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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

#WhySpaceMatters: Spatial Analysis of Communicative Practices and the Occupation of Urban Space in Contemporary Activism

Social Movements
Social Media
Political Activism
Merlyna Lim
Carleton University
Merlyna Lim
Carleton University

In the last decade we have witnessed numerous protests and mass movements take place across the globe. The causes, goals, and relative success or failure of each differ. But each event was intricately networked through the use of social media and each materialized in the mass occupation of public urban spaces. Although these commonalities are widely known, the connection between these two features remains inadequately studied. How can we better understand the interplay between communication practices and the occupation of urban spaces? How do spaces contribute to insurgent activism? To what extent do contemporary activism need both cyberspace and physical space to assert influence within a political state? In responding to these questions, I argue for a more spatially sensitive understanding of the relationship between social media and political activism. Much of current research on social media and activism tends to treat cyberspace as a technical realm separate from physical space and delocalize what are intensely contextually specific contestations. In this presentation, I take on communication, spatial, and historical analysis to offer an in-depth understanding of the relationship between social movements, (social media driven) communicative practices, and actions on the ground. Using empirical evidence from the Global South, I offer both conceptual and methodological frameworks for investigating the dialectical interplay between communicative spaces and physical spaces in the making and doing of contemporary political activism. By so doing, I wish to investigate how global connectivity and flows of information shape and challenge our traditional notions of collective action and social movement; to add an important spatial dimension to the study of digital media and society; to generate an innovative methodological approach in studying communicative practices for contemporary activism, and to fill the gap in the literature of digital media and activism in the non-Western context, especially the Global South.
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