My article “The Labors of Internet-Assisted Activism: Overcommunication, Miscommunication, and Communicative Overload” is now out in a special issue of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics (Volume 6, Issue 3 & 4, July 2009, pages 267-280).
The abstract goes like this: This article analyzes the use of Internet elements in political activism through a close ethnographic case study of a volunteer group involved in the 2008 U.S. Democratic presidential primary. Whereas the literature on political activism has generally argued that the Internet provides low-cost communication that facilitates collective action, this case highlights the labors that accompany Internet-assisted activism. The analysis, based upon participant-observation, identifies three interrelated problems with which the activists struggled: overcommunication, miscommunication, and communicative overload. Drawing on concepts taken from science and technology studies, the article argues that these problems have sociotechnical roots and arise from the specific affordances of an increasing number of Internet elements. Such elements reduce the up-front costs associated with communication for the sender, but they generate new transaction costs when integrated into heterogeneous assemblages with no shared communication protocol, no clear infrastructure or exostructure, and no significant means of tempering the tendency towards ever greater amounts of communication.
The article is available through Informaworld here for those who have subscription. A video version of a brief presentation at Personal Democracy forum based on the article is available here (after Deanna Zandt’s excellent presentation, and before Tanya Tarr’s equally excellent talk). The issue it was published in was edited by Andrew Chadwick and came out of the conference he organized at Royal Holloway, University of London last year. The whole issue is here.
Rasmus, this is an excellent article. I found it insightful in several ways and will certainly cite it in my future work. You’ve articulated some of the costs of ICT-based activism very well. Kudos!
Thanks Kirsten, your encouragements are much appreciated!