Internet Mediation: A Theory of Alternative Globalization Movements


Lauren Langman, Douglas Morris

Department of Sociology

Loyola University of Chicago



The forms, organization and goals of social movements are dependent on their historical context. The development a bourgeois “public sphere”, dependent on books, pamphlets and letters, enabled the rise of bourgeois revolutions and/or nationalist movements to overthrow dynastic rule. In the 60’s, civil rights and anti-war movements used television to garner support. More recently, the emergence of a globalized political economy largely dependent on the Internet, has enabled the emergence and rapid proliferation of world wide, alternative globalization movements, organized and coordinated through the Internet. This collection of movements has raised a number of questions.


These movements require rethinking social movement theory. We begin with a critique and extension of social movement theory in the light of the critical theory of the Frankfurt school. Habermas suggested that in the legitimation crises of late capital that crises of the economy or governance may migrate to realms of identity and motivation. Extending a similar line of analysis, Melucci noted the centrality of identities and submerged social networks in social movements. Moving to the era of the “network society” (Castells), we can see how resistance identities (oppositions to various forms of domination) and transformational “project identities” (articulations of new forms of subjectivities) can be articulated through the Internet that has enabled new forms of social movement organization. This was evident with the Zapatistas movement and exploded on the world scene in Seattle, Quebec, and Genoa. Further, progressive agendas had been defined–the Earth Charter, Hague Peace Accord. And, diverse movement networks have initiated alternative global planning processes, such as the World Social Forum. We consider the alternative globalization or global justice movements as internetworked social movements, which require rethinking social movement theory.

I. Introduction

The Enlightenment claimed that in the name of science and Reason, people should govern themselves and be active participants in governance. These ideas, spread through print media, discussed and debated in various “public spheres” gave rise to various social mobilizations in the 18th and 19th centuries. With industrialization, came another wave of democratic social movements: nationalism, unionization, abolition and suffrage. In the 60s, new social movements, NSMs, emerged that were typically concerned with questions of identity and values directed toward civil rights, feminism, ecology, gay rights, etc. Today, with the development of computer-mediated communication (CMC) as an essential moment of globalization, we have witnessed the emergence of thousands of transnational NGOs, democratic grass roots organizations and massive social mobilizations. Organizations mediated through the Internet can be thought of as internetworked social movements (ISMs). ISMs are organized through “mobilizing networks” or coordination structures that mediate and articulate new forms of identities and strategies for participation in social action that contest current social/global conditions.      

            We believe the emergence of internetworked social movements and their participatory mobilizing networks portend new forms of democratic politics that integrate some of the structures and strategies of previous movements, while extending the possibilities of social movements in new directions. Today, large movement mobilizing networks must be charted across extremely complex webs of communication, online and offline, that inform complex, dispersed, and quickly changing field of organizing, decision making, coordination and issue construction. We use recent developments in the critical theory tradition of the Frankfurt school and other selected perspectives on globalization and social movements to frame discussion of the new potentials, structures, ideologies, and practices of the mobilizing networks of ISMs, considering here primarily the case of the alternative globalization movements (AGMs) or global justice movements.


II.  Perspectives on Globalization and Social Movements

Perspectives on Globalization

Globalization, as a description of the contemporary world, is an extensively debated topic with little consensus over its nature, meaning and implications. Scholars offer different explanations of the basis and consequences of globalization. Some give primacy to the political economy and provide a materialist explanation the emergence of a new class of elites and the universalization of consumerist ideologies (Sklair 2001; Harris 2001). Others give primacy to political factors, state actions, transnational regulatory bodies, and the growing power of INGOs concerned with environmentalism, human rights, feminism, etc. (Held 2000; Tarrow 1998; Smith et al 1997; Keck and Sikkink 1998). Still others emphasize the increasingly important role of media and cultural forces in shaping global relations (Waters 1995; Escobar 2000). With the concentration of mass media, and the “space-time compression” of the modern world, there have been radical transformations of culture, consciousness and identity (Harvey 1989; Giddens 1991). We take an interdisciplinary view to explore the interactions between various social spheres. There are however underlying factors that impact the nature of globalization regardless of perspective.

