CFP Collective Action, Social Movements and Digital Technology

View Articles published in Information and OrganizationInformation & Organization

Special Issue on: “Collective Action, Social Movements and Digital Technology”
Special Issue Editors: Lisen Selander, University of Gothenburg
Amber Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Emmanuelle Vaast, McGill University
Elizabeth Davidson, University of Hawai’i

Motivation and Overview

Technological advances have revolutionized both the means and ends of collection actions and movements. It seems what we are witnessing is not only changes in how individuals approach protest and resistance, but also what it means to /be/ organized.  This fundamental shift in the nature of organization beyond formal boundaries of established organizations and firms demands a renewed effort to understand organization and organizing in its current form (Winter et al., 2014). On the one hand, digital technologies bring unprecedented opportunities to organize masses of individuals in democratic actions, lower participation costs, and foster new information and action repertoires that go beyond offline communities. On the other hand, questions remain regarding the actual impact of technology-enabled collective action, its consequences for inequality, and the ethical implications of ideologies championed through collective action.

There is an emerging literature on the uses of Internet and social media technologies in social protests and in technology use for collective actions within the communications field (cf. Bennett & Segerberg, 2012; Bimber et al., 2012), but research on digital technologies’ implication for organizing, or the ability to help reach collective action goals is nascent in the information and organizational fields. Topics that have been addressed include: digital action repertoires of social movement organizations (Selander & Jarvenpaa, 2016), cyberactivism (Benjamin, Chen & Zimbra, 2014; Yetgin, Young & Miranda, 2012), systems standardization as collective action (Markus, Steinfield, Wigand & Minton, 2006), collective efforts to complete tasks in a dispersed work context (Subramaniam, Nandhakumar & Baptista, 2013), collective action and knowledge contribution in voluntary, computer-mediated settings (Wasko, Faraj & Teigland, 2004), and ICT tool use in social movements (Young, 2017).

Important research opportunities yet to be explored include using collective action and social movements lenses to consider organization more broadly, including large-group collaboration phenomena such as collaborative innovation networks or crowd funding. This research stream has the potential to contribute to IS and reference discipline theories as well as develop practical insights for organizations, practitioners, activists, and policy makers.

Scope and Focus of the Special Issue

The purpose of this special issue is to develop understanding around the roles of digital technologies in collective action and movement phenomena and to contribute theoretical insights related to collective actions in the digital age. We encourage submissions that explore the roles of digital technology in collective action generally as well as those focused social movement phenomena. In keeping with the aims and scope of /Information & Organization/, we are particularly interested in papers that examine in depth the social and material interplay of information technologies and organizational and organizing phenomena.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to the following:
* Online resource mobilization and digital opportunity structures for
collective action
* Social and material implications of digital activism
* Fake news movements, propaganda diffusion and organizing responses
* Corporate strategy / involvement in social movements to shape public
* Botivists (web bot programmed for activism), online petitions, and
other tools for digital protest and engagement
* Digital marketing of social agendas
* Empowerment / marginalization campaigns enacted in online digital
* Social media capabilities and facilitation of echo chambers
* Media capabilities for voice-giving and perspective-shaping
* Financing of social agendas through crowd funding or bitcoin exchanges
* Crowd funding, bitcoin exchange or similar phenomena examined as
social movements or collective actions
* Privacy and ethical issues in researching online collective action
* Methodological challenges in researching collective action and new
digital technologies

Special issue timeframe

Submission Deadline: November 1, 2017

First round decisions: March 1, 2018
Revisions due:            July 1, 2018
Second round review: October 1, 2018
Final papers due:        December 1, 2018
Publication:                Issue 1, 2019 (available online approximately 1/1/2019)


Benjamin, Victor, Hsinchun Chen, and David Zimbra. “Bridging the virtual and real: the relationship between web content, linkage, and geographical proximity of social movements.” /Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology/ 65.11 (2014): 2210-2222.

