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Carol Wan Ting Soon – Net technologies, net again: An institutional and micro­‐structural approach to understanding technology use for collective action
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Carol Wan Ting Soon – Net technologies, net again: An institutional and micro­‐structural approach to understanding technology use for collective action


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CeDEM Day 1, afternoon, Track: Bottom-­Up Movements, Main Hall, Chair: Rosanna De Rosa

CeDEM Day 1, afternoon, Track: Bottom-­Up Movements, Main Hall, Chair: Rosanna De Rosa

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  • 1. Net Technologies, Net Gain:An Institutional and Micro-StructuralApproach to Understanding TechnologyUse for Collective ActionCarol SoonInstitute of Policy StudiesNational University of SingaporeEmail:
  • 2. Study of collective action§  Contentious politics§  “Episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claimsand their objects when (a) at least one government is a claimant,an object of claims, or a party to the claims and (b) the claimswould, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of theclaimants” (McAdam, Tarrow & Tilly, 2001)§  Political economy – institutional opportunities andconstraints (Coston, 1998; Della Porta, 1995)§  Micro-structural analyses – roles of collective and selectiveincentives (Klandermans, 1984, 1993; Klandermans & Oegema, 1987;McAdam & Paulsen, 1993; Snow, Zurcher & Ekland-Olson, 1980)§  Political participation and Internet studies –democratization potential of ICTs (Bosch, 2010; Langlois, Elmer,McKelvey & Devereaux, 2009; Stein, 2007)
  • 3. The Singapore contextLiberalization of spacesImpact on collective incentives, structural proximity and structural availabilityAuthoritarian governance(Institutional constraints and opportunities – Societies Act and Public Order Act)Adopters of user-generated platforms and social media (e.g. blogs and Facebook)
  • 4. Offline space: The Speakers Corner (2000)
  • 5. Liberalization of the online space§  Economy underwent a major shift in the 1990s§  Among top 10 economies in the world for active-mobilebroadband subscriptions (International TelecommunicationUnion, The World in 2011)§  Control through legislation: Internet Code of Practiceand the Class License Scheme§  Government s attempt to strike a balance betweenilliberal political interventions with market-orientedstrategies for economic growth + the architecture of theInternet soon created loopholes (George, 2003).
  • 6. Research Objective§  How have digital technologies enabled activists to overcomeconstraints posed by the institutional context?§  Specifically, how have the digital technologies enable activists toovercome barriers to collective incentives, structural availability andstructural proximity?Use ofdigitaltechnologiesCollectiveincentivesStructuralavailabilityStructuralproximityInstitutionalconstraints
  • 7. Interviews§  Population list identified throughcommercial search engines andblog aggregators§  Snowballing leading to 224 politicalblogs§  In-depth interviews (22 males and4 females)-  What doesactivism meanto you-  Can youdescribe yourinvolvement?-  What roles doInternettechnologiesplay in youractivism work?-  How do you useInternettechnologies inyour activismwork?
  • 8. Digital bottom-up movementsAlternative   Redemptive  Change opinions pertaining to a specific issue among a target groupPink Dot.sgTo eradicate prejudice targeted at the LGBT and promote an acceptingand harmonious societySlut WalkRaise awareness for the problem of sexual harassment of women andbring about opinion change on victim-blaming  Bring about a dramatic change in the lives of individuals belonging toa specific groupLehmann Brothers and MinibondsSeek compensation for investors who lost money in Lehmann-linkedstructured productsInternal Security Act (ISA) campaignTo raise awareness for ISA detainees and their experiences; and callfor the abolition of the Internal Security Act  Reformative   Revolutionary  Change an entire community or society in a specific way“No to 6.9 million people”Petition for the government to reconsider its population policyroadmap, specifically on curbing immigration flowNo to RapeAdvocate the total abolition of marital rape immunityin Sections 375(4) and 376(5).Repeal 377APetition the government to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Codewhich criminalizes sex between mutually consenting adult menAnti-Mandatory Death Penalty campaignTo seek legislative changes to the death penalty for drug-relatedoffenses and repeal sentences of those on death row (prominentlyYong Vui Kong)  Eradicate an old social order and replace it with a new oneNil  
