Table of contents(11 chapters)
Part I Media and Recruitment into Activism
Turning Fans Into Heroes: How the Harry Potter Alliance Uses the Power of Story to Facilitate Fan Activism and Bloc Recruitment
How do you get people – particularly young people – to engage with social and political issues? Activists and academics alike have been plagued by this question for some time, and answers to it have ranged from greater organizational involvement to framing. Another possibility is meeting youth where they are at; that is, connecting youth’s existing interests in popular culture with broader social problems and issues. A group that is doing just that is the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), a story-fueled nonprofit organization that turns fans into heroes. In this chapter, we trace the development of the Harry Potter fan community, the stories’ resonance with fans, and how the HPA has drawn on the community and the story for mobilization. We argue that the HPA leverages culture in two ways that are relevant for social movements and political communication scholars. The HPA is able to tap into the fan community for bloc recruitment using its ties and connections to media – in this case, the fictional story – as a point of mobilization. Additionally, the HPA is able to bloc recruit from mass society – a process they refer to as “cultural acupuncture” – by strategically connecting the story with social justice issues when cultural attention is at its peak. We conclude with a discussion of the HPA’s impact on its members and how bloc recruitment and cultural acupuncture may be relevant for other fan communities.
Pathways to Contemporary Youth Protest: The Continuing Relevance of Family, Friends, and School for Youth Micromobilization
Growing interest in the use of digital technologies and a Putnam-inspired debate about youth engagement has drawn researchers from outside of the study of social movements into research on the topic. This interest in youth protest participation has, in turn, developed into a substantial area of research of its own. While offering important research contributions, we argue that these areas of scholarship are often not well grounded in classic social movement theory and research, instead focusing on new media and/or the relationship between activism and other forms of youth engagement. This chapter seeks to correct this by drawing on interviews with 40 high school and college students from a moderately sized southwestern city to examine whether traditional paths to youth activism (i.e., family, friends, and institutions) have changed or eroded as online technology use and extra-institutional engagement among youth has risen. We find that youth continue to be mobilized by supportive family, friends, and institutional opportunities, and that the students who were least engaged are missing these vital support networks. Thus, it is not so much that the process driving youth activism has changed, but that some youth are not receiving support that has been traditionally necessary to spur activism. This offers an important reminder for scholars studying youth and digital activism and youth participation more broadly that existing theory and research about traditional pathways to activism needs to be evaluated in contemporary research.
Part II Media, Participation, and Identity
This chapter analyzes #YesAllWomen, one of the largest, most visible, feminist Twitter events of recent years. Though hashtags and other forms of digital activism are not always taken seriously as politics, in this project we investigate #YesAllWomen and its recirculation through media and public blogs, as an important instance of contemporary feminist discursive activism. Specifically, we argue that the hashtag functioned, first, as a site of collective identity for participants, and we describe some of the ways in which this identity building was achieved, and second, we argue that through its links to and recirculation by other platforms and media, #YesAllWomen also functioned as a public protest or agenda-building event with impact on public discourse beyond Twitter. Our project draws on content and discourse analysis methods to analyze the #YesAllWomen hashtag and to trace its interaction with other discourses such as news and blogs, including an automated content analysis of almost two million tweets and an analysis of a sample of 251 media and blog stories. We note that contemporary feminists are using digital media, in this case a Twitter hashtag, to achieve many of the same discursive goals of knowledge building and critique that have previously been achieved using other communications strategies such as consciousness-raising groups, publishing collectives, media strategies, and zaps.
