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Activism and the internet : a socio-politcal analysis of how the use of electronic mailing lists affects mobilization in soical movement organizations Crounauer, Katja

Abstract

The main research questions in this thesis are whether use of electronic mailing lists by activist groups furthers or hinders the mobilization of list subscribers, and what role lists play in fostering subscribers' involvement with social activist groups. Two public electronic mailing lists were studied over several months for effects of list use on mobilization. The first was created and predominantly used by the student group APEC-Alert to mobilize against the 1997 APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vancouver, Canada. The second, established by a group in Cologne, Germany, was used by many groups from Cologne and elsewhere who organized against European Union and Great 7 summits in Cologne in 1999. I collected messages posted to these lists, obtained subscribers' responses to questionnaires that I designed, and conducted interviews with subscribers. I used a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses and drew on concepts from social movement theories. I examined how movement organizers used lists and what effects list messages had on subscribers. I examined whether and how list messages changed subscribers' perceptions of movement organizations and the issues they were concerned with, and whether and how list use prompted movement involvement of inactive subscribers and facilitated continued involvement of already active participants. On both lists, some subscribers were more mobilized to support movement goals, group views, aims and tactics, and to become active. These subscribers had the most personal contact with anti-globalization activists, the most previous experience with activism, and in case of the Cologne list, longer and more recent experiences with activism. Least mobilized subscribers were female and those most deterred by negative movement dynamics. I show that effectiveness of list use for mobilization depends on social location of those in the target pool for subscribers, personal contact between subscribers and movement actors, movement dynamics, organizers' framing efforts, presence of collective identities (which seem difficult to develop without face-to-face contact), degree of trust prevalent between subscribers, and availability of resources to movement actors. I recommend that activists increase online framing efforts, explain how subscribers can become active, facilitate personal contact, improve movement dynamics, and broaden access to list content.

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