Edited by Hein-Anton van der Heijden
Researchers have examined the relationship between social movements and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for decades, but with exponentially increasing intensity. Scholarship in the area has shifted from emphasizing a small number of high-profile cases to a more theoretically driven body of research that considers a range of technologies, social movements, and outcomes. The number of publications has grown tremendously and today this subfield represents a burgeoning area of research. With this expansion, a number of distinct theoretical questions and positions have emerged, and new research frontiers have been identified. In this chapter, we review important developments in the field, highlighting central theoretical questions and debates and summarizing key findings. We focus on two levels where theoretical discussion and debate have taken place. First, there have been ‘grand’-level debates about whether or not ICT usage has impacts on activism and social movements, and, if so, whether these effects are the product of amplifying well-known social movement processes (e.g., making diffusion happen faster or diffuse farther) or they represent a more fundamental transformation of our models of social movement activity. Second, theoretical discussion and debate has also taken place within established social movement subfields, such as within research on repression, movement outcomes, and so on. At times these discussions are linked to the grand-level debate we begin with. For instance, we consider at length research examining whether the role of social movement organizations is fundamentally altered by more extensive ICT usage.
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