Bennett, W. Lance, and Alexandra Segerberg. “The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics.” /Information, Communication & Society/ 15.5 (2012): 739-768.

Bimber, Bruce, Andrew Flanagin, and Cynthia Stohl. Collective action in organizations: Interaction and engagement in an era of technological change. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Markus, M. Lynne, Charles W. Steinfield, and Rolf T. Wigand. “Standards, Collective Action and IS Development-Vertical Information Systems Standards in the US Home Mortgage Industry.” /MIS Quarterly/ 30 (2006): 439-465.

Selander, Lisen, and Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa. “Digital Action Repertoires and Transforming a Social Movement Organization.” /MIS Quarterly/ 40.2 (2016): 331-352.

Subramaniam, Niran, Joe Nandhakumar, and John Baptista. “Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co‐presence.” /Info Systems J./ 23.6 (2013): 475-499.

Wasko, Molly McLure, Samer Faraj, and Robin Teigland. “Collective action and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice.” /Journal of the Association for Information Systems/ 5.11 (2004): 2.

Winter, Susan, et al. “Beyond the organizational ‘container’: Conceptualizing 21st century sociotechnical work.” /Information and Organization/ 24.4 (2014): 250-269.

Yetgin, Emre, Amber G. Young, and Shaila M. Miranda. “Cultural production of protest frames and tactics: Cybermediaries and the SOPA movement.” /International Conference on Information Systems /(2012).

Young, Amber G. “Using ICT for social good: Cultural identity restoration through emancipatory pedagogy.” /Info Systems J./ 2017.

The AT&T/Time Warner Merger and the Threat to Racial Representation

By Jason A. Smith

Last month one media behemoth, AT&T, stated it would purchase another, Time Warner, for $85.4 million. AT&T provides a telecommunications service, while Time Warner provides content. The merger represents just one more step in decades of media consolidation, the placing of control over media and media provision into fewer and fewer hands. This graphic, from the Wall Street Journal, illustrates the history of mergers for the latest companies to propose a merger:


The purchase raises several issues regarding consumer protections – particularly over privacy, competition, price hikes, and monopoly power in certain markets – and one of these is related to race.

A third of the American population identifies as Latino, African American, Asian American, and Native American, yet members of these groups own only 5% of television stations and 7% of radio stations. Large-scale mergers like the proposed one between AT&T and Time Warner exacerbate this exclusion. Minority-owned media companies tend to be smaller and mergers make it even harder to compete with larger and larger media conglomerates. As a result, minority-owned companies close or are sold and the barriers to entry get raised as well. The research is clear: media consolidation is bad for media diversity.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences committed to increasing diversity on screen and technology companies have vowed to increase their workforce diversity, but such commitments have done relatively little to improve representation. Such “gentlemen’s agreements” are largely voluntary and are mostly false promises for communities of color.

Advocacy groups and federal authorities should not rely on Memorandum of Understandings to advance inclusion goals. When the AT&T/Time Warner deal gets to the Federal Communications Commission, scrutiny in the name of “public interest” should include the issue of minorities’ inclusion in both the media and technology industries. As a diverse nation struggling with ongoing racial injustices, leaving underrepresented communities out of media merger debates is a disservice not only to those communities, but to us all.

Jason A. Smith is a PhD candidate in the Public Sociology program at George Mason University. His research focuses on race and the media. He recently co-edited the book Race and Contention in Twenty-first Century U.S. Media (Routledge, 2016). He tweets occasionally.

This post originally appeared in Sociological Images on November 10, 2016


The ‘technique’ of blackface

Snapchat_blackface1By Jason A. Smith

Outrage over the Bob Marley Snapchat filter was swift following its brief appearance on the mobile application’s platform on April 20 (The 420 pot smoking holiday). The idea of mimicking Bob Marley in appreciation of a day dedicated to smoking marijuana enabled users to don the hat, dreads, and…blackface!? News outlets that day covered the issue pretty quickly. and The Verge noted the negative reactions voiced on social media in regard to the filter. Tech publisher Wired released a brief article condemning it, calling it racially tone-deaf.

