Word of the Day: Misogynoir

From Gradient Lair via ethiopienne:

Misogynoir is a word used to describe how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically. It alludes to specifically Black women’s experiences with gender and how both racism and anti-Blackness alters that experience diametrically from White women… and differently from non-Black women of colour….

I recently saw a thread of false information and non-Black women of colour co-opting to erase Black womanhood, Black women’s experiences and Black women’s epistemology from the concept of misogynoir. Again, the origin is in Blackwomanhood and the term was coined by a queer Black woman, Moya Bailey.

Read more…

image: Moya Bailey (in green), from http://www.mediamakechange.org

The Problem with Change-Making and Privilege

Nothing much is going to change in this world so long as the change-makers are middle class white people like me living in high income countries.  For us world-changing is a career choice, an ethical vacation opportunity.  At worst it is pure narcissism, a form of moral masturbation.  It is not a daily struggle for dignity or survival.

For we the privileged change-making is a matter of preference, not a matter of necessity, and for that reason it can never go far enough.

ETA (April 29): I should clarify that I do not believe that privileged people are the only change-makers.  I mean to say that privileged people have the greatest access to change-making resources, both in terms of financial resources from private donors and governments and access to technological resources, in terms of access to tools and ability to acquire the skills needed to use those tools effectively.

As long as the privileged absorb the majority of resources meant to empower and aid the less privileged, current inequalities will remain.

image: Flickr/mothersfightingforothers

Previous title: Something Else I Learned

Could Activism Be a Science?

Many would say no, because they understand science to be a system of broadly accepted methods which result in predictable outcomes. Activism is unpredictable, they would argue. It cannot be easily categorized.

But that is not what science is.

Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and (later) predictions.  It is a form of purposeful collective action that seeks to build knowledge through processes that use evidence as a means of establishing validity for arguments.

There is nothing particularly digital about a scientific recasting of activism, yet it is an ambition consonant with the digital age.  Digital technology – through massive storage, global transfer protocols, powerful computing methods, big data, and the immortal digital traces of mundane activity – encourages an audacious confidence in the knowability of the world.

It is not the digital quality of activism that makes it knowable.   It is the digital quality of activism that gives one the confidence to attempt to know.

Put this way, the question is not “could activism be a science”? The questions is, why is activism not yet a science, and how can we make it so?

image: Flickr/ Kaptain Kobold



Study Campaigns, Not Social Movements

Some people study the effects of digital media on social movements.  I don’t, I study campaigns.  Here’s why.

Social movements and campaigns are not interchangeable terms, yet they are connected. There are a range of interpretations of the term social movement, but the consensus definition requires organized collective action, some of which is extra-institutional, with change-oriented goals and some degree of continuity.  According to Charles Tilly, a campaign is “a sustained, organized public effort making collective claims on target authorities” and is one of the three constitutive elements of a social movement.  These definitions, unfortunately, underline the commonality between the concepts of social movement and campaign, rather than highlighting their differences.

For this reason, sociologist George Lakey’s description of the relationship between the campaign and the social movement is useful. According to Lakey, a campaign is a subsidiary unit of a social movement, with a goal that furthers the goals of the movement, but which is ancillary.

For example, the Civil Rights Movement is a twentieth-century social movement dedicated to racial equality in the United States. The Montgomery bus boycott was the most famous tactic of a multi-tactic campaign that was part of the Civil Rights Movement, and had the subsidiary goal of achieving racial equality in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, specifically with regard to the seating arrangements on public buses.

Because sociologists perceive campaigns to be a subsidiary unit of their primary unit of analysis the social movement, most of the literature on campaign success is actually literature on social movement success. Most measures of success in the literature are valid at multiple levels of analysis. However, some measures of social movement success are not relevant to the analysis of campaigns. Where a measure of success from the social movement literature is relevant to the study of campaigns, I will interpret and explicate it in context of campaigns.

There are two practical reasons for choosing campaigns as one’s unit of analysis if one’s concept of interest is success. The first is that there are simply more possible outcomes to look at.  Since each movement includes multiple campaigns, there are more of the latter than the former.

The second reason to study campaigns is that they end, which means they have clearer outcomes.  Movements are multi-year processes of collective action. Many of the most well-known, such as the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, the Global Justice Movement, and the Environmental Movement, are still in process. When a movement does “end,” it is often as a result of socially constructed periodization (as in the waves of the Women’s Movement) or “extinction,” a dire circumstance in which the movement loses its bargaining power.  Without an ending, it is hard to evaluate an outcome, since no result is final.

