AoIR 7 notes: impact of Web 2.0 on social activism

I found the Association of Internet Researchers conferences in Brisbane a bit sparse this year. I don’t want to suggest it was because few Yanks managed to make the trek (a shorter flight but more jet lag?! what a crazy world), but their emphasis on quantiative, action-outcome research does offer a few more concrete talking points than theoretical essay analyses of internet phenomenon which predominated the sessions this year. I seem to recall that the speaking roster in Chicago wasn’t as chokka with grad students (myself included, of course), which lended a bit more gravitas and pragmatic research-driven thinking than the blue-sky stuff we PhD candidates get smooshed out of us as we venture away from training and into the “real world” of the ivory tower.

Cynical opinions aside, there were a few moments of cohesion over the three days (plus the day for the Doctoral Colloquium), where I found myself excited by the forward-thinking research that’s happening. A couple of presentations in particular really floated my boat. Darren Sharpe (old profile) at QUT’s Creative Industries proved inspiring with thoughts on the future of the technology of things (i.e., UGC, RFID), and Brett Rolfe, presented some of his thoughts on the impact of Web 2.0 on social activism. Here are my notes from Rolfe’s session:

Social movement – a collective group with an agenda

Repertoire of contention – need to contend with government bodies/opposition; the tactics used to contend (e.g., barricades, marches/rallies); the set of tactics you can draw on.


What can we do online? What is our e-repertoire of contention?


Diffusion: “cyberdiffusion” – allow different movements to communicate with one another.Note: a quick search for “cyberdiffusion” produced predominantly French pages, with only 7 English results (Google). A good-looking article, From the streets to the Internet: the cyberdiffusion of contention by JM Ayres (1999) in Annuals 566, 132-143, doesn’t come up when I search for it…


Internet = resource (e.g., library) and venue (e.g., location of protest)

Avenue of communication

Venue for contestation (e.g., G8 rally; virtual Edinburgh)

Taken offline and reinterpreted in online space (rally in online world) ****relay for life****

“hothouses of innovation” – venues are small, techno-savvy organisations who create activist tactics and pass them on


Web 2.0 = repository for information to platform for service: building, searching (sharing material)

(e.g.,) Google = functional but developed with a new form of contestation (e.g., type in “Miserable Failure” and get an autobiography of George Bush): aka googlism/linking

Mobilise people around and issue

(e.g.,) Flickr = resources and venue; sharing (H2 “flipping the bird”), socialising (MySpace: Rock The Vote – engaging people in the demographic by using the tools that bring and link people; develop advocates, apostles and generate a movement; convert more people to the cause

(e.g.,) Second Life Liberation Army: based upon suffragette movement – American Apparel protest (Reebok protest)


social movements are key to identity and behaviour.

As online behaviour changes, our engagement as social activists in this space changes

These and other environments will remain rich sites for research.

They invite and extension of social movement methodologies, but also CHALLENGE these methodologies


~ by aleks on October 13, 2006.

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