            Advanced technologies and information systems have transformed production, distribution, command, control and communication. Today, the majority of products and services are produced or distributed by large transnational corporations (TNCs) whose “global reach” and global brands now extend to most of the populated world (Sklair 2001; Klein 2000). Globalization has eroded state boundaries as goods, information, ideas and even masses of people move freely across the world (Held 2000). Globalization, in its current form has been dependent on the development of new computer-mediated communication (CMC). We believe that the development of computer-mediated communication has been a world historical event. CMC and the Internet have led to greater transparency, potential and actual interconnectivity at various levels within and between institutions (Holzner 2001). Information can now flow across new networks to allow exchanges from the “many to the many,” creating rich possibilities for democratic interaction (Rheingold 1993). The same information technologies that have enabled the globalization of commerce and the rise of “network society” that have also led to new forms of communication and in turn new forms of collective identity (Castells 1997; Melucci 1996). Information technology enables new forms of online social movement actions, also called cyberactivism and cyberpolitics (Ribeiro 1998).


Consequences of Globalization

Economic globalization has fostered a number of adverse consequences (Dicken 1997; Sklair 2001; Starr 2000). For purposes of this paper, we note five consequences of globalization. 1) Economic: Globalization, in its current neo-liberal form has generated massive amounts of wealth as well as massive redistributions of wealth from the poor to the rich (Perucci and Wysong 1999; Korten, 2002). Social welfare programs have been gutted in developing nations and increasingly in developed nations in the service of neo-liberal doctrines of structural adjustment (Teeple 1995). 2) Political: Globalization has led to an erosion of the autonomy of State policy. Transnational firms and agencies (WTO, IMF, World Bank) increasingly dictate trade policies, tariff rates, investment laws, copy rights, labor conditions, etc. 3) Cultural: There has been a growing concentration of the means of communication, a universalization of homogenized popular culture and transformation of news into entertainment (McChesney 1999). Media fostered consumerism increasingly provides forms of subjectivity and cultural identification apart from political economy (Langman 1992). 4) Environmental: There has been vast environmental despoliation, destruction of the ecosystems, the loss of many species, and the definition of genetically modified organisms as a social problem (Kovel, 2002). Lastly, 5) Human Rights: Many types of human rights/social justice movements have arisen since the sixties with greater awareness of oppression, torture, and murder in non democratic societies. Gender, race, and gender preference oppression remain, which have complex interactions with class, state politics, national cultures, and religion. Social movements have been globalizing in response to growing awareness of the adverse consequences of globalization.


Perspectives on Social Movements

Early modern theorizing of social movements noted the irrationality of mobs (Tarde, LeBon). Freud suggested that groups and group processes have structures, albeit based on the unconscious. Throughout the twentieth century, various efforts have been made to understand the structure, development, action mobilization, and qualities of social movements. Our theoretical framework draws on multiple perspectives: critical theory, resource mobilization, social constructionism (framing), and new social movement theory. Given these starting points, and the fundamentally new, emergent, qualities of internetworked social movements, or “network armies” (Hunter, 2002), we will attempt to  theorize these new forms of mobilization.


Frankfurt School: The interdisciplinary framework of the Frankfurt School created a theoretical model that balanced objective structural political economic patterns, emergent cultural patterns of industrial society, and social psychological factors that impelled social movements. Fromm (1941) and Adorno  (1950) suggested that social stresses might foster anxieties over meaning and/or belonging that had differential psychological impact for political mobilization. Recent work by Habermas (1962[1989]) pointed out the role of print media in fostering sites of communication and debate, the bourgeois “public sphere” was a moment of civil society that fostered ideas of popular sovereignty, republicanism and democratization. Further, his concerns with multiple levels of legitimation crises in advanced societies indicated the importance of identity and motivation (Habermas 1975). Habermas has staunchly defended democratic governance, mediated through public discourse as the project of modernity. Progressive social movements have played a central role in empowering actors and expanding enfranchisement.

Resource Mobilization: Resource mobilization (RM) theory arose in the socio-historical condition of the 1970s when the radicalism of the 1960s gave way to many types of social movements vying for power to reform mainstream society along specific interest lines. RM theory explains the motivation to political action in terms of an economistic analysis of the costs and benefit of participation (Zald and McCarthy 1987). A central concern of RM theory at the micro level is the rational agency of individual actors as they interface with the strategies of social movement organizations. At a meso level, RM theory addressed the dynamics of social movement organizations. A weakness of the RM models is it did not explain more informal social movement activity such as is found in the loose coalition networks characteristic of some movements today. Another criticism is that the role of subjective factors such as grievances (which may be differential in motivating action) and ideology formation in social mobilization are downplayed. Despite these lacunae, RM, in stressing the roles of organizations, resources, strategies, leadership and the agency of actors, provides important insights. Social movements theorists have critiqued and modified RM in various directions, most notably in framing theory and political process theory.

