The small city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, has been all over the news ever since Darren Wilson fired six shots into Michael Brown, leaving the seventeen year old lying face down on the pavement in broad daylight. Residents gathered at the site of a the incident soon after, and the protests, riots, and looting have been playing out ever since, with protesters on the streets since August 9th. For the first couple of days, the news unfolded primarily on Twitter, through vines posted by St. Louis alderman, @antoniofrench and others who live tweeted information, pictures, and video from the scene. The local media also covered the events early on, including Fox 2 Now (KTVI) who had a live feed as well as frequent Twitter updates.
So far, my exploration into groups like 15 Now, Fight For 15, Fast Food Forward, and the multitude of others which compose the $15 Minimum Wage movement, has been focused on the content of tweets and the composition of users who tweet with popular movement hashtags. While Twitter is a network which rapidly facilitates the creation of weak ties which are more useful for spreading information, as studied by Granovetter in “The Strength of Weak Ties”, Facebook is also an important medium which can’t be ignored in the study of new networked social movements.
We are in a time period where the hope for social change burns more intensely than ever before. Even as we see economic conditions worsening in many parts of the world, with austerity measures and corporate welfare dominating the policy decisions of many nations, there remains a hope that the virtual spaces which foster instantaneous connectivity will raise the possibility of social action to enact meaningful change. As communities are formed through the togetherness of sharing ideas and goals in urban spaces, they are supported and intensely linked with virtual communities formed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites.
The internet is a space of autonomy, which lowers barriers of expression and social movement participation. In “Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age”, Castells defines autonomy as “the capacity of a social actor to become a subject by defining its action around projects constructed independently of the institutions of society, according to the values and interests of the social actor”. (229) He then proceeds to link this concept with networked social movements as the transition from individuation to autonomy is “operated through networking, which allows individual actors to build their autonomy with like-minded people in the networks of their choice…the Internet provides the organizational communication platform to translate the culture of freedom into the practice of autonomy.” (230)
This weekend, I began reading the “Strategy of Social Protest” by William Gamson. He analyzes a random sample of 53 American social movements between 1800 and 1945 that fit into what he defines as an “opposing group.” He seems to be focusing on mainly the outcomes, and has distinct categories for measuring when a group can be considered “successful” in their challenge of a defined antagonist. While this work certainly provides a foundational backbone for the sociological study of social movements, it needs to be complemented by an interactional study of the micro-processes that comprise a social movement, including the role of culture and the frames of the individual protesters.