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Sustaining political action in transnational activist networks: a spatial approach to collective identity construction

Priska Daphi
University of Bielefeld
Priska Daphi
University of Bielefeld
Open Panel

Abstract

While the use of digital media facilitates the formation of transnational activist networks, it poses problems for collective identity construction and with it for sustaining political action. A network’s capacity to sustain political action crucially depends on some (not necessarily coherent) collective identity. This is also the case for transnational activist networks despite their heterogeneity in terms of issues and ideology. The difficulty of collective identity construction is centrally due to the lack of a shared spatial base as transnational activist networks are characterised by their geographical dispersion. The paper explores the consequences of at a distance communication for collective identity construction and proposes a spatial approach to collective identity construction in transnational activist networks. Firstly, the proposed spatial approach draws on the observation that space does not lose its significance despite the growing transcendence of geographical space. However, its role in transnational activist networks needs to be reconsidered. While concrete geographical spaces are also crucial in transnational activist networks as face-to-face interaction facilitates trust and affinity, space here plays a different role. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of interaction lacks physical co-presence. Consequently, the paper proposes a particular conceptualisation of space based on a critical assessment of the social movement literature’s use of the term. The author argues that in order to explain collective identity construction in transnational activist networks space should neither be reduced to social space nor to an action constituting structure. On the one hand, a conflation of social and geographical space impedes analysing differences between geographically dispersed and concentrated interaction. On the other hand, reducing space to an action constituting structure neglects the social constitution of space. The latter is particularly relevant for collective identity construction in transnational activist networks as a shared space here requires constructional effort.