Physical place matters in digital activism : investigating the roles of local and global social capital, community, and social networking sites in the occupy movement

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2015-05

Authors

Baek, Kang Hui

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Abstract

This case study of the Occupy movement examines how different geographic forms of individual-level resources—local and global social capital—and communitylevel resources varying by place of residence play a key role in political activism in the digital age. To overcome the limited approach based on blind faith, in which social networking sites are unreservedly treated as sole mobilizing agents, this dissertation includes the exploration of how local and global social capital influence the way the use of social networking sites affects participation in the Occupy movement. In doing so, this dissertation goes beyond the exclusive focus on the effects of social capital formed and shared through the strength of a personal tie (i.e., strong vs. weak ties) on political participation considered in much of the current literature. Moreover, acknowledging that on-the-ground activities taking place in physical communities continue to be essential determinants of political engagement, this dissertation is intended to determine whether the communities in which individuals reside produce unique or specialized resources or environments, and how they provide different opportunities for involvement in the movement. From an online survey and in-depth interviews with participants in the U.S., this dissertation found that local and global forms of social capital had distinct effects on participation in the Occupy movement. This suggests that local social capital induced local participation, while global social capital encouraged global participation. In this vein, the use of social networking sites contributed to both local and global participation indirectly, through its effects on local and global social capital, respectively. Indeed, communities with politically liberal environments and high poverty levels were found to be favorable places for mobilizing participation. Global cities, New York City in particular, served as an optimal political space for encouraging participation in the movement because they provided diverse human resources and substantial political infrastructure. This dissertation makes an important contribution to our knowledge of political activism in the digital era. It highlights the situation that social networking sites are not sole contributors leading to political participation, and therefore, that the geographic dimension of social capital and community should also be carefully considered when examining political participation.

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