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Occupy: The Important Story is Who We Are

Bob Boynton
University of Iowa
Bob Boynton
University of Iowa

Abstract

I would like to trace the spread of the occupy movement from its earliest activities in September of 2011 through the subsequent months. Tracing the spread involves showing the places it was appearing through time. That is a mapping operation. But the reason for tracing the spread is to examine the story they were telling about who they were as the spread was happening. I believe who we are and what we are about is fundamental to any social movement. We are story tellers, and stories are the way we understand who we are and what we are doing. This is narrative analysis, and there is substantial scholarly writing about narratives and social movements. As far as I can ascertain no one has attempted to look at the public messages people were writing -- Twitter -- to put together the narratives. Networks grow to the extent that the content themes traveling across them are open to easy personalization and sharing those appropriated memes with trusted others. Personal memes travel more easily across various network barriers than more exclusive frames that require adopting collective identity. (Bennett and Segerberg) I do not believe this to be wrong, but I do believe it is incomplete. "Content themes" and "appropriated memes" and "personal memes" are not enough. The grounds for arguing that it is incomplete is our understanding of communication. No word or phrase stands alone. They are always part of a broad cultural understanding that gives them meaning. And that is where the stories come in. Stories are an important way that we come to the cultural understanding that lets words and phrases have meaning. So, I want to track the Twitter messages that announce a new occupy has happened to recount the story they were telling to themselves and others. I have a reasonably complete collection of the Twitter messages mentioning Occupy(wherever) for the five or six months that I will trace the story.