The paucity of units of analysis is also methodologically restrictive. Most studies of social movement outcomes are case studies that look at one (admittedly complex and multi-faceted) movement. Amenta and Young, for example, look at the Townsend Movement for old age pensions (1999). Mueller looks at the Women’s Movement (1987). Kitschelt looks at the Anti-Nuclear Movement (1986). Kolb looks at both the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Nuclear Movement (2007). The generalizability of findings is limited because the scope of the studies is narrow.

Studies that do comparative activism research at scale are rare, and scholars who undertake them are forced to reframe social movements into smaller units in order to do this work. In his famous 1975 study, Gamson took challenging groups (organizations seeking to mobilize social movements) as his unit of analysis. Drawing his population from histories and other studies of these groups, he was able to identify “between five and six hundred” groups between 1800 and 1945 (1990, p. 19). From this population he took a random sample of 53 groups to study.

More recent international comparative studies of activism have used the campaign, rather than the challenging group, as their unit of analysis. George Lakey’s Global Nonviolence Action Database included, at last count, case studies describing 830 nonviolent campaigns from before the birth of Christ to 2013. In their 2011 study on the effectiveness of nonviolence, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan made an international survey of all “maximalist” nonviolence campaigns between 1900 and 2006 whose objectives were regime change, the end of an occupation, or national succession. They found 323 campaigns that matched their inclusion criteria and all were included in the study.

The Global Digital Activism Data Set, v 2.0 (GDADS2), which I use in my research, follows the logic of Chenoweth and Lakey but, without the criteria of nonviolence or maximalism, draws from a much larger population. The 426 campaigns in the data set come from a relatively small time period, 2010 to 2012, and represent a purposive sample of the campaign population.

There is a lot of theory in the social movements literature that is relevant to the study of campaigns.  In fact, most of it is relevant.  However, I hope, for the reasons above, that more people decide to study campaigns.


Amenta, E., & Young, M. P. (1999). Making an impact: Conceptual and methodological implications of the collective goods criterion. In M. Giugni, D. McAdam, & C. Tilly (Eds.), How social movements matter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gamson, W. A. (1975). The strategy of social protest. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Kitschelt, H. P. (1986). Political opportunity structures and political protest: Anti-nuclear movements in four democracies. British Journal of Political Science, 16(01), 57–85.

Kolb, F. (2007). Protest and opportunities: the political outcomes of social movements. Frankfurt; New York: Campus Verlag.

Lakey, G. (2011, October 8). Campaigns, not movements. Global Nonviolent Action Database. Retrieved October 10, 2013, from http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/campaigns-not-movements

McAdam, D. (1999). Political process and the development of black insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mueller, Carol M. (1987). Collective consciousness, identity transformation, and the rise of women in public office in the United States. In M. F. Katzenstein & C. M. Mueller (Eds.), The Women’s movements of the United States and Western Europe: consciousness, political opportunity, and public policy (pp. 89–110). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Snow, D., Soule, S. A., & Kriesi, H. (2007). Mapping the terrain. In D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, & H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 462–488). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Tilly, C. (2004). Social movements, 1768-2004. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Image: Flickr/Floris M. Oosterveld

#2Q4: What I Want to Know About Digital Civil Society

Lucy Bernholz, founder of the new Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford, has some questions for us about how digital civil society affects our work and what else we’d like to understand about it.  Here’s my answer.

PS: And yes, I got a new hair cut.

Does Society Form Technology or Does Technology Form Society?

I’m currently taking Gina Neff‘s class on theories of technology and society.  If you’d like to read along, we read Langdon Winner‘s classic essay, “Do Artifacts have Politics?” (pdf) as well as selections from Arnold Pacey‘s The Culture of Technology.  (Although it wasn’t on the syllabus, I would also recommend Wiebe Bijker‘s  Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change.)

These readings address the debate between social determinism (also called social construction) and technological determinism:  Does society form technology or does technology form society?  When asked in this way, most of us would answer “both,”  but this is not usually how the argument goes.

There are eminent thinkers on both sides of the argument.  When Larry Diamond talks about “liberation technology” he is implicitly siding with Langdon Winner, who believes that technology can have embedded politics because it can require or be compatible with certain types of political systems.   People in the State Department who talk about “Internet freedom” are also of this stripe, since the term imputes the value of freedom to the technology of the Internet, in addition to implying that the Internet should be freely accessible.  Critics like Evgeny Morozov are firmly on the constructionist side of the spectrum: even the most beautiful technology can be made awful in Russia.

I think that both sides have a valid point. Technologies are indeed created by and connected to society, but they also have constraints and affordances that limit the roles and meanings they can have within that society.  

