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Collective Action Socio-technical Systems. Studying the Nexus between Social Media and Political Participation through a Multidimensional Network Approach

Elena Pavan
Università degli Studi di Trento
Elena Pavan
Università degli Studi di Trento

Abstract

This paper addresses the nexus between social media and political participation looking in particular at the transformations of collective action relational systems that are brought about by the ubiquitous presence and extensive use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Indeed, current levels of embeddedness of ICTs in all of our daily practices, in parallel with continuous technological development and the migration of the Internet on mobile devices, facilitate the creation of contacts and relations amongst citizens, activists and organizations thus fostering the rise of (global) communication networks which enrich offline networks of action with a wide and fluid relational milieu where to pursue social change transcending space, time and resources limitations. In such a context, collective action efforts become hybrid, as they are nurtured by both on- and offline actions, and multidimensional, as they result from the interplay between social and technological elements. Starting from these premises, we propose to understand online activism played out within communication networks not as a substitution for but, rather, as an implementation of offline activism. In order to put online activism in perspective and to move towards its systematic analysis, we propose the idea of collective action socio-technical systems (CASTS), i.e., systems of collective political participation that result from the interplay between networks of social relations underpinning mobilization efforts and the networked technological infrastructure upon which they are built. Within CASTS, social-media-enabled forms of activism become one of the components of a complex collective action system, one that is aimed, first and foremost, at the construction of a collective identity guiding the mobilization effort. Thus we propose to investigate empirically social-media-enabled activism through a multidimensional network approach, for which actors in the mobilizations are linked together in various ways depending on the platform used thus providing different contributions to the collective effort.