MAPPING AN ONLINE SOCIAL MOVEMENT: THE SPATIAL AND RELATIONAL GEOGRAPHIES OF DIGITAL CONTENTION AS PRACTICED BY THE ANTI-WATER CHARGES MOVEMENT IN DUBLIN BY GRÁINNE NIC LOCHLAINN

Social movements have served as important agents of change throughout history, shaped by and shaping the societies in which we live. The social movements of the twenty-first century are digitally networked and create digital spaces and strategies for contention, contesting power through a broad repertoire of protest, resistance, and the exertion of what Castells calls ‘counter-power’ (Castells, 2007). These interactions produce and are shaped by their spatial and relational contexts, with the networked movement simultaneously grounded in specific offline spatial locations and online relational geographies.

The majority of academic interest in networked social movements has focused on high-profile, post-Great Recession (c.2007) movements (e.g. ‘Arab Spring’, Occupy Wall Street, Los Indignados etc.). Accordingly, theories of networked social movements have tended to emphasise the broader political and economic systems in which networked movements occur and struggle to, or choose to avoid, adopting goals centred on specific issues, as well as how these networked social movements pursue physical occupation and the reclamation of public spaces (e.g. Castells, 2012; Jurgensen, 2012; Juris, 2012). In order to better understand the production of counter-power by networked social movements and the relationship between social movements and information communication technologies (ICTs), the online anti-water charges network in Dublin was spatially and relationally mapped using GIS and network analysis technologies (figures 1, 2, and 3 below).

The spatial geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement in Dublin can be classified in three zonal patterns of presence/absence and density. The zones can be conceptualised as representing a spectrum of spatial density patterns, from low density and large catchment areas (zone C) to high density and small catchment areas (zone A), with zone B further toward the middle of the spectrum.

The relational geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement in Dublin do not correspond with the zonal spatial patterns of the movement and suggest that, though relational hierarchies exist within the network, spatial geographies may be transcended by online interaction. This has a number of interesting implications from a spatial network analysis standpoint, suggesting that proximity is a poor predictor of interaction.

The spatial and relational geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement are a complicated mosaic of representation. Dynamic interaction between physical location and online connectivity suggests that, even on a more localised scale than is typically discussed in the literature, digital platforms may have the capacity to both reinforce and transcend geographic location. The anti-water charges movement was created by and continues to create distinctive patterns of presence, absence, density, influence, and connection. Visualisation of these patterns and understanding of how social movements related to wider concepts of ‘counter-power’ and contention in the networked society will be imperative in the interpretation of modern sociocultural and political landscapes.

figure-1

Figure 1 – Density geographies of community groups using zonal classification, as described in text. Note: 162 falls outside the county limits because of the author’s use of centroid data to convert polygons to points. Notation of groups corresponds with author’s own numeric database.

figure-2

Figure 2 – Geo-located relational geography of community group pages in Dublin. Node size and colour is adjusted to reflect average ‘like’ totals (pages with more ‘likes’ are represented by larger, darker coloured nodes). The edges between nodes represent ‘like’ relationships i.e. when one page ‘likes’ another. The direction of this relationship is indicated by the directional arrows within the network. The relationship itself is direct (in that it either exists or does not) and non-weighted.

figure-3

Figure 3 – ‘Force Atlas’ relational map of anti-water charges Facebook community group account network in Dublin.

The spatial geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement in Dublin can be classified in three zonal patterns of presence/absence and density. The zones can be conceptualised as representing a spectrum of spatial density patterns, from low density and large catchment areas (zone C) to high density and small catchment areas (zone A), with zone B further toward the middle of the spectrum.

The relational geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement in Dublin do not correspond with the zonal spatial patterns of the movement and suggest that, though relational hierarchies exist within the network, spatial geographies may be transcended by online interaction. This has a number of interesting implications from a spatial network analysis standpoint, suggesting that proximity is a poor predictor of interaction.

The spatial and relational geographies of digital contention in the anti-water charges movement are a complicated mosaic of representation. Dynamic interaction between physical location and online connectivity suggests that, even on a more localised scale than is typically discussed in the literature, digital platforms may have the capacity to both reinforce and transcend geographic location. The anti-water charges movement was created by and continues to create distinctive patterns of presence, absence, density, influence, and connection. Visualisation of these patterns and understanding of how social movements related to wider concepts of ‘counter-power’ and contention in the networked society will be imperative in the interpretation of modern sociocultural and political landscapes.

Bibliography

Castells, M. (2007) ‘Communication, power, and counter-power in the Network Society’. International Journal of Communication, vol. 1, pp. 238-’66.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s