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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2011
Earl & Kimport take on what I like to think of as the silent debate between scholars of digital media and collective action on the one hand, and many traditional experts on social movements, protest, interest groups, and political mobilization on the other. The traditional view encompasses the concession that collective action can happen quickly now because of digital media; but that view has been, frankly, rather skeptical that anything important is happening. Or at least that digital media are really central to those visibly important developments that do occur in the present era.

Earl & Kimport throw down a serious challenge, by arguing that there is more going on than decreased costs and speed in the world of protest and social movements: resource accumulation is not a pre-requisite, organization-building is not necessary, co-presence is not necessary, and neither is a strongly shared collective identity. They are interested in what this means theoretically.

A key part of their argument is that digital media make costs a variable, whereas costs were previously understood as a fixed requirement of social movements. When costs are variable, then so are things that depend on costs, such as organization.

This is a solid idea and they are almost certainly right. I would like to see this argument fleshed out further, however. They make the case that digital media may in some cases not change the underlying dynamics of collective action but simply magnify or accelerate some aspects of it, which they call the "supersize" effect. In other cases, use of digital media transforms collective action into what they call the world of "theory 2.0." Their argument for what regulates these two pathways is how effectively people exploit two key affordance of digital media: sharply reduced costs, and freedom from requirements for co-presence in time and space. This may under-specify the problem.

Their argument amounts to the case that these developments break the reigning social movement paradigm, they don't just stretch it. This paradigm-challenging character of digitally enable social change explains why, in my view, the academic debate has been often silent. For the most part, it is new generations of scholars who are fascinated by digital media and who are pointing to ways that it challenges old theory. Advocates of old theory often avoid joining the debate, in favoring of doing pretty much what Thomas Kuhn describes as happening when anomalies arise in existing paradigms, namely looking the other way. This book should be read and assigned not only by scholars of digital media, but those who teach classic social movement theory.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2011
This book is great for academics already engaged in studying social movements or those that are interested in the division between online and offline activities in any organization. However, this book is accessible to non-academic audiences interested in the topic. I also could envision it being used as a textbook - certainly in a graduate course and possibly in an advanced undergraduate course as well. I believe that the accessibility is due to clear structure and examples that are not cherrypicked to make a point, rather they illustrate concepts with strong empirical evidence behind them.

Digitally Enabled Social Change is not so much an answer to Shirky's (2008) Here Comes Everyone as much as it is the book that, if published before Shirky's, might have forced him to reorganize his thoughts and engage more deeply with the rich scholarship that social activism and movement researchers have been creating for decades.

Earl and Kimport's book combines a deep literature review on a wide variety of related concepts (and they do an excellent job combining findings articulately), strong theoretical arguments, and a unique dataset that allows the authors to make empirical conclusions that are not altogether dissimilar from Shirky's, but are certainly better rooted. And although they work within the existing literature, they focus on the similarities and differences that exist in web-based activism.

While some scholars argue that online activism is not altogether different from offline activism, Earl and Kimport's primary argument is that, in fact, exploring how and why affordances are leveraged on the web contributes to our understanding of social activism.

They organize online activism on a continuum of the extent to which the activities leverage the cost and copresent affordances of the web. (Earl and Kimport define affordances as "the actions and uses that a technology makes qualitatively easier or possible when compared to prior like technologies".) The book is organized by the web's two primary affordances: (1) sharply reduced costs for creating, organizing, and participating and (2) the ability to aggregate people's individual actions into broader collective actions without requiring participants to be copresent in time and space.

While the empirical data was collected before the explosion of social networking sites and Twitter and the new opportunities for online activism which they provide, the unique sampling technique should be applauded. Moreover, Earl and Kimport believe that the arguments are enduring because they focus on how people use different technologies, not a particular website. On the other hand, reaching people where they already are (Facebook) may influence online activism in different ways.

The only drawback is the lack of international examples. Certainly adding a global perspective would have likely clouded their arguments. But perhaps after the events in early 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa, a re-examination of Earl and Kimport's arguments in a different context would be prudent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2011
In this book, Earl and Kimport have put forth the most comprehensive and thought provoking take on online activism to date. Addressing arguments made by both social movements and technology/media scholars, the authors demonstrate how utilization of information and communication technologies are fundamentally changing the nature of activism and protest in the 21st century.

Their analysis goes much deeper than the "reduction in time and costs" viewpoint that has dominated discussion on online activism so far, by emphasizing the previously overlooked importance of the new found ability of people to partake in collective action without necessarily being in the same place at the same time. This revelation has enormous implications for traditional social movement theory, and Earl and Kimport clearly show that online activism can't be squeezed into the framework under which social movements are currently understood. In essence, this book is a call that should be heard loud and clear for new understandings, new discussions, and new directions for social movements research.

Excellently conceptualized, thoroughly researched, and well written, this book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in social movements or technology/media studies, whether they be expert or novice, as everyone will find much to learn within these pages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2011
This book is an important contribution to the developing study of online mobilization. Earl and Kimport direct researchers to look outside the expected places for political mobilization, such as political websites, and to seek patterns of mobilization around "non-political" issues, such as the cancellation of a favorite TV show. The call to look everywhere for politically significant behavior is particularly relevant in relation to the "new" use of social networking sites for organizing around the world and the political mobilization of previously non-mobilized online entities such as Anonymous.

Earl and Kimport also offer an excellent overview, and critique, of the current state of social movement literature and its relationship to the internet. This book is one of the most significant advances in bringing the social movement approach into the online world--asking us to look carefully at the ways in which groups mobilize online, in particular, the ways in which the online medium provides opportunity structures not available offline. This is in contrast to the many configurations of social movement literature that have either ignored new media and/or have considered it only in relation to traditional offline organizing.

The book is also accessible to those new to the topic and written in an engaging manner. It would be a great addition to the reading list for either an undergraduate or graduate level course.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2012
As a communication scholar, I read widely across academic disciplines, and am delighted when I find books that integrate idea streams from multiple disciplines in explicit and generative ways. As a practice-oriented researcher, I keep an eye out for books that are grounded in actual practices as well as advance knowledge and ideas. And as a citizen, I want academics to address the kinds of questions being asked by people working in other sectors (e.g. policymaking, nongovernmental/nonprofit organizations, community networks, etc.) This book does all of the above!
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on April 11, 2015
This book is written in such a lengtrhy format. The useful information in this book could have been summed up in a long (18-20 page) journal article. There was no reason to have over a hundred pages. The author repeated herself and her findings over and over again, to the point of complete annoyance.
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