Category Archives: Articles & Papers

Navigating the Technology-Media-Movements Complex

Flesher Fominaya, Cristina and Kevin Gillan. 2017. ‘Navigating the Technology-Media-Movements Complex’. Social Movement Studies 16(4):383–402.
Abstract: In this article we develop the notion of the technology-media-movements complex (TMMC) as a field-definition statement for ongoing inquiry into the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social and political movements. We consider the definitions and boundaries of the TMMC, arguing particularly for a historically rooted conception of technological development that allows better integration of the different intellectual traditions that are currently focused on the same set of empirical phenomena. We then delineate two recurrent debates in the literature highlighting their contributions to emerging knowledge. The first debate concerns the divide between scholars who privilege media technologies, and see them as driving forces of movement dynamics, and those who privilege media practices over affordances. The second debate broadly opposes theorists who believe in the emancipatory potential of ICTs and those who highlight the ways they are used to repress social movements and grassroots mobilization. By mapping positions in these debates to the TMMC we identify and provide direction to three broad research areas which demand further consideration: (i) questions of power and agency in social movements; (ii) the relationships between, on the one hand, social movements and technology and media as politics (i.e. cyberpolitics and technopolitics), and on the other, the quotidian and ubiquitous use of digital tools in a digital age; and (iii) the significance of digital divides that cut across and beyond social movements, particularly in the way such divisions may overlay existing power relations in movements. In conclusion, we delineate six challenges for profitable further research on the TMMC.
An open access version will be available once copyright allows, via University of Manchester.

2010+: The rejuvenation of new social movement theory?

Review essay:

  • della Porta, Donatella. 2015. Social Movements in Times of Austerity: Bringing Capitalism Back into Protest Analysis. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Castells, Manuel. 2015. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Second Edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

The first half of this decade has seen a tremendous wave of protest. The universally recognised spark of the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010. Since then we’ve seen the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, protests turn to civil wars in Syria and Libya, the uprisings of the indignadas of Spain and the Occupiers of Wall Street (and passim), the Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong, a range of new movements in Brazil, Chile and Mexico, and much else besides. If we understand this ‘movement of the streets and the squares’ as a coherent global wave of protest, what exactly does it signify? The two books under review offer interpretations of the most recent wave of protest that may help answer this most central question.

Open access version available at University of Manchester.

Original, definitive version: Gillan, Kevin. 2017. ‘2010+: The Rejuvenation of New Social Movement Theory?Organization 24(2):271–74.

Special Issue: Technology, Media and Social Movements.

Published in 2017 as Social Movement Studies 16(4). Editors: Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Kevin Gillan.

Table of Contents:

The Difficult and Hopeful Ethics of Research on, and with, Social Movements

Abstract: This article explores a number of key questions that serve to introduce this special issue on the ethics of research on activism. We first set out the limitations of the bureaucratic response to ethical complexities in our field. We then examine two approaches often used to justify research that demands time consuming and potentially risky participation in research by activists. We label these approaches the ethic of immediate reciprocity and the ethic of general reciprocity and question their impacts. We note, in particular, the tendency of ethics of reciprocity to preclude research on ‘ugly movements’ whose politics offends the left and liberal leanings predominant among movement researchers. The two ethics also imply different positionalities for the researcher vis-à-vis their subject movement which we explore, alongside dilemmas thrown up by multiple approaches to knowledge production and by complex issues of researcher and activist identities. The overall move to increasing complexity offered by this paper will, we hope, provide food for thought for others who confront real-world ethical dilemmas in fields marked by contention. We also hope that it will encourage readers to turn next to the wide range of contributions offered in this issue.

This article, with Jenny Pickerill, was published in Social Movement Studies. An open access version is available via the University of Manchester.

Cite: Gillan, Kevin and Jenny Pickerill. 2012. ‘The Difficult and Hopeful Ethics of Research on, and with, Social Movements’. Social Movement Studies 11(2):133–43.

Party organizational change and ICTs: The growth of a virtual grassroots?

Gibson, Rachel K., Kevin Gillan, Fabienne Greffet, Benjamin J. Lee, and Stephen Ward. 2013. ‘Party Organizational Change and ICTs: The Growth of a Virtual Grassroots?New Media & Society 15(1):31–51.

Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between unofficial party blogs and official party sources in the UK using a mixed-method approach. Specifically we combine interview data with content analysis, user surveys and usage data, and finally hyperlink analysis to profile the emergence, popularity, audience and online prominence of four major party blogs since 2005. The core question posed is how far the blogs are challenging parties as the focal point for member activism and offering an alternative public ‘voice’. The findings show blogs occupy an important alternative critical space for party debate, particularly outside elections. They are not mobilizing tools, however, being used by the grassroots largely for information-gathering and discussion purposes.

The authoritative final version is available via SAGE.

The open access version of this paper is available here: Gibson-etal-2013-NMS-AAM

Special Issue: The Ethics of Research on Activism

Published in 2012 as Social Movement Studies 11(2). Editors: Kevin Gillan & Jenny Pickerill.

From the editors’ introduction (with Jenny Pickerill):

“This article explores a number of key questions that serve to introduce this special issue on the ethics of research on activism. We first set out the limitations of the bureaucratic response to ethical complexities in our field. We then examine two approaches often used to justify research that demands time consuming and potentially risky participation in research by activists. We label these approaches the ethic of immediate reciprocity and the ethic of general reciprocity and question their impacts. Continue reading Special Issue: The Ethics of Research on Activism

Exploring hyperlink networks with Issue Crawler: methodological issues

Paper at: Workshop on method(s): challenges of on-line research.

Abstract:

This presentation will introduce Issue Crawler software as a methodological tool for examining hyperlink networks. The software identifies sets of websites with dense connections around particular issues. Generated data allows the use of social network analysis techniques to understand the structure of the web. The talk will identify some of the methodological issues raised by the tool and also present some data from a recent study of anti-war websites. Some of this work has been published as Gillan, K. (2009) “The UK Anti-War Movement Online: Uses and Limitations of Internet Technologies for Contemporary Activism,” Information, Communication & Society 12(1): 25-43.

Slides available from RICC Workshop on Methods website.

We fought the law… and won!

The European Court of Human Rights today issued its judgement on the case that Penny Quinton and I have been taking against the government over section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They have agreed that this piece of legislation offends against Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and does not contain sufficient safeguards Continue reading We fought the law… and won!

Moral Business: Changing Corporate Behaviour by ‘Speaking Their Language’

Paper presented to the European Sociological Association General Conference, Lisbon, September 2009.

Abstract:

The academic publisher Reed Elsevier also organised the world’s largest defence exhibitions. The exhibitions themselves have regularly met vibrant street protests, and from 2005 campaigners targeted the corporate organisers. A coordinated network of anti-arms trade activists, academics, medical professionals and institutional shareholders formed a multifaceted campaign that sought to persuade the corporation to change its behaviour on its own terms. After initial intransigence Continue reading Moral Business: Changing Corporate Behaviour by ‘Speaking Their Language’

Direct Action, Democracy and Individualism

Paper for presentation at the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference, 15-17th April 2009, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Abstract:

Direct action (DA) is often considered to be a tactical approach to protest, utilised in the service of a wide range of causes. More recently, the notion that DA forms the basis of a radical social movement of itself has gained some currency (e.g. Doherty, Plows and Wall 2003). This paper argues that we should rather understand DA as an orientational frame: a structure of normative beliefs that can form a guide to understanding and action in a variety of contexts (Gillan 2008).
Examining documentary sources on the British DA tradition and ethnographic data from recent instances of DA protest against globalisation and war, I identify the core beliefs that hold the DA frame together. Three elements in particular are identified. First, DA is based on a fundamental belief in individual freedom that motivates an evaluation of the individual moral culpability of both protest participants and their opponents. Second, DA groups have an attitude to decentralised, non-representative decision making that offers a particular understanding of democracy. Third, DA involves the re-imagining of political space as grassroots collective constructs free from systems of domination, that are consciously sought or created by DA groups.
Exploration of these key ideational elements will offer two benefits. First, we will see how the interaction and translation of ideas within particular contexts shapes the possibilities and constraints that movement participants encounter. Second, this analysis opens up possibilities for comparison with (and critique from) more obviously ideological structures of belief.

You can download a pdf version of this paper from: Direct Action, Democracy and Individualism (PDF).