Protests and Social Change – Igniting the Flame


The idea of power, who has it, who does not, and who is searching for it, can usually tell an interesting story regarding the state of society. All three authors that we read for this week discuss different versions of power and its relationship with those involved, and I want to relate Finnegan’s and Castells’ views to my discussion on protest and social change. As can be seen throughout the history of our country and nations throughout the globe, protests are one of the many avenues that societies pursue in order to initiate social change, both on a local and a global scale.

There are two early stages when attempting to promote social change. The first of those two basics changes is having something worth fighting for, and having a reason or a passion for making drastic alterations to the standards of society. This is something that Juliette Beck had in the article “After Seattle”. Her passion was in international trade rules, and she had the option of participating with 50,000 other demonstrators in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization. She was able to pursue her passion in a constructive manner in order to initiate social change, along with thousands of others who were all fighting for the same goal. This idea goes into another aspect of starting social change that is needed – organization. Once an interest in a certain movement has flared, there needs to be some level of organization in order to ensure that the movement doesn’t die down and end up a footnote in history books. Beck had gone up against some pretty large and menacing organizations, such as the International Money Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. When going against the status quo and going up against those in power, only with sufficient organization can social change because ingrained in the society. Once a protest is formed, either a larger public outcry, or a smaller, more-locally centered objection, the group can then make progress moving forward as to make sure that more protests can be made in the future and that progress is seen.

We have seen an incredible method to secure that level of organization come to fruition in the 21st century with the use of the Internet, networks, and social media. These methods of communication lead into the second stage of initiating social change through protest, and that is the spread of the protest. Manuel Castells discusses the effect of network deeply in his article, and fits in perfectly with social change and power. Collective action can be met through interconnecting channels and network, and this is what can help a protest grow from an idea to a movement. Castells discusses the ideas of anger and fear in his article, and once enough anger has boiled, that trigger leads to change. The anger, however, is counteracted by fear, and the anxiety that results from fear of those in power means that the anger isn’t always enough to make those lacking in power to seek change. Now, with the use of networks, it is easier for groups of the oppressed to make a difference without having the fear of major repercussions. And so, some of the characteristics that help spread social change most effectively that were mentioned in the article include: networks come in different forms, social movements are timeless, movements are viral, and it creates a sense of togetherness and self-reflectiveness. These qualities, in my opinion, are how networks aid protests in becoming a permanent aspect of history when attempting to initiate social change and make an impact on those who are in coercive power.

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7 thoughts on “Protests and Social Change – Igniting the Flame

  1. Doug, I like how you discuss the degree to which technology, social media, and the internet have impact social change and protest. I definitely agree that in many cases, social media can aide the spread of information in hopes of ameliorating social injustices, inequities, etc. Yet i cant help but consider how often false information is presented on social media and the Internet. It is important to take everything that you read on the internet (especially social media) with a grain of salt. For example, the spread of ISIS has been largely influenced by the pervasion of social media; I think this and other similar examples show that social networking can backfire in spreading theocratic, authoritarian, and immoral ideology. Also, I think that people are less sincere in participating in Internet protests or movements than if they actually physically protest. Here, Im thinking of Kony–did we ever actually stop that guy???

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    1. Hey Brady. That’s actually a very good point that I hadn’t thought about when writing this blog post – the fact that social media can be utilized to portray false information and twist the truth. I still think networks can be a very effective method of spreading interest in social change, but people should take caution rather than believing everything that they hear. Social media can be used to help get ideas out there that go against the status quo, but those who are interested should then go further and do their own research in order to make a decision on what to do moving forward.

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  2. One area that we have seen to be greatly affected by networks in the Middle East. The Arab spring was a good example of revolution being provoked through social media. Even though it was illegal to use the websites the protesters were using, it allowed them to connect with one another and set up times to meet. This interconnectedness is extremely powerful because it can give control to the citizen instead of the dictatorial government.

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  3. Nice post, Doug! It definitely is remarkable how much networks and the internet has taken place of other forms of communication and can be a forum for gathering supporters especially since it might have seemed unimaginable decades ago whereas there is hardly anyone without some form of computer or smartphone today. I think the internet also serves as a place that counteracts fear in the way that individuals are able to feed off of each other’s passion and know that there are people who have the same views as them and gives them a sense that larger change really is possible.

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  4. Hey Doug, not that you didn’t have enough comments on here anyway, I couldn’t help but think about Jordi talking about the difference between a “Campaign” and a “Cause” (the former being the “blip” you mentioned that ends after a short period) and how those are two distinctly different goals that are often confused with each other in society. When you discuss how the Internet sort of amplifies these initiatives, I can’t help but wonder if, given the short attention span of the Internet, campaigns are more targeted towards Internet-based promotions; whereas causes (for say, ending Malaria) would be more structurally based with governments, communities, etc? Orrrr, one could lead to the creation of another! Fascinating.

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  5. Doug, you had a wonderful post this week and I couldn’t help but draw similarities between our posts. I focused a lot on protests, but you speak more in depth about the networks and communication tied to such demonstrations. I enjoyed the comment you made about “collective actions being met through interconnecting channels and network, and that is what can help a protest grow from an idea to a movement.” We see so many protests starting and dying as such, with few protests becoming movements, but having interconnected networks and channels helps to increase the communication and togetherness that Castells discusses in his article. It is amazing how much social media and the Internet impact protests and movements, and it seems you were just as much interested in that too!

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  6. The search for verification and authority in information, whether it is urban myths, financial information, political conspiracies and so on is certainly part of the world of social media and social movements. FOr sure, there is false information that gets propagated.

    At the same time, the ability for each person to search for their own answer is the more fundamental change, from Castells’ point of view.

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