Political Process: Some theorists have focused on the political aspects of movements such as political dynamics (organizations, resources, mobilization), the structure of political opportunities (power differentials) and political conflicts amongst power holders and challengers (McAdam 1982; Tilly 1978; Tarrow 1998). Tarrow (1998) has extended this model to include cycles and repertoires of contention, opportunity structures, framing resources, and complex “mobilizing structures” as important factors informing social movements. For Tarrow, mobilizing structures have three possible meanings in terms of the form of movements: formal organization, the organization of actions, and the connections between organizers and followers within and across movement networks. We have adapted the latter two aspects of Tarrow’s concept to internetworked social movements in focusing on “mobilizing networks,” coordinating structures that are more fluid and virtual than earlier type of movements, but at the same time, capable of mobilizing many people for direct actions.

Framing: To correct the objectivist aspects of RM theory, Snow et al (1986) added a constructivist social psychological and ideological dimension to resource mobilization by adopting Goffman's theory of frame alignment. Framing theory uses a symbolic interactionist perspective to study social psychological and cultural factors relating to mobilization. Such frames explain the basis of adversity, offer visions of a desirable world, and suggest strategies. On a pragmatic level, the success of a movement depends in part on developing a belief system that encourages participation. On a motivational level, Gamson (1992) notes that meaning construction is especially important in how grievances and motivations are defined, linked, and critically extended to form collective identity, solidarity, and the consciousness or critical awareness of movement actors. Klandermans (1992) extended the framing perspective to the interconnectedness of networking and issue framing and the influence of media discourse. To understand contemporary movements, it is necessary to have a social movement model which connects identity, ideology, and network formation to understand how collective action may mobilized via CMC.

New Social Movements: These theories specifically address the conditions for the emergence of collective action and collective identity formation in contemporary information society. The organizing base of NSMs has been theorized as more dispersed, diverse, fluid, and complex in structure than the more defined and fixed structures of previous movement organizations (e.g., labor movements). NSMs can be seen as being grounded in the resistance of middle class to the rationalizing force of modernity and expression of cherished values and/or sharing of group solidarity (Lichterman 1996). NSMs focus on the construction of collective identities (for coherence and to articulate resistance) and nurturing relationships as central values/aims of movement activity. Participatory democratic relations and decentralized forms of organization are a central value perspective (Castells 1997; Melucci 1996). Articulating creative symbolic or cultural modes of resistance are as important to organizing as those for political influence. Movements may be read as strategically navigating fields of action where interest and identity formation are necessary mediating processes in that social movements leverage power against political bodies by virtue of mobilizing publics around shared themes and interests. Most helpful are multi-factor models of recruitment and of the interaction of movements with other movements and broader macro-level political economic structures and cultural mediations.


Social Movements and the Internet

A growing body of literature speaks to issues of the new, transnational NGOs (Tarrow 2001; Smith 2001; Keck and Sikkink 1998). But the more recent internetworked social movements, which tend to be far less structured, more open and participatory, and articulated across a wide variety of issues, cannot easily be understood within the existing frameworks (Langman et als, 2002). We have thus drawn upon the larger body of social movement theory to develop preliminary models.