  • 9. Blogging and collective incentives§  Clear vision and purpose for Singapore andfor blogging§  Similar motivations for blogging and part ofa larger collective working towards acommon goal§  Tacit acknowledgment that on their own,they did not have the answers or solutionsto political and social issues existing inSingaporeI can identify with someSingapore bloggers whoseblogs are mainly socio-politically oriented.. Thesebloggers have the sameconcerns as I have about thecurrent state of politics inSingapore and the future ofthe country. (Daryl, male,early 20s, student)I see myself as part of a collective socio-political bloggingcommunity that is collectively informing Singaporeans ofwhat’s going on. I’ve seen the level of discourse going upsince I’ve started. (George, male, early 30s, technologyconsultant)
  • 10. Increased structural proximity§  Connecting to others whom they may nothave had a chance to meet offline§  An activist s blog also served as aneffective vehicle to inform others about hiscause, encouraging fellow Internet usersinvolved in similar campaigns to comeforward and connect with him.My blog used to be hosted onMultiply. The Online Citizen (acitizen journalism blog)contacted me to ask me towrite for them. In the sameweek, V5 messaged me onMultiply telling me about anevent and said that I may beinterested to join. (Rachel,female, late 20s)I got involved in the death penalty cause through the Internet. Alan postedthat M Ravi needs help with the case on Facebook. I saw the post and sentAlan a message which said if M Ravi needs help, ask him to call me . Hecalled me the next day. That was a connection made through the Internet. Ialso didn t know people from Bloggers 13. We read one another s blogsand then finally we meet one day. (Harry, male, early 20s, law student)
  • 11. Increased structural availability§  Enabling activists to circumvent real worldconstraints posed by their individualcommitments.§  The ease of connection and relatively lowcost increased the ease and speed withwhich activists could converge, pool theirresources and work as a team to realizetheir activist goals – lower barriers toparticipation.We just had one meetingbefore we came up with ourpaper, just that one face-to-face meeting, and after thateverything after that wasdone over emails. (George,male, early 30s, technologyconsultant)A typical thing I might be asked to help with would be to take a look at press release onhow to write it better for any groups that need advice. Without the Internet, if someonewere to call me and say, I have this one-page document which I would like you to goover, I would have to stand by a fax machine. If they don t trust the fax and you haveto have a physical meeting, there would be a very high chance that you would sayNo because you are busy. Now the automatic response would be to say Yes. Theyjust email it to you and you can look at it at midnight after you have done everythingelse. (Chong, male, mid 40s, academic)
  • 12. Conclusion§  Activist bloggers use Internet technologies such as blogs and social media toovercome limitations and constraints present in the institutional environment§  The experiences and outcomes of blogging affirm bloggers convictionpertaining to its positive impact in contributing to civic discourse and pushingfor change§  The World Wide Web becoming a proxy meeting place in a regime wherethe regulation of offline discourse diminish individuals willingness to engage inpolitical talk and meetings§  Activist bloggers also overcome limitations of structural availability as Internettechnologies provide time saving and cost-effective means for the coordinationof activism work§  Importance of online-based groups in providing an alternative form oforganization§  Although somewhat transient in nature, digital bottom-up movements inductfledgling activists and connect them to the larger network of activists
  • 13. Thank
  • 14. Bloggers and activism participationActivities Freq(%)Donated money to organization 32Wrote a letter 50Signed a petition 68Attended a meeting 62Attended a rally or protest demonstration 40Participated in an information campaign for the public 52Advertised in the mass media 8Made a presentation to a public body 24Gave a lecture to schools or organizations 20Participated in press release or conference 32Served as a representative on an advisory board 16Purchased merchandize 32Wrote or called the media 42Displayed a banner or sign onwebsite or blog52Others 22A wide spectrumof activism –alternative andreformativemovements(Locher, 2002)e.g. SinQSA,TWC2, Repeal377A,Singapore Anti-MandatoryDeath Penalty