Identity, technology, and narratives

Identity, technology, and narratives: Transnational activism and social networks

W. Lance Bennett & Amoshaun Toft

Social movement research often regards collective identity and collective action frames as central for movement development or decline. Yet the social fragmentation experienced by younger generations in late-modern societies suggests a decline in formal memberships and collective identities, and rising participation in loose-tie networks. Narratives play important roles in structuring these networks, but they may or may not operate as collective action frames brokered by leading organizations. Many action stories are open to highly personalized and diverse interpretations, enabling flexible relationships between individuals and organizations. In other cases, narratives flow through gatekeeping nodes in networks such as planning committees or network support organizations. Such narrative gatekeeping by leading network organizations can affect the diffusion of identity cues across networks, resulting in structural coherence or tensions. We examine three cases that suggest different contributions of communication technologies and narrative flow to the relationships among organizations and individual activists in mobilization networks: the global anti-war protests against the Iraq war; the planning and cancellation of a regional social forum; and a comparison of fair trade networks in the U.S. and the U.K.

Bennett, W. L., & Toft, A. (2008). Identity, technology and narratives: Transnational activism and social networks. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics (pp. 246-260). London: Routledge.

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