-writing and e-mailing campaigns, Earl and Kimport show that the more these affordances are leveraged, the more transformative the changes to organizing and participating in protest.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29535-2
    Subjects: Technology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. I
    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-20)

      On January 27, 2007, four hundred thousand people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for a rally and march organized by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) against the war in Iraq.¹ People carried signs and banners, and some wore clothing emblazoned with protest slogans. Over the course of the daylong event, public figures such as Jesse Jackson, celebrities including Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon, and political figures such as Ohio representative and 2008 presidential candidate Dennis J. Kucinich and California representative Maxine Waters lent their names to the cause and addressed the crowd. All echoed the event’s...

    • 2 Where We Have Been and Where We Are Headed
      (pp. 21-42)

      In this chapter, we discuss the existing research on the Web in general and Web activism in particular. In doing so, we point out key methodological and theoretical splits among researchers studying Web protest. Arguing that those splits have something to teach us, we introduce our use of affordances in more detail along with our leveraged affordances approach. We close by examining how the leveraged affordances approach seeks to expand, not cast out, prior social movement theorizing.

      As Internet-enabled technologies emerged on the public stage in the late 1980s through electronic bulletin boards and then in the 1990s through the...

    • 3 The Look and Feel of E-tactics and Their Web Sites
      (pp. 43-62)

      Before moving on to the Web, petitions, boycotts, and letter-writing campaigns had long histories of use by social movements. We begin this chapter with a discussion of these histories and then briefly review some of our research methods (interested readers should consult the methodological appendix for more details). Then we try to familiarize readers with the Web sites we studied, including outlining key distinctions between sites (especially warehouse and nonwarehouse sites) and reviewing various characteristics of sites. We repeat this for the e-tactics hosted or linked to from these Web sites, briefly surveying our research methods and then looking at...

  5. II Leveraging Low Costs Online
    • 4 Taking Action on the Cheap: Costs and Participation
      (pp. 65-98)

      For both activists and students of social movements alike, when we think of protest, we think of moments when people came together for a cause, sometimes risking a great deal to speak truth to power. The civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example, is often cited as the heyday of activism. From the March on Washington in 1963, to the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, to the lunch counter sit-ins, the civil rights movement drew people of all races and ages from around the country to challenge the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Reaching further...

    • 5 Making Action on the Cheap: Costs and Organizing
      (pp. 99-120)

      To the extent that resources have been important to understanding individual participation in social movements, they have been even more critical to understanding the empirical rise in—and attendant academic interest in the rise in—SMOs. Interest in SMOs began in the 1960s (think Olson, although he wasn’t focused on social movements in particular) and 1970s. For instance, Oberschall (1973) contended that movement participation would depend on the calculation of costs versus benefits accrued through participation. He further claimed that while grievances could affect the pace of insurgency, they could not account for the form of insurgency. Similarly, Tilly’s mobilization...

  6. III From Copresence to Coordination
    • 6 Being Together versus Working Together: Copresence in Participation
      (pp. 123-146)

      If you ask almost any social movement scholar what defines protest or a social movement, one of the first elements of their answer will be that people are working together. Certainly, individuals resist things that they don’t like and try to effect change on their own with some frequency—think of any uncomfortable conversation that you have been a part of or witnessed when someone says something that is racially or sexually offensive, and another person challenges the speaker. Think of politically inflected graffiti. Think of trying to be more carbon neutral or energy conscious in your own life. Think...

    • 7 From Power in Numbers to Power Laws: Copresence in Organizing
      (pp. 147-174)

      In the last chapter, we questioned what the collective in collective action means when protest participants don’t have to physically come together in order to work for political, social, or cultural change. In this chapter, we turn our attention to the changing nature of collectivity in organizing. As we have conceptualized copresence, it includes not only the expectation of physical togetherness but also the expectation that activities require collective efforts. Just as we showed with participation, if properly leveraged, Web tools dispense with the need for physical togetherness among protest organizers. Simply put, people can organize without coming together physically....

  7. IV
    • 8 A New Digital Repertoire of Contention?
      (pp. 177-192)

      Our arguments thus far can be boiled down to a few central propositions. First, the affordances of reduced costs for participation, reduced costs for organizing, reduced need for physical togetherness in order to participate in collective action (one component of copresence), and reduced need for both collectivity and physical togetherness in organizing (both components of copresence) are critical to understanding Web activism. Second, there are two broad kinds of effects that the use of Web tools can have on Web activism (aside from no effect, of course): supersize effects, which may be of practical importance, but don’t change the underlying...

  8. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 193-206)

    When we first embarked on our study of e-tactics, we were motivated by the theoretical opportunities that such an empirical study could yield, but we didn’t realize just how quickly e-tactics would become a familiar part of everyday life. Judging from discussion of e-tactics in popular accounts, the set of e-tactics that we analyze in this book may be just the tip of the iceberg.

    Since our initial data collection, mainstream stories of e-tactics have become even more commonplace, suggesting that e-tactics are an increasingly recognized means of claims making. For instance, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Theater,...

  9. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 207-222)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 223-232)
  11. Glossary
    (pp. 233-234)
  12. References
    (pp. 235-250)
  13. Index
    (pp. 251-258)