            In the case of the alternative globalization movements, very few researcherst have investigated actual protest organizations and/or spoken with actual demonstrators. Most commentaries have been focused on macro-social factors and ex post facto analyses. This is not to ignore the important studies of George (2001), O’Neill (2000) and Smith (2001). But most of these studies have tended to be limited in scope and preliminary. The radical differences between internetworked social movements and earlier movements has not fully theorized. There is no simple answer as to how and why people become involved in democratic social movements. The Internet makes the question especially complex. Does the net enable recruitment, or do people already disposed to activism manage to find activist groups via the net? Do such movements attract the alienated and marginal, or the more engaged (Garner 1999)? Are activists rebels, or have they come from activist backgrounds? Movements are not only struggling for access to social power but also for “the right to participate in the very definition of the political system, the right to define that in which they wish to be included" (Alvarez et al 1998: p21). In a globally networked society, local concerns/problems become linked to global patterns of power. Much like the local-global linkages found in globalized capital networks, some movement theorists argue that movement structures operate simultaneously on local and global levels (Escobar 2000; Harcourt 1999; Ribeiro 1998). In a study of various alternative globalization movements (AGMs), Starr (2000) argues that a common strategy of AGMs is to conceptualize structural locations and democratic practices that preserve and recreate local cultures and ways of life. Similarly, Escobar (2000) argues that anti-globalization social movements  struggle in various ways for the defense of local places and cultures, the transformation of entrenched forms of power and domination (such as gender and race domination), and the construction of coalitions through media and actor-networks. He further suggests that in transnational movements that various collective identities intersect and are mutually transformed in relation to previous definitions. And, in the intersection of various identities a global collective identity may be forming. We believe that a close analysis of the development of mobilizing networks and complex, multi-dimensional collective identities mediated through the Internet gives leverage to explain the new emergent qualities of internetworked movements and their potentials for growth and strategic influence.


III. A Model of Internetworked Social Movements

The emergence of internetworked social movements requires us think outside of the “boxes” of the dominant theoretical models. As Buechler (2000) notes, contemporary globally oriented, Internet mediated, movements, in which grievances and ideologies play a role in framing and organizing, are not easily understood by any single paradigm. Thus, we need to consider different levels of analysis with different paradigms. To do so it is necessary to outline a multileveled thoery of internetworked movements, considering macro, meso, and micro aspects of movements.


Democracy, Movements, and Public Spheres

Just as print media enabled the move of consciousness from the local to the emerging “national” levels of shared identities as citizens, the Internet has enabled new forms of consciousness, community and identity and new forms of connectivity at transnational levels. It is crucial to understand that internetworked social movements sometimes engage in democratic practices outside mainstream media and even outside the existing political structures. We suggest an integration of Habermas’ notion of the “public sphere” as a site and basis for democratic communication and LeClau and Mouffe’s (1984) formulations of democracy as pluralistic, free articulations of a variety of identities. Fraser (1989) has argued that Habermas' notion of the public sphere conceives of public discourse as a single overarching medium, whereas a “multiplicity of publics” actually advances democracy.

The Internet and information technology are part of a major world historical transformation of social relations through political, economic and cultural globalization. The Internet, providing a many-to-many networked communication medium is being used to disseminate information not easily available and to organize new virtual, often dispersed communities, cybercultures and social movements. Thus, Internet media create various “virtual public spheres” in the tradition of open, undistorted communication and democratic social change. These “virtual public spheres” (Calhoun 1997; Langman et al 2001) that mediate social relationships create the conditions for “alternative political opportunity structures” (Tarrow 1998) that have implications for the transformation of society. We are now witnessing the expansion of a variety of social movement coalitions, including those between diverse, often antagonistic movements (e.g., ecology and labor).

            In internetworking across diverse publics for common and diverse interests, AGMs exemplify a pluralistic democracy working outside of traditional political parties or even NGO organizations. Some mainstream movement organizations, such as labor, are finding that the net transforms their operations in a more democratic manner. Shostak (1999) notes that more unionists are communicating with one another through e-mail than by phone, mail, and fax. Shostak emphasizes that the Internet is not only a medium for information and communication. The Internet leads to a familiarity between far-flung representatives in the union–so that when they meet in person at conventions, it is easier to form relationships. The Net is also collapsing the distance between the line and the top of both the union and company hierarchies. This is leading to the ability of individuals and groups in unions to take initiatives, as has sometimes been the case in some of the labor organizing in the AGM protests. In general, the tendencies for greater democracy on the net are accompanying increasing resistance to injustice and oligarchic forms of power.

