Networked Protests: A Review of Social Movement Literature and the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement

Networked Protests: A Review of Social Movement Literature and the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement

Emily Stacey (Swansea University, Swansea, Wales, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJCESC.2015070103
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This article explores social movement theory and attempts to modernize and explain contemporary movements with consideration of the digital tools being utilized by citizens on the ground. The ability to transcend borders and traditional boundaries using digital media, to facilitate international participation and develop communication, and the dissemination of information and coordination among activist networks around the world is hugely important. This article asserts that modern contentious collective actions and contemporary movements have received an infusion of autonomy and grassroots energy fueled by digital technologies, and social networking platforms.
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Social Movement Theory: Traditional To Digital

Many contemporary political scientists and social movement theorists have recognized the significant transition in the communicative process and organizational aspects of collective action (i.e.: social movements) brought about by globalization and the rise of digital technologies (Castells 2009, 2012; Tilly, 2003; Etling, Faris & Palfrey, 2010; Steklenberg et al., 2013). Yet there remains a disconnect between the research conducted focusing on new technologies and instances of contentious collective action in identifying these contemporary events, how they are organized using online tactics, and how then, these movements are able to transcend the confinements of the online and move action to the streets. The characteristics that define both social and political movements do not adequately describe modern collective action, and more specifically, do not characterize the movements of the Umbrella Movement (2014). While we have new jargon such as “networked movement” or “hybrid movement” (Castells 2009, 2012), there is a lack of critical analysis detailing the shift in organizational and tactical opportunities as well as the criteria of new social and political movements.

This work asserts that modern contentious collective actions and contemporary movements have received an infusion of autonomy and grassroots energy that has been fueled by the internet, digital technologies and social networking platforms. This infusion has led to the detachment of movement networks from traditional organizational structures (NGOs, political parties) that focus on resource mobilization and hierarchical forms of power toward increasingly bottom-up, people-oriented and coordinated protest organizations. Modern movement organizations are utilizing preexisting networks while developing new ones via social networking sites (SNSs) and digital technologies to “express claims, build solidarities, and challenge (existing) repertoires” (Tilly & Tarrow, 2007, P. 108). Research has shown as transformations occur in society (emphasis here on globalization), the manner in which citizens are able to consume and disseminate information shifts. These shifts in communicative modes within the digital age have allowed for the instantaneous organization of citizens (whether for protest or flash mobs of dancers in public spaces) using cellphones, SMS, wireless internet and social media platforms (Rheingold, 2003; Castells, 2009, 2012). These tools have reorganized the manner in which movement networks are able to reach potential participants locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Social movements are a distinctive form of contentious politics that involve collectively making claims, which if realized, would conflict with someone else’s interests. Politically, the government factor into the claim-making process, whether as claimants, objects of claims, allies of the objects or monitors of contention (Tilly, 2004, P. 3). It is widely accepted that social movements set up organizations, recruit participants, craft messages, foster collective solidarities, gain publicity and mount campaigns in order to confront an opponent (Della Porta, 2009). Thus, social movement research is often based upon the assumption that parties engaged in conflict “act instrumentally with respect to their goals and strategically towards each other with the outcome dependent on the balance of power among the relationships” (Johnston, 2009, P. 105). Social movements and movement networks in general, expand with rise of democratic (political) opportunities. Social movements occurred as democratization spread and waned when authoritarian regimes curtailed democratic rights and continued to do so in the 20th century (Tilly 2003, 2004).

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