The racial implications of the Bob Marley filter are multifaceted, yet I would like to focus on the larger cultural logic occurring both above and behind the scenes at an organization like Snapchat. The creation of a filter that tapped into blackface iconography demonstrates the complexity of our relationship to various forms of technology – as well as how we choose to represent ourselves through those technologies. French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote in The Technological Society of ‘technique’ as an encompassing train of thought or practice based on rationality that achieves its desired end. Ellul spoke of technique in relation to advances in technology and human affairs in the aftermath of World War II, yet his emphasis was not on the technology itself, but rather the social processes that informed the technology. This means that in relation to a mobile application like Snapchat we bring our social baggage with us when we use it, and so do developers when they decide to design a new filter. Jessie Daniels addresses racial technique in her current projects regarding colorblind racism and the internet – in which the default for tech insiders is a desire to not see race. This theoretically rich work pulls us out of the notion that technology is neutral within a society that has embedded racial meanings flowing through various actors and institutions, and where those who develop the technology we use on a daily basis are unprepared to acknowledge the racial disparities which persist, and the racial prejudice that can—and does—permeate their designs.

This understanding of technique, when combined with critical race theory, allows us to ask if the presence of blackface in technology is any big surprise in a presumably “post-racial” world. I am positive that any critical race scholar would, without hesitation, answer, “No, it’s not.”  And that’s because we are definitively not post-racial. The intentions behind the filter might have been innocent or playful by developers, but the use of blackface within society has a long and complex history – particularly in regard to its use as a tool to perpetuate systemic racial inequalities in the dehumanizing and “othering” of African Americans in the United States. Hollywood has traditionally been the long time perpetrator of promoting blackface, and variations of it, through utilizing stereotypes that adapt to a given historical moment in society. Yet the racial implications of blackface extend beyond the screens in which we view film. Over the past couple of years tensions brought up over racialized costumes during Halloween and college parties demonstrate the reach and continuation of blackface. With such a contemporary example that has generated conflict within the general public, it seems as if the tech innovators at Snapchat would have known better. I guess that is just wishful thinking. This movement and use of blackface from film, to parties, to the mobile app demonstrates what Ellul meant in regard to technique. The continuation of blackface in our society presently is not necessarily linked to the technologies that produce them, but through the ways in which individuals develop and utilize those technologies. The presumed innocence of using blackface to ‘celebrate’ an individual within a logic of providing ‘daily-new’ filters for consumer use reflects a gross oversight in what blackface means within the larger cultural sphere of public life.

The continued existence of racism in society is undertaken through multiple shifts and debates, in which no actor or institution stands in isolation. This case of the Bob Marley filter only highlights the ways that historical racist images are allowed to perpetuate themselves in the present – becoming not-so-historical in the process as they reincarnate through new mediums. I have no doubt that some cases might be found of individuals using the filter, or commenting on it, in overtly racist ways. Yet, as mentioned above, voices also sprang up to condemn the filter as racially insensitive in various social media and news sites. The technique of blackface is malleable in that it lingers on through practices that are uncritically carried out by tech developers, but those practices are also challenged through other means across various technologies. Unraveling this technique requires disrupting the structural racism that upholds it. Brushing off the filter as a misstep by Snapchat or condemning the developers as socially out of touch, is antithetical to the critical race project, a project that is less interested in identifying those who fail at race relations and more interested in identifying the social conditions that allow racism to persist.


Jason A. Smith is a doctoral candidate in Public Sociology at George Mason University whose research centers on the areas of race and the media. His dissertation will look at the Federal Communications Commission and policy decisions regarding diversity in the media for minorities and women. Along with Bhoomi K. Thakore, he is a co-editor of the forthcoming volume Race and Contention in Twenty-first Century US Media (Routledge, May 2016). He is on twitter occasionally.

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology on May 2, 2016