Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Signs of a Generational Change in Social Movements-Activists' Use of Modern Information and Communication Technologies1

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Signs of a Generational Change in Social Movements-Activists' Use of Modern Information and Communication Technologies1

Article excerpt

Many new information and communication technologies (ICR) have emerged with the spread of the Internet. Those technologies are widely used by social actors, however the full picture of how and for what purpose is just emerging.

A large body of work analyzing the use of ICR exists, but studies use different metrics and different time frames, thus making it difficult to conduct reliable comparative analysis and draw conclusions about the big picture. Similarly, due to the lack of large-scale survey studies, we have precious little data on topics such as the age of movement members or the size of organizations, making it difficult to put what findings we have in comparative context. Due to those ambiguities, as Earl et al. (2010) note, even on the basic question of ICT impacts on many aspects of social life one can identify research supporting a number of contradictory positions.

The purpose of the following study is to explore and analyze the use of ICR in social movements, with a focus on Internet-era media, providing data on the use (and non-use) of ICR. The research questions revolve around the blurring boundaries between members and non-members and the specifics of the use of new media (by whom and for what), with particular focus on differences between age cohorts (both for the organizations and their members). In addition this paper also presents findings on the demographics of the movements and activists worldwide that should be of interest to most social movement scholars.

Theoretical Background

The importance of technology for the development of a society is a common observation, but we should avoid the trap of technological determinism; the relation between society and technology is hardly one-sided. Although neither their rise, nor the diffusion of ICTfc has been a "sufficient" factor in enabling social change, those tools have often been a "necessary" factor for it (Goody and Watt, 1963). This relation is analyzed by Bijker (1995), who presented the sociotechnical change theory: "Society is not determined by technology, nor is technology determined by society. Both emerge as two sides of the sociotechnical coin during the construction process of artifacts, facts, and relevant social groups." In other words, technology is both a cause and an effect of many social changes.

From the field of social movement research, resource mobilization theory offers insights on how technology is used for acquisition of resources and mobilization of supporters (McCarthy and Zald 2001). Tilly (2009) defines social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people make collective claims on others. He also defines the movement's repertoire of contention: employment of numerous forms of political action, such as creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, and so on. All of those are significantly related to communication tools available to social movements.

Recent scholarship increasingly considers how social movement actions (the repertoire of contention) are evolving and adapting to the new ICTfc (Tilly 2009, Earl and Kimport 2011, MacKinnon 2012). Internet-era tools are increasingly user friendly, and for certain tasks they eliminate or vastly reduce the need for physical co-presence among the activists. The easier the new media are to use, the harder they are to control for governments and other traditional gatekeepers in the flow of information. As the new ICTfc make communication cheaper and more efficient, it becomes much easier for the new challengers to spread their message and take on the established order. Online tools also allow greater anonymity than public meeting places, encouraging participation (Konieczny 2014). Discussing the emergence of a new, digital repertoire of contention, Earl and Kimport (2011) stress that Internet tools empower individuals by giving a voice to those who previously had none. …

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