            Counter arguments have been made about the democratic potentials of network society. One is that the potentials for democracy on the Net are mixed and involve conflicting forces. As Garner (1999) has noted, various anti-democratic (fascist, racist) movements and democratic movements use the web. Whatever the ideological content flowing through and shaping the Internet, cyberspace has made possible a plurality of new virtual "public spheres" where a variety of otherwise marginal voices might be heard. Another critic, Boggs (2001) sees that the international economy has been decoupled from local political control. This point is well made, being grounded in current research (Sklair 2001, Harris 2001). Boggs is therefore quite pessimistic about the possibilities of either public spheres or sustained effective political action—notwithstanding the alternative globalization movements. For others however, CMCs allow the emergence of new public spheres and possibilities of internetworking that creates new connections and movements (Calhoun, 1997) linking many local sites of resistance in complex global networks connected by communication systems and a very wide umbrella of critique global capital and politics. The Internet both expands the potentials for democratic social institutions through many-to-many link and expands the body politic geographically to the globe. The Internet has enabled a plurality of voices to  publicly articulate, critique and debate a variety views and standpoints, and yet, there is a unity in the variety, a tapestry in which many strands are woven together. In the face of domination resulting from economic globalization, it has become necessary for diverse social movements to work together to simultaneously advance both their common and diverse interests.

To understand the interaction of mobilizing networks and global-local structural factors, it is necessary to consider social movement frames, ideology, identity, and strategy as structuring factors. We will discuss macro level movement dynamics in cultural terms of “public spheres” (drawing on Calhoun, Castells, Escobar and Melucci). Structural considerations are noted in terms of transnational networks (drawing on Keck and Sikkink, Tarrow, Tilly) and politico-economic critiques of power and media, alternative and mainstream, help frame our theory as they so inform the complex AGM networks articulated vis-à-vis transnational capital and ruling elites.

            To focus the above theoretical considerations we propose following problematics/hypotheses as key areas of study of ISMs.:

·         As a result of the interconnectedness of movement networks on the Internet, movement ideologies, identity formation and strategies are more likely to be renegotiated and rearticulated in various public spheres. Thus, coalitions amongst different types of movements (such as feminist and labor movements) lead to renegotiated forms of collective identity and to new umbrella strategies that articulate linkages across various moral and identity terrains.

·         Specifically, some recent alternative globalization mobilization networks are in the process of forming a new collective identity, a global justice identity.  This is being formed to encompass the great plurality of interests involved in the alternative globalization movement networks.

·         The interactions within and among movement mobilizing internetworks are the webs of decision making, communication, and coordination that navigate the complex, dispersed, and quickly changing fields of issue construction and strategizing that face internetworked social movements, ISMs. These complex mobilizing internetworks (that may weave across a great many organizations) currently reconfigure on a case by case basis (protest by protest). Mobilizing networks seem to “harden” around leadership structures in local manifestations of protests and policy making meetings, but in practice such arrangements may reconfigure within actions or shortly thereafter.

·         If complex network relations become routinized between various organizational offices over time, this could lead to their institutionalization, creating new sustained, transnational structures in civil society.


The Internet and Social Movements

Central to understanding ISMs is understanding the fundamental dialectic of the Internet. On the one hand, the Net is the means through which global firms move capital, finance investements, conduct business, coordinate branches, design/produce and sell goods/services and sustain profits. But, the Net also can be used as a medium for resistance. Through internetworking and cyberactivism, net-based organizing enables various social actions and mobilizations in which progressive social movements confront globalization through new forms of communication, community building, resistance and mobilization (Castells 1997; Dyer-Witheford 1999; Melucci 1996). Of the recent upsurge of ISMs, perhaps most notable have been the support for the Zapatistas and dolphin free tuna, the Land Mine treaty banding the manufacture and deployment of mines, and ending strip mining, clear cutting forests and genetically modified organisms. More recently, masses of youth have protested against neo-liberal economic globalization from Seattle to Genoa embracing frameworks that critique globalization, targeting treaties such as FTAA, regulatory agencies such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank, WEF, etc., and the meetings of global and regional elite power blocks such as the G8, EU, TABD, etc. These movements, using technologically sophisticated forms of internetworking, have rapidly proliferated and embrace a variety of democratic goals (Langman et al 2001). Internetworked social movements, as networks of organizations, often consist of broad coalitions that range from trade unionists to environmentalists, feminists, and gay rights activists. These movements may be seen as networks of networks (Keck and Sikkink 1998).