The Internet began in the Bay Area in the 1960’s, created for the purpose of connecting researchers at different corporate and academic institutions.  As the number and type of users increased, the value of the Internet expanded from one of research to one of business to one of entertainment and political expression.  These uses then came to shape what we believe about the meaning of the Internet.  While some people now justly fear the Internet because of the surveillance carried out through it, others see the Internet as a civic tool which repressive forces are encroaching upon.  Both are right.  The Internet is both threatened and threatens.  These beliefs then form the values of the people who build upon the Internet, and the cycle starts again.

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The model above tries to convey the cyclical, rather than oppositional, nature of social and technological determinism.  One can enter the cycle at any point, but one cannot free oneself from both the human agency of social construction and the human limitation of technological determinism that are inherent in the social meaning of technology.



An Argument for Studying the Civics of Code

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, has done some summer reading on civics in the digital age and presents us with his finding in a new post on his blog.  He presents previous conceptions of citizenship, such as the “informed citizen.”  He also notes that

…We’re seeing activists, particularly young activists, taking on issues through viral video campaigns, consumer activism, civic crowdfunding, and other forms of civic engagement that operate outside traditional political channels. Lance Bennett suggests that we might see these new activists as self-actualizing citizens, focused on methods of civic participation that allow them to see impacts quickly and clearly, rather than following older prescriptions of participation through the informed citizen model.

He also uses Lawrence Lessig’s sources of Internet constraint as means of defining the different spheres of civic action:

  • By laws, created and enforced by governments, which prohibit certain behaviors –
  • By norms, which are created by or emerge from societies, which favor certain behaviors over others
  • By markets, regulated and unregulated by laws, which make certain behaviors cheap and others expensive
  • By code and other architectures, which make some behaviors difficult and others easy to accomplish

My preference would be to study power, social change, and injustice “outside traditional political channels” in a way that references, but is not constrained by “older prescriptions of participation” like citizenship, civic engagement, and big-d Democracy. These systems are as likely to distract for the real issues of power within a society as they are to illuminate them, especially since these institutions were created in a historical period quite different from the current one.

Elections, citizenship, and the courts are the well-paved narrow paths laid before us, but they may not lead most quickly to our destination, if they lead there at all. Alternate paths to small-d democratic social influence – hacking and other digital direct action, social media campaigning – present a far broader and potentially more transformative means of changing the world.

Lessig’s typology works well as a means of categorizing the means of civc action, yet the have different histories of practice.  Elections and the courts, cultural norms (“the personal is political”), and even the markets have the locus of activism for many decades.  The arena of code is new. Since this arena of social change is the least understood, it is also the most likely source of as yet undiscovered civic innovation. This idea will likely still need to be defended in some quarters, especially against those who defined civic action in different ways in previous eras.

If an argument for focusing on the civics of code is needed, it might be that this focus does not belittle the other historical means of civic action. There is simply more that is unknown about the civics of code, which is the best motivation for any academic endeavor.

image:Flickr/ U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

The Future Isn’t Digital, It’s Hybrid

I was very hopeful when I saw this headline from a local Fox affiliate in Houston: Digital activism replacing marches and rallies in Houston.  The term “digital activism” rarely gets play in traditional media.

I thought the story  might be about how digital media was allowing activists to create more effective and innovative tactics.  Yet the story was more of the pessimism and misrepresentation that too often found in traditional media representations of digital activism.

The story was primarily an interview with a University of Houston sociologist, Luis Salinas.  About halfway through the article that classic term of cynicism and misrepresentation – “slacktivist” – popped up.

“The word is ‘slacktivist’ where somebody is just clicking on ‘like’ or retweeting something and that person really thinks they are really active in the issue. Doing it in person requires so much more effort so much more commitment in a certain sense,” said Salinas.

But when it comes to fighting for causes what Salinas sees as a digital half measure has the clear momentum to become the norm.

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Even the (in)famous Kony 2012 video was used to promote an offline postering event called “Cover the Night.”

The journalism also interviewed an activist, Quanell X, who agreed with Salinas. “Quanell X believes marches are being rendered obsolete,” wrote journalist Greg Groogan.

“20 or 25 years from now protests may not even take to the streets anymore. It may take a different form. You may see multiple protests in social media, but you will see very few in the streets,” said the veteran activist.

Yet this interpretation is disproved by many, many examples of digital media being used to plan and then amplify offline actions: the Arab Spring, 15M in Spain, Occupy. Even the (in)famous Kony 2012 video was used to promote an offline postering activity called “Cover the Night.”

