P2P Foundation

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Study:; how social media are creating a new type of activist organizations

Via Les Squires:


Over the last decade widespread debate about environmental issues and ethical consumer behavior has fostered the development of new grassroots organizations. These organizations represent a departure from the more hierarchical and institutionalized social movement organizations (SMOs) operating within similar sectors.



Investigating how new grassroots organizations differ from traditional SMOs and how their diffusion is currently taking place are the broad goals of this research. In particular, we want to show that these new social movements are not primarily concerned with persuading the state to change policies but with engaging individuals to adopt new lifestyles. Such lifestyle changes will create new identities that will diffuse from the market to the broader society. The internet is used for coordinating individual changes into a collective action and for making possible the recruitment of new people.


 We used an online survey to collect data on the users of the following website: http://transitionus.ning.com (now http://transitioninaction.com). Data were collected from October 2009 to March 2010. Overall, 387 respondents began the survey, and 243 completed it.


The survey showed respondents to be politically active, educated, white adults, with women making up 58% of the sample. More than half of the respondents have ever belonged to an environmental group or political/civic organization, and over 80% have attended a political/civic event. However, their responses to survey questions indicate that they are dissatisfied with traditional means of political participation, such as street rallies and letter writing, and that non‐contentious collective actions are preferred (examples: food and gardening activities, energy saving activities, etc.). Respondents perceive community organizing to be the most effective way to bring about social change, deprioritizing connections to local government. They generally distrust business corporations and political parties, and explain their withdrawal from political/civic organizations as the result of the failure of institutional organizations and means to effect change.

Respondents are web‐savvy, using the internet for email, work, reading the news, social networking, online discussions, and blogging. Cross tabulations indicate that respondents that started a local chapter of Transition US, i.e. the initiators, are slightly more likely to have first heard about the movement from strong ties, such as close friends and relatives, while joiners are slightly more likely to have first heard about the movement from the internet and other weak ties, such as acquaintances or from flyers. Indeed, joiners tend to continue to stay up to date with Transition via the web while initiators tend to stay up to date via local meetings. Furthermore, initiators spend more time with people involved with Transition than people not involved, while joiners spend more time with people not involved with Transition. 


These findings have implications for tactical shifts in the use of the internet for organization and mobilization efforts on the parts of similar lifestyle movement organizations. The theoretical and practical aspects of these implications will be the topic of a workshop on “The Mobilization of Identities” held on February 15, 2011 at Stanford University.  More information about this workshop will be made available closer to the date.



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