Pazar, Kasım 02, 2014

How Sembiotic Is The Relationship Between Social Media and Social Movements? - Erhan Özcan


 “Series of resistance exhibited by Arab people are associated with the very own endogenous dynamics and social characteristics of the countries in the region. Changes in political conjuncture of countries in the region such as Tunisia and Egypt in the recent period are masterpieces of a set of instances such as experience and ability to organize, mobilize and pioneer, putting political intelligence into effect, practicing communicative skills, social media literacy and internet use. Social media does not have a self-proclaimed revolutionary aspect; it is only called upon frequently on functional terms in communicational coordination of opposing movements.”

How Sembiotic Is The Relationship Between Social Media and Social Movements?
(Published in Socio Cri’ 14 / Sociolgy and Critical Perspectives On Social Movements ISBN: 978-605-9941-22-8 Pages: 209-225)

The relationship between social movements and communication media appears to become prominent as there supposedly lies the potentiality of a societal transformation. It is easy to observe that political activists utilize new media as an onset to give voice to their discontent about public issues and mobilize thousands of protestors into city squares and streets. In this regard, arguments towards the relationship between digital networks and collective movements from a technological deterministic perspective seem to became prevalent.
Social movements, Digital activism, Cultural citizenship, Citizen journalism, Social media


As a socio-spatial realm, social movements follow a temporal trajectory and can be described (…) as moments of collective creation that provide societies with ideas, identities, and even ideals’ (Eyerman and Jamison, 1991, p.4). For these ideas, identities and even ideals to be heard of publicly, communication media are needed. To this effect, we can put forward that communication media historically teamed up well with social movements serving under distinctive media forms. As of 1970s, these media forms have underwent dramatic changes with the arrival of ICTs which also redefined civic practices and responsibilities. To this respect, inclusion of new terms into our daily agendas such as “digital activism”, “cultural citizenship” and “citizen journalism” took place. Social movements unwaveringly employ communcation technologies to facilitate organization, mobilization and command of the course of street protests. Role of ICTs are beyond shadow of a doubt. However, there seems to be a tendency to overrate or even sanctify this role of ICTs. Taking into account the role of Web 2.0 which enables social networks in mediating social movements, in this paper I will focus on the question of to what extent social media contributes to social movements by exemplifying recent social movements that occurred in Egypt, Turkey, Iran and the Philippines. In this sense, the use of different forms of social media in various social movement phenomenons and their efficiency will be discussed.

In the first section of this paper, the term “social movement” will be explained and the relationship between social movements and media will be argued. Following that, concepts such as “activism”, “citizenship” and “journalism” which are transformed by the new media will be elucidated. Finally the strategic importance of social media in social movements will be debated by referring to different forms of social movements staged in different parts of the world.

  1. Old-new” Social Movements
Social movements emerged in paralel with the history of humankind and transpired in order for various demands to be voiced in various ways. They signal
collectivities acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture, or world order of which they are a part (Snow et al., 2004, p.11).

Though as concept social movements underscores collectivity, an individual or an ideo-political movement itself can also take political actions for right-claiming. On the one hand, social movements open up opportunities for miscellaneous public spheres, on the other hand ‘as a room enabled by political sphere, singals the existence of a facet upon which life pieces, experiences, demands and slogans play on’ (Baker, 2012, p.20).

As a concept, social movements was first time pronounced by Lorens Von Stein who ‘is one of the first non-socialist social scientist to have given a critical analysis of the forces of capitalism and have predicted the social tensions of future decades’ (Mengelberg, 1967, p.20). In this way, he introduced paved the way for the inclusion of the notion; fight for social prosperity into the field of sociology. However, social movements can’t be limited to social welfare rights. In fact, they are farreaching.

It can be said that social movements may tragically vary in terms of demand and contextual-related specificities. Nevertheless we can at large categorize social movements as follows; feminist movements, ecological movements, anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements, labour class movements, anti-racism and nationalism movements, animal rights movements and minority rights movements.