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Ethiopian Muslims in London use Facebook to amplify an offline rally for religious autonomy in their homeland.

Digital media allows people to take political action from in front of their computers, this is true.  But the future of activism is much more likely to be hybrid –  a mix of digital and offline tools and tactics.  This is the future that is emerging today.  It would have been nice to see the Fox journalist cover the other side of the story.


Cross-posted from the Digital Activism Research Project 

Activism of Bits / Activism of Bodies

Australian digital campaigning organization GetUp! is getting heavy criticism.  The organization, similar to MoveOn.org in the US, is fighting the privatization of public broadcasting and some people aren’t happy about it.  Their members aren’t just being called “clicktivists,” a familiar taunt, they’re being called “sheep.”

A GetUp! staffer recently defended the group and its tactics.  “Online activism is about so much more than clicking” writes Sam McLean.

Some 120,000 Australians signed our petition for better mental health funding – but that was never going to succeed alone. But those who signed then used the internet to organise 120 candlelight vigils in local communities, to meet with local MPs and share their stories, to raise more than $200,000 to fund a TV national advertising campaign, and to install a giant candle message on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. All organised by clicking.

Bits and bodies exist within the same world. Activists need to figure our how to combine them, not choose between them.

Zeynep Tufekci of UNC Chapel Hill has written about “breaking digital dualism.”  Online and offline space are analytically different, but exist within the same world.  “Bits and atoms have different properties” she notes. “[T]heir current integration creates many novel configurations we have not yet adapted to as societies.”

An e-petition is often a good idea, but so is physically visiting a decision-maker or holding a rally.  Activism requires tactics that rely on bits and tactics that rely on bodies.

We are not in a battle between online and offline activism.  We are struggling to find a mix that is effective.

Activists, who are more interested in results that rhetoric, understand this.  It’s commentators who muddy the waters, presenting the activism of bits and the activism of bodies as a cage match, when it’s really more of a collaboration.

Image: Flickr/robef


The Organizational Needs of 21st Century Movements

A journalist from the Bulgarian weekly Капитал contacted me earlier this week about the anti-government protests currently going on there. (Global Voices has excellent coverage.)  One question about activist organization really got me thinking.

“The activists on the rise now are mainly advocates, journalists, NGO professionals, PR people, environmentalists,” she wrote, “little professional groups that are believed [sic.] to build a new, stronger civil society. Do you believe they can create something enduring without a political party to back them up?

This question of the organizational requirements of 21st century movements has received a lot of attention.  There has been much discussion of leaderless movements, as well as complications of that interpretation.

Egypt’s National Salvation Front: between an informal network and a formal political party, capable of mobilization but not governance.

In Egypt, after the 2011 revolution, the only entities with the organizational capacity to govern were the  Muslim Brotherhood and the military.  The young, secular revolutionaries lacked that capacity, so the army and Brotherhood took control.  Though the revolutionaries have formalized somewhat into the National Salvation Front  (a 35-group coalition lead by Mohamed ElBaradei which organized the anti-Morsi protests), they still did not have the power to govern and so the army has once again stepped in.

So what are the organizational requirements of loosely-connected networked movements?  How formalized do they need to be to succeed?

It depends. The organizational requirements of a movement are dependent on the organizational demands of that movement. If the activists believe that existing politicians and political parties can implement the change they seek, then they only need the organizational power to persuade.

However, if they do not trust the current political actors to make the changes they desire, if they want to take the reigns of power and make those changes themselves, then they need the power not only to persuade but to implement.  The power to implement is much more organizationally demanding, and a loose civic coalition would not be sufficient.

Though it is outrageously difficult, achieving the resignation of a head of state is actually organizationally easier than running a government.  The former task requires the ability to convince individual citizens to put their bodies in public space until demands are met.  The latter requires budgeting, management of complex bureaucracy, engaging with both foreign and domestic interests on a variety of issues, from monetary policy to trade to social programs, understanding both written and unwritten institutional operating norms, along with the able to follow them.

No networked movement – not Occupy, not Egypt’s revolutionaries, not 15M in Spain – have been able to formalize to the extent that they can take the reigns of government in a democratic system.  Governance is not only more complex than networked activism, it is also qualitatively different.  The former is hierarchical, the latter flat.  The former has massive formalized structure and slow-moving processes, the latter is flexible and centerless.

Being able to govern (if that is what these movements want) means not only greater organizational capacity, but different organizational capacity and throwing off some of their flat, ad hoc, networked nature in order to be interoperable with the pre-digital structures of government.

Image: Facebook via Aswat Masriya

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