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Rethinking Collective Action in the Age of Personalized Communication and Politics

The Logic of Connective ActionCCCE Director Bennett Publishes “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics” with Colleague Alexandra Segerberg

Late modern democracies have undergone a historic shift. Citizens, particularly the youngest segments of the population, are moving away from established institutions, such as parties. This development leads to the question: How do such “fragmented, individualized populations, that are hard to reach and even harder to induce to share personally transforming collective identities, [...] mobilize protest networks from Wall Street to Madrid to Cairo” (28)? Together with his colleague Alexandra Segerberg, who is a political science research fellow at Stockholm University, CCCE director W. Lance Bennett addresses this fundamental question in the book The Logic of Connective Action, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.

In the book, Bennett and Segerberg develop a theoretical framework for distinguishing the role that both digital media and institutional structures play in different types of large-scale collective action. While more traditional forms of collective action depend heavily on institutional structures to facilitate and organize collective action, conventional organizations play a much less central role in what the authors refer to as “connective action.” Instead of traditional institutional structures, communication itself functions as the organizing principle for this new type of collective action. According to Bennett and Segerberg, the rise of connective action represents the rise of personalized digitally networked politics.

To illustrate their argument, the authors rely on case studies from a variety of different national contexts, specifically from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. They argue, for example, that connective action can be organized through the use of inclusive discourses such as Occupy’s “We Are the 99%,” a meme that can spread effortlessly through social media. This serves as an example of how communication can function as an organizational process. Communication based on digital technologies may replace or enhance more traditional forms of collective action, which is based on organizational resource mobilization, leadership, and collective action framing.

The Logic of Connective Action has received praise from renowned political communication scholars. According to University of California – Santa Barbara political scientist Bruce Bimber, “Bennett and Segerberg bring generations of social scientific thought about collective action and contentious politics up to date, placing communication, networks, and the personalization of politics in the theoretical spotlight.” University of London political scientist Andrew Chadwick believes this “hugely exciting book” is “an instant classic.”

Funding for this research came from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Swedish Research Council.

 

Center for Communication & Civic Engagement