         We suggest that internetworked movements operate through various types of “cyberactivism" (based on Langman et al 2001). These are a combination of two factors: first, type of social action in regards to the net either “through the net” (the net as a tool) or “in the net” (the net as a social space or site of contestation), a distinction discussed by Poster in terms of the Net as tool and/or community (199x); and second, type of social sphere (economic, political-relational, and cultural). Hence, cyberactivism through the Net is seen in:  1) Internetworking, 2) Capital and information flows, and 3) Alternative media. Cyberactivism in the Net is seen in: 4) Direct cyberactivism (hacktivism), 5) Contesting and constructing the Internet, and 6) Online communities. We define the types of cyberactivism preliminarily as follows:


·         Internetworking: The Internet extends the reach of existing struggles and enables the expansion of established movements, new organizations and actions. Many traditional social movement organizations (SMOs) (often becoming NGOs) such as the ACLU, NAACP, and AFL-CIO as well as new SMOs such as NOW, ACT-UP, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Green Peace, maintain online resources and organize online in diverse ways[1]. We see various ISMs as less institutionalized, grass roots movements that use the Internet to coordinate actions by a diversity of groups.

·         Capital and information flows: Net based economic activity includes such processes as mainstream networked channels of capital distribution, solicitation, and management by social movements; computer mediated barter banks and local capital pools and credit unions and collective goods coordinated via the net, and decentralized P2P media distribution networks. Large mainstream movement organizations and NGOs raise funds and coordinate capital through the Internet. Information resources are also extensive on the net including extensive information on foundations and grant making. Databases of movement organizations and contacts enable networking across organizations and coalition building.[2] Emails campaigns are not only used to organize protests (see direct cyberaction below), they can be used to solicit ongoing donations from members. Adaptations to the modes of managing capital by the public and social movement sector to the Internet are a site of contestation and accommodation to capital (sometimes in the life of same person or activity of same organization). 

·         Alternative media: Movement organizations use net media, such as websites, movement listserves, bulletin boards and chat rooms to recruit, inform and engage members. These alternative sources of information are highly decentralized and little subject to corporate or governmental control or censorship.[3] One example is the Independent Media Center network, a decentralized global network of now over 80 local media collectives with an internetworked collection of services including a global news website, local news websites, and informational listserves[4]. IMC exemplifies the potential of the Internet as a new virtual public sphere (Habermas 1975). With minimal resources, local groups may create electronic forums where ongoing discussions and information are readily available. Due to their interactive nature, IMC and similar media act as both news media and forum for grass roots mobilization, both for specific local issues and for larger mobilizations. These new, virtual public spheres are structured as many-to-many exchanges that mitigate the commodifying and centralizing influence of globalized economic interests.

·         Direct cyberactivism: Movements are utilizing e-technologies as a disruptive tool against some industries or global organizations. Cyberactivists have protested various corporations through electronic civil disobedience, for instance, in “virtual sit-ins” by overwhelming websites with high amounts of traffic. "Hacktivism" is a form of direct cyberactivism in which hackers appropriate or disrupt technologies for personal and political ends (Wray 1998).[5] Denning (2000) writes, “Government and non-government actors used the Net (in former Yugoslavia) to disseminate information, spread propaganda, demonize opponents, and solicit support for their positions.

·         Internet Access and Structure: Internet structure and access are subjects of activism. Various advocacy groups, programming innovations, and legislative initiatives aim to structure and regulate the Internet and Net access. For example, the free software movement is a set of programming efforts to keep information resources public (Lessig 1999). In terms of access, closing the digital divide is a necessary part of empowering the main victims of the information revolution and increasing their ability to form productive alliances with other sectors in contesting for broader political power. One of the most important and less visible forms of cyberactivism has been the proliferation of groups fostering computer use and skills among the underserved. The development of Community Technology Centers enable underprivileged populations to gain technological training, access to the net, and form networks and connections with other communities. The CTC network now has over 600 member organizations and is rapidly growing. Through CTCs, many less privileged youth have developed marketable computer skills, are able to go online, and some have become politically empowered.

·         Online alternative community formation: Early online forums demonstrated the promise of a great diversity of “virtual communities” organized around common interests (Rhiengold 1993). A fundamental problematic is if Internet-based communities exist solely as “virtual” moments in cyberspace or do constellations of digital information have an enduring material basis for “reality.” Castells (2001) characterizes online interactions as less a space of communities (conceived as based on primary relations) and primarily extending already existing modes of relations or interests of individuals.  We disagree. Wellman (2001), while agreeing with Castells on the increase in individualism in industrial societies, has extensively studied the nature of online communities and has argued that such communities, as networks of interpersonal ties are indeed “real” in terms of forming durable relations that provide an number of social rewards including sociability, identity and support networks. Social movement literatures have gradually