Digital and social media have arguably altered the civic landscape, creating not only opportunities for civic voice and engagement but also distinct challenges. How do youth who are civically active think about activism and their own civic activities in this landscape? How does their sense of themselves as civic actors – the strength and salience of their civic identities – shape decisions to “speak up” online? In this chapter, we draw on data from interviews with civically active youth to explore connections between their civic identities and uptake of opportunities for voice online. Drawing on data from a follow-up study conducted two years after initial interviews, we also examine reported changes in online expression over time. We find that many – though not all – youth in our study appear to have strong civic identities, as indicated by their self-identification as “activists” and the centrality of voice to their conceptions of activism. We also observe connections between activist identification and online civic expression over time. Youths’ narratives about what informs their online voice decisions further suggest the relevance of forces that have influenced persistence in civic participation (such as life transitions, work, and family demands) in addition to pressures unique to the digital context (including online conflict and surveillance). This qualitative study suggests that strong civic identities may support uptake of, and persistence with, online civic expression and tolerance of related challenges. In the discussion, we consider implications for youth civic development and for the vitality and diversity of the digital civic sphere.
Part III Media and Movement Organizations
Breaking Through and Burning Out: The Contradictory Effects of Young Peoples’ Participation in Institutionalized Movements
This chapter considers some of the divergent outcomes of youth mobilization and participation in offline spaces, particularly in the youth nonprofit. Critics of youth online political participation detail several shortcomings of online activism as compared to offline activism, but in so doing, these critics venerate offline activism as a utopic alternative. Based on qualitative research in three organizations that mobilize youth around issues of education reform, this chapter demonstrates that the offline youth activist nonprofit fosters political power among some youth while burning out other youth. For teenage activists, these nonprofit organizations offer political education, institutional leverage, and foster political efficacy. At the same time, older youth organizers who are paid staff in these same organizations struggle with having to reign in the radicalism of the youth they mentor, while performing invisible labor around the demands of their organizational funders. These organizational pressures work to burn out youth organizers and steer them away from politics. Online forms of youth activism bring about outcomes that both enhance the political capacities of youth as well as hinder their potential to transform social injustices. Far from utopic, offline movement contexts also foster these contradictory outcomes and should be considered more critically in the debates over the merits of offline versus online activism.
Inclusive and Exclusive Organizational Identity and Leadership Online: The Case of the Anti-GMO Movement
This chapter expands the limited work on leadership in the digital age and considers how the relative inclusivity of organizational identity as well as its corresponding organizational scripts affects who performs “leading tasks,” formal leaders or committed supporters, in two social movement groups. Drawing on a random sample of 5% of Facebook posts from committed supporters and 1% of Facebook posts from group administrators associated with March Against Monsanto (MAM) and Occupy Monsanto (OM), two groups that have shared general goals but different organizational identities, we find that the clarity of an organization’s script shapes who performs leading tasks and how they perform them. MAM, which has an exclusive organizational identity and relatively defined script, encouraged supporters to engage with one another directly and perform a broad range of leading tasks even as it reinforced the group’s hierarchy. OM, which has an inclusive organization identity and relatively undefined script, had less supporter engagement. Absent scripts regarding the rules of participation, OM’s committed supporter primarily shared information with other site users, but rarely engaged them directly. We conclude with a discussion of our results and outline additional avenues for analyzing leadership in the digital age.
Media Use and Participant Inclusion: Influences on Efficacy in Paid Staff Youth Nonprofit Civic Organizations
Organizations, especially youth organizations, often use media and communication tools to engage participants and achieve their goals. While these tools have the potential to benefit organizations, it is unclear whether using media tools influences effectiveness and how their use compares to traditional engagement practices. In this chapter, I examine the impact of both media tools and participant inclusion on organizational efficacy, controlling for various organizational characteristics. I use originally collected survey data from paid staff youth nonprofit civic organizations in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. I find that using Twitter increases organizational efficacy, but the effect is ameliorated by the inclusion of organizational characteristics. I also find that media tools tend to be used by organizations in a one-directional manner, which may help explain their limited impact. Using media tools is not sufficient to increase efficacy since the way they are used also matters. Including youth in daily decision-making processes, however, increases organizational efficacy and the relationship is robust to including organizational characteristics.