Call for Paper for the Workshop on “Collective Action On-line: Theories and Methods” – ECPR Joint Sessions Mainz – March 11-16 2013


Workshop Director:

Lance Bennett & Helen Margetts

Please submit your proposal by 5th November 2012

The early years of the 21st century have brought a burst of collective action, from the mobilizations of the Arab Spring, to protests in the wake of the financial crash of 2008. Beyond protest, loose networks of interest groups, some of them existent almost entirely online, are pressurizing governments for policy change. And in less stable states in the south, technology enabled networks are creating capacities for reporting violence, disease and other social problems normally managed by governments.

The Internet has figured in almost all of this collective activity. As citizens live increasing proportions of their social, economic and political lives on-line, an array of social media platforms have proved themselves as important fora for collective action, reducing the costs of organization, and even creating organizational structure through massive networks of ‘weak ties.’ In the 2011 Oxford UK Internet Survey ‘posting political content on social media sites’ jumped into the ladder of political participation, with 10 per cent of Internet users claiming to have done so.

Investigation of the mechanics of online participatory behaviour, along with its offline practices and related technologies is vital to our understanding of contemporary collective action. Perhaps surprisingly, there has been no workshop investigating the relationship between use of the Internet and collective action during the last two ECPR Joint Sessions. Meanwhile, there is a growing body of methodologically innovative research in this area. Just as the Internet facilitates collective activity, it also has the potential to generate large scale datasets of real-time transactional data that tells us what people are really doing, as opposed to survey data which tells us what people think they did or might do. The new work in these areas involves rich questions, innovative methods and sophisticated uses of network analylsis (see for example Etling et al, 2009; Hindman, 2008; Gonzalez Bailon et al, 2011; Salganik et al, 2006; Margetts et al, 2011; Bennett and Segerberg 2011).

At the same time, the development of our theoretical understanding has lagged behind empirical research, in part because of epistemological gaps between those with technical skills and those with more traditional social science grounding. Multi-disciplinary teams have been formed to carry out this kind of research, but there is a need for more generalized cross-fertilization of ideas among researchers investigating contemporary collective action. Developing a cross-disciplinary network of scholars is the goal of this workshop. We invite scholars to address the following questions, among others:

• What are the connective mechanisms of collective action in the digital age?

• How does digitally networked collective action play out in different conditions?

• How does digitally enabled collective action differ from more socially intensive processes?

• How does collective action on-line change our understanding of political communication?

• Does collective action on-line create new challenges for theories of democratic participation and representation?

• What policy implications flow from online forms of political and civic organization?

The aim of the workshop is to involve both normative and empirical scholars, discussing the most interesting research questions and the most appropriate methods to answer them. It will draw on the theoretical work so far developed (for example, Lupia and Sin, 2003; Bimber et al, 2006; Bennet and Segerberg, 2011; Segerberg Bennett, 2011); empirical research into civic engagement and political participation online (such as Mossberger et al 2008; Borge and Cardenal, 2011); and the analysis of online social networks using both experimental and ‘big data’ approaches (Centola, 2010; Aral and Walker, 2010; Gonzalez Bailon et al, 2011;Margetts et al, 2011). Comparative studies of mobilizations in different countries and on different social media platforms will be particularly encouraged in order to facilitate generalization and theoretical development.

Likely participants: The proposal for a workshop on this topic was discussed at the last meeting of the ECPR Internet and Politics standing group at the ECPR general conference in Reykavik in 2011 and the group gave its full support. The group has also endorsed this proposal. The standing group will therefore provide an excellent base for recruiting participants and the workshop will be well publicized at the Policy and Internet conference in Oxford in September 2012, at which a meeting of the standing group will take place. However, the Workshop Directors will also undertake a far wider search for papers, using other ECPR groups (e.g. the standing group on Forms of Participation) and the large-scale research networks of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Centre for Communication and Civic Engagement, as well as wider political science and political communication networks.

We hope to recruit from the mainstream of political science, giving established theorists the opportunity to interact with methodologists working with large datasets generated from the Internet.


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