From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Sandy: Socio-Technical Infrastructures As Social Movement Outcomes

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anastasia KAVADA, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
Research on the consequences of social movements focuses on four types of outcomes: political, cultural, biographical, and economic. However, a fifth type of outcome tends to be disregarded: the creation of socio-technical infrastructures that can form the basis for further cycles of mobilization. This paper analyses this fifth type outcome by focusing on the case study of Occupy Sandy.  Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in US history, hit the shores of New Jersey on the 29th of October 2012. Apart from FEMA and the Red Cross, disaster relief was also organized by a loose network of Occupy Wall Street activists who appropriated the social networks and digital tools created by the movement to coordinate a relief effort of stunning scale and efficiency. Based on in-depth interviews with Occupy Sandy activists, this paper traces how the Occupy Wall Street digital tools were used for disaster relief. Such tools included a CiviCRM email database, as well as the online conference call and chat capabilities offered by the InterOccupy network. This infrastructure was re-assembled and combined with tools found elsewhere, including the amazon.com wedding registry. However, the Occupy Sandy relief effort was also based on the social networks constituted by Occupy Wall Street. It mobilized activists who had previously collaborated in Occupy Wall Street working groups and teams. It was also supported by a web of relations that Occupy Wall Street activists had created in their local communities as a result of neighbourhood actions and assemblies. These networks were enriched with the influx of new volunteers for the relief effort, which resulted in a significant expansion of Occupy networks. Tracing this shift from protest to disaster relief, this paper shows that socio-technical networks constitute a tangible outcome of social movements that should be taken into account in future research on the subject.