Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change:Activism in the InternetAge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. viii + 258 pages. Cloth, $32.00.
The publication date of this volume, and the current review, are both in the year 2011, but even though this review is being written with barely half the year gone by, everything has changed. In two words: Arab Spring. Digitally enabled social change 1s now a global phenomenon. This volume references societies other than the United States, but always within the context of how they and the United States are related and how the worldwide web mediates that relationship with, for example, China (p. 84), the United Kingdom (p. 112), Hong Kong (p. 166), and South Africa (p. 198). Now that digitally enabled social change has occupied the astounding new stage of the Arab world, much rethinking will occur. While it may be unusual to begin a review with the exceptions, the impact of the events and scope of Arab Spring impose many questions.
The present volume is a report of an expansive empirical investigation of how e-tactics are shaping the political culture of American democracy. The authors sampled 147 Web sites that were identified as organizational platforms for petitions, letter-writing campaigns boycotts and/or political protest. They utilized a two-type typology of such sites with one type being warehouse sites which host a number of such activities and are easy to post a new activity on, and non-warehouse sites that are single-action platforms. The authors categorized and coded content of the sites for a variety of data, including historical content, access to e-tactics in support of the political goal, and other means of action afforded readers. Thirty-eight site contacts agreed to in-depth interviews.
The theme of this work is primarily that digitally enabled social actions such as petitions are a collective action. Thus the core question is what defines action. In a democracy, the voice of the people may be carried to the corridors of political power in the form of petitions, letters to legislators, executives, administrators and even judges. The present volume reports, for example, a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing a ban on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, which garnered 248,388 signatures. The authors describe this as "an impressive number for any protest action" (p. 129). Returning to the question of the global applicability of this research, one...