Activation Trajectories: Tracing the Role of Social Media in Civic Mobilizations in Bulgaria and Canada

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Seminarsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Maria BAKARDJIEVA, University of Calgary, Canada
Delia DUMITRICA, Erasmus University, Netherlands
The growing sociological and communication-studies literatures investigating the role of ICTs and social media in civic and political mobilization typically take activists and activist organizations as their starting point. Research aims to assess the utility of social media for achieving the goals pursued by such actors. In political science, a common approach to questions of political participation is to try to determine the demographic and/or psychological characteristics of the individuals who become involved. ICT use is often  included in those inventories as another variable affecting individuals’ engagement.

In this study we break with both these conventions and focus on the process of becoming engaged as it unfolds in the case of ordinary citizens who do not qualify as activists at the starting point. Our theoretical premises include insights from social constructivism, radical-democratic theories of citizenship and multi-sited ethnography. We ask what place/s social media occupy on the activation trajectories that bring individual citizens from a state of relative disengagement to active involvement in civic and political causes, collectives and mobilizations. We examine in-depth two cases of protest mobilization that occurred in two distinct social and cultural contexts – Bulgaria and British Columbia, Canada. We focus on the dynamics that propelled individuals central to these mobilizations from their private everyday worlds to the role of participants and drivers of collective political action. We identify the various turns and stations that these individuals’ activation trajectories have in common; we pinpoint how social media become enmeshed in the process; and we account for the differences produced by the distinct material and cultural ecologies in which these trajectories take shape. We believe that along with the specific lessons learned from the comparative analysis, our study offers an example of a grounded way of understanding the role of social media as catalysis of civic mobilization.