Networked We Stand: Social Movements in the Digital Age

TitleNetworked We Stand: Social Movements in the Digital Age
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Amrani, D.
Affiliation (1st Author)Fairfield University
Section or WGParticipatory Communication Research Section with Community Communication Section
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodePCRS1a
Slot Code (Keyword)PCRS1a
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleInternet Usage, Social Media and Virtual Communities (Joint session with Community Communication section)
Submission ID5759

Changes in digital, networked technology lower transaction costs and facilitate collective action in new ways (Shirky, 2008). This has had a profound effect on the structure and membership of organizations for social action, and this article begins by addressing some of the literature on both stages, starting with the constraints of the old institutional, hierarchical organizations and the model imposed on the social movements they produced (Jenkins, 1983; Miller, 1992; Ernst & Chant, 2007). Next, the question of how digital technology and web connectivity have worked to alter this structure is taken up through a survey of the scholarly production on the topic (Rheingold, 2002; Hsu, 2003; Bimber, Flanagin, & Stohl, 2005; Downing & Booten, 2007; Liu, 2010) culminating in the “Collective Action Space” of Flanagin, Stohl, and Bimber (2006) which describes the variety and fluidity of modern social organizations in terms of their levels of personal interaction and entrepreneurial/institutional participation.The insights gathered through this review of the literature are then applied to and compared against a recent example of a social movement phenomenon,, Occupy Wall Street. The first study contains a thematic analysis of all New York Times articles written during the approximate one-month period of the movement’s initial mobilization in the fall of 2011. Particular attention is paid to the following themes in the coverage,, the movement’s emergence, its base of operations (and the role played by entrepreneurial individuals in its maintenance), its direct democracy administrative procedures, its composition as a network of discrete groups, its behavior during physical demonstrations, and its diverse and savvy communication methods. The result is a narrative chronicle of the movement’s structure as it mobilized and while it was in its early stages. The second study engages in a social network analysis of organization- and movement-affiliated Twitter accounts during a period of Occupy Wall Street’s response to a mobilization crisis. Given the lack of archived data by Twitter, this study examined the May Day 2012 protest activity in real time by monitoring the structure and patterns of communication and interaction between 43 accounts. While the resulting network exhibits low density (proportion of all potential connections actualized), indications of centrality (including measures of degree and betweenness) imply the importance of central accounts (or hubs) for disseminating information. However, these central accounts are not responsible for an institutional, one-directional flow from a center to the periphery. Rather, they often serve as intermediaries and aggregators, bridging gaps and bringing vital information from distant parts of the network organically to otherwise disconnected actors that benefit from it, allowing for better coordination. The recent development of hybrid terrains of digital and analog environments highlights the importance of research that blends descriptive analysis of both the corporal and digital collective actions involved in bringing about new social movements. In addition, according to Davies’s (1962) J-Curve, the present state of improving social and economic conditions that nonetheless are falling short of growing middleclass expectations makes the current era prime for reevaluating and analyzing this nascent networked form of participation.

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