Skip navigation
Paperback | $17.00 Short | £30.95 | ISBN: 9780262525060 | 272 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 7 figures, 13 tables| August 2013
 

Digitally Enabled Social Change

Activism in the Internet Age

Overview

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. A rally can be organized and demonstrators recruited entirely online, without the cost of printing and mailing; an activist can create an online petition in minutes and gather e-signatures from coast to coast using only her laptop. 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; the less these affordances are leveraged, the more superficial the changes. The rally organizers, for example, can save money on communication and coordination, but the project of staging the rally remains essentially the same. Tools that allow a single activist to create and circulate a petition entirely online, however, enable more radical changes in the process. The transformative nature of these changes, Earl and Kimport suggest, demonstrate the need to revisit long-standing theoretical assumptions about social movements.

About the Authors

Jennifer Earl is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Katrina Kimport is a Research Sociologist with ANSIRH, part of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

Table of Contents

  • Digitally Enabled Social Change
  • Acting with Technology
  • Bonnie A. Nardi, Victor Kaptelinin, and Kirsten A. Foot, editors
  • Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design
  • Clay Spinuzzi, 2003
  • Activity-Centered Design: An Ecological Approach to Designing Smart Tools and Usable Systems
  • Geri Gay and Helene Hembrooke, 2004
  • The Semiotic Engineering of Human Computer Interaction
  • Clarisse Sieckenius de Souza, 2004
  • Group Cognition: Computer Support for Building Collaborative Knowledge
  • Gerry Stahl, 2006
  • Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design
  • Victor Kaptelinin and Bonnie A. Nardi, 2006
  • Web Campaigning
  • Kirsten A. Foot and Steven M. Schneider, 2006
  • Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design
  • Victor Kaptelinin and Bonnie A. Nardi, 2006
  • Science on the Internet
  • Gary M. Olson, Ann Zimmerman, and Nathan Bos, editors, 2008
  • Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age
  • Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport, 2011
  • Digitally Enabled Social Change
  • Activism in the Internet Age
  • Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2011
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email <special_sales @mitpress.mit.edu>
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Earl, Jennifer, 1974–
  • Digitally enabled social change : activism in the Internet age / Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport.
  •  p. cm. — (Acting with technology)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01510-3 (hbk. : alk. paper) 1. Internet—Political aspects.  2. Online social networks—Political aspects. 3. Social action. 4. Social movements.  5. Social change. I. Kimport, Katrina, 1978– II. Title.
  • HM851.E23 2011
  • 303.48′40285—dc22
  • 2010021113
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • I 1
  • 1 Introduction 3
  • 2 Where We Have Been and Where We Are Headed 21
  • 3 The Look and Feel of E-tactics and Their Web Sites 43
  • II Leveraging Low Costs Online 63
  • 4 Taking Action on the Cheap:
  • Costs and Participation 65
  • 5 Making Action on the Cheap:
  • Costs and Organizing 99
  • III From Copresence to Coordination 121
  • 6 Being Together versus Working Together:
  • Copresence in Participation 123
  • 7 From Power in Numbers to Power Laws:
  • Copresence in Organizing 147
  • IV 175
  • 8 A New Digital Repertoire of Contention? 177
  • 9 Conclusion 193
  • Methodological Appendix 207
  • Notes 223
  • Glossary 233
  • References 235
  • Index 251

Endorsements

“A provocative look at how e-activism is changing the nature of contentious politics. Social movement scholars may want to rethink some of their assumptions.”
W. Lance Bennett, Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication and Professor of Political Science, University of Washington, and Director, Center for Communication & Civic Engagement

“Even as e-tactics have proliferated and commentators have advanced hyperbolic claims for the effectiveness of cyber activism, systematic studies of this brave new world have lagged behind. No more. With their groundbreaking study of 'digitally enabled social change,' Earl and Kimport have gone a long way toward filling the void. Must-reading for anyone who hopes to understand online and offline activism in the age of the Internet.”
Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology, Stanford University

“Earl and Kimport deliver a compelling and layered argument that dissects how and when activists' uses of the Web profoundly alter the fields of power that organize social movements (and, just as importantly, when the Web doesn't matter all that much). If you want to know how Web-based mobilizations, movements, and tactics have irrevocably redefined activism, read this book! It is critical reading for digital media scholars but also a must-read for anyone who cares about grassroots organizing and social change.”
Mary L. Gray, Department of Communication and Culture, Indiana University

“Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport convincingly apply the classical concerns of social movement theory to mobilization in today's media environment. They reveal that many of the roles that were once the unique domain of social movement organizations are now melting away in the era of Web-enabled collective and individual action. This book has wide-ranging significance for the study of sociology, politics, and communication.”
Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science and Codirector of the New Political Communication Unit, Royal Holloway, University of London

Awards

Honorable Mention, 2013 American Sociological Association Section on Communication and Information Technologies (CITASA) Book Award.