There are myriad debates questioning the historical origins of social movements. According to some sociologists ‘within the context of Western societies, crux of social movements is grounded on the French Revolution and reactions showed by crowds being in tumult, acting blindly and exceeding the limits’ (Tarrow, 1998, p.10). Assumptions concerning origins of social movements tend to be related to events and developments only emerging in Western world. As a term, it is ethnocentric and literature thereof is predominantly Western. That’s to say that ‘an orientalistic approach exhibited towards to non-European societies and their histories. Besides, neither a tradition of opposition nor of a resistance made mention thereof’ (Çetinkaya, 2008, p.42). None of the grassroots movements came about in non-Western societies haven’t been categorized as social movements. It stems from a point of view which relates dynamics of social movements only to historical events namely modernism and industrialism exclusive to the West.

Rationale employed to explain and classify social movements pertains to peculiar historical timeframes and unique social contexts dwelling therein. In particular, according to a hegemonic paradigm observed before World War II, the kernel of social movements used to be consisted of anti-capitalist ideologies designed against pro-capitalist ideologies and its world order. For Hank and his colleagues, these anti-capitalist ideologies were necessary for these movements to have organized, taken action, voiced falsity and injustice (Hank et al., 1999, p.151). These movements also labelled as “old social movements” are right-claiming struggles practiced under leadership of labour class with an aim to establish a socioeconomicly egalitarian societial order which required a long haul and a host of battering social praxis processes. These thorny struggles shaking off bourgeoisie reap the sought benefits in the end. Yet, times came and bourgeoisie settled the score by putting neoliberal policies in operation which gradually took effect as of 1970s. It was accompanied by globalization process resulted in either termination or chop of many of the acquisitions of labour class acquired along the struggles.

Experiences had along 1970s brought about a paradigmatic turn with respect to social movements which lays the foundation for the birth of “new social movements” also termed “third generation movements”
marked off from the characteristics of earlier social movements, especially the labour movement. Whereas the labour movement, for example sought to achieve specific economic gains from the captalist class and to pressure governments into legislation and policy initiatives that its leaders would benefit the rank and file, NSM had no such calculated material outcome (Downing et al., 2001, p. 24).

Actors of new social movements often don’t tend to see, interpret the world and public issues in the scope of traditional political binary oppositions namely “left/right” ideologies. Instead, they tend to perceive each and every single public issues which they see and name to be related to their “world life” and take action to politicise them. Here quoting Habermas, ‘new social movements differently from “economic and social internal affairs and military security” focus on issues such as “standart of living, equal rights, self-realization, engagement and human rights’ (Habermas, 2001, p.849). Therefore, we can say that new social movements are rather related with identity politics such as “feminism, lgbt rights, antiracism, antinuclearism and ecologism”.

Hereto social movements has been attempted to clarify based on arguments asserting a dualist “old-new” dialectics seemingly partitioned these movements as old and new. Yet, we also need to take Klandermans’ arguments into consideration. Klandermans claims that ‘arguing new social movements as a form of organization differing from conventional correspondents would be a vulgar simplification. New social movements utilize opportunities and resources provided by old movements’ (Klandermans cited in Coşkun,2006, p.152). To put it differently, level of success and effictuality of current movements may highly increase by rejoicing in both theoretical and practical capital gathered in old movements. It is also predicable that a repertoire of skills acquired along fought movements ranging from control and organization of dynamics of civil disobedience actions to building mobilizations of masses, to commanding collective action with timely and rational interventions may be key factors to keep unpredictable explosion of masses on track.

In the hypocentre of new social movements also lies bourgeoisie and its world order as targeted elements. Since capitalism continues to produce (new) victims under new forms by increasing intensity of exploitation of labour, creating new sophisticated ways to commodify hearts and minds, bodies, social relations, natural resources and etc. Old and new social movements don’t display a vertical breakaway and in fact they have an inextricable relation. I believe that a repertoire of material and immaterial resources along with default zones created respectively by these movements nourished/will nourish each other.