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Carisa Showden Presentation to SAANZ Conference on ‘Activism, Social Media, and Neoliberalism’

In December, Carisa attended the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ) conference held in Auckland. She was there as part of the Social Futures conference stream to present some (very) preliminary analyses from the Young Activists project. Specifically, she was workshopping two themes that are starting to emerge from our initial analyses.

The first theme is how youth activists think about online and offline ‘spaces’ of activism: how much does this distinction make sense? What are the ways that social media changes how activism is done, and then how does that impact what activism is or what it looks like? From our interviews, we know that our participants are familiar with criticisms about ‘clicktivism’ (a/k/a ‘slacktivism’ or ‘micro-political actions’). And from our observations, it’s clear to us that concerns about youth engagement as ‘mere clicktivism’ are overblown.

But it’s also true that the internet, and social media especially, have helped to reshape part of what counts as activism or, perhaps more appropriately, what’s possible in activist spaces. Our participants have talked about how social media is essential for reaching very visually oriented young people and for providing a sense of immediacy—social media connects people to events as they happen. For example, Facebook Live videos and Twitter enable activists to share in real time all kinds of events with followers who aren’t able to attend in person. They also allow for quick mobilizations when events on the ground require rapid responses.

Ideas about online/offline activist work are tied to a second theme, about building community in and through activist spaces and events. Activist spaces have long been important sources of community fellowship and social bonding. People often seek out groups as a way of engaging in politics because they want to feel part of a community. Our participants are no different.

The kinds of communities the internet facilitates, and the kinds of communities people seek, are varied. Some of the more recent academic literature on social media use in social movements examines an emerging ‘logic of connective action.’ This idea resonates with what our participants have reported to us. Connective action examines communities built through fluid online networks connected to various ‘offline’ events. Some participants have argued that online activism allows more meaningful participation because it’s personalized and based on sharing norms than, say, more traditional NGO type activism.

The presentation at SAANZ was well-received and generated spirited discussion. Audience members raised a number of useful ideas in response to the presentation. Some members shared experiences and articles aimed at tying our analysis more deeply to a specifically New Zealand activist history. They talked about experiences working in second wave feminist groups, child poverty activist groups, and trade union organizing in the 1980s and 1990s, among others. They discussed how what we’re finding now in terms of tactics, tools, and goals of activism reflects or responds to these earlier movements. We’re grateful to those who shared their ideas and experiences with us.

We’ll report back on how we develop these themes into publications and new presentations as our work progresses. And if/when any of this material gets published in full-blown articles, we will share the links and abstracts with you here.

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