Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Broad, David B.
Pub Date: 09/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Fall-Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 3-4
Topic: NamedWork: Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Earl, Jennifer; Kimport, Katrina
Accession Number: 279722821
Full Text: Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change:Activism in the InternetAge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. viii + 258 pages. Cloth, $32.00.

The publication date of this volume, and the current review, are both in the year 2011, but even though this review is being written with barely half the year gone by, everything has changed. In two words: Arab Spring. Digitally enabled social change 1s now a global phenomenon. This volume references societies other than the United States, but always within the context of how they and the United States are related and how the worldwide web mediates that relationship with, for example, China (p. 84), the United Kingdom (p. 112), Hong Kong (p. 166), and South Africa (p. 198). Now that digitally enabled social change has occupied the astounding new stage of the Arab world, much rethinking will occur. While it may be unusual to begin a review with the exceptions, the impact of the events and scope of Arab Spring impose many questions.

The present volume is a report of an expansive empirical investigation of how e-tactics are shaping the political culture of American democracy. The authors sampled 147 Web sites that were identified as organizational platforms for petitions, letter-writing campaigns boycotts and/or political protest. They utilized a two-type typology of such sites with one type being warehouse sites which host a number of such activities and are easy to post a new activity on, and non-warehouse sites that are single-action platforms. The authors categorized and coded content of the sites for a variety of data, including historical content, access to e-tactics in support of the political goal, and other means of action afforded readers. Thirty-eight site contacts agreed to in-depth interviews.

The theme of this work is primarily that digitally enabled social actions such as petitions are a collective action. Thus the core question is what defines action. In a democracy, the voice of the people may be carried to the corridors of political power in the form of petitions, letters to legislators, executives, administrators and even judges. The present volume reports, for example, a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing a ban on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, which garnered 248,388 signatures. The authors describe this as "an impressive number for any protest action" (p. 129). Returning to the question of the global applicability of this research, one question that emerges is what are the differences in the potential effects of political e-tactics in non-democracies? Would an impressive number of signatures on a petition have toppled Hosni Mubarak? The actions that we collectively refer to as Arab Spring were digitally organized, mediated, and constantly modified via web-based social media. Facebook and Twitter were the tools these political actions utilized to bring large numbers of demonstrators to places with speed that spoke of spontaneity and out-paced the establishment's ability to contain the actions. The authors anticipated that new medium of political action at the very end of their work: "We expect that social networking sites like Facebook will encourage new uses and dynamics of on-line protest" (p. 204).

In the United States, and by extension in democracies in general, the digital enabling of social change does reflect some of the dynamic that Arab Spring embodies. The present volume begins with a comparison of the organizational effort that resulted in the 1963 March on Washington, remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and a 2007 march at the National Mall for which organizers claimed 400,000 people came to oppose the war in Iraq. The time, cost, intensity of volunteer efforts, and every measure of investment to outcome efficiency point to the new power of "e-mobilization." From a broad organizational theory perspective, this volume makes the case that digitally enabled social action and social change have significantly obviated the role of organizations in our society, because organizing can be done without organizational infrastructure. Then, the authors suggest, organizations may develop more nuanced roles. Sociologists, like the authors of this book, will have their hands full exploring how organizations and institutions develop those nuanced roles. One such opportunity is presented by the Arab Spring, where established organizations seemed at first to be end-run by spontaneous events on the street, but when the dust settled, those established organizations were well-placed at the table when power was being redistributed.

David B. Broad, Ph.D.

Professor of Sociology

North Georgia College & State University

Dahlonega, Georgia
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.