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From social movements to cloud protesting: the evolution of collective identity

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This article develops a conceptual framework for understanding collective action in the age of social media, focusing on the role of collective identity and the process of its making. It is grounded on an interactionist approach that considers organized collective action as a social construct with communicative action at its core [Melucci, A. 1996. Challenging codes: Collective action in the information age. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press]. It explains how micromobilization is mediated by social media, and argues that social media play a novel broker role in the activists' meaning construction processes. Social media impose precise material constraints on their social affordances, which have profound implications in both the symbolic production and organizational dynamics of social action. The materiality of social media deeply affects identity building, in two ways: firstly, it amplifies the ‘interactive and shared’ elements of collective identity (Melucci, 1996), and secondly, it sets in motion a politics of visibility characterized by individuality, performance, visibility, and juxtaposition. The politics of visibility, at the heart of what I call ‘cloud protesting’, exacerbates the centrality of the subjective and private experience of the individual in contemporary mobilizations, and has partially replaced the politics of identity typical of social movements. The politics of visibility creates individuals-in-the-group, whereby the ‘collective’ is experienced through the ‘individual’ and the group is the means of collective action, rather than its end.
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Keywords: collective identity; computer-mediated-communication; politics of visibility; social media; social movements

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Publication date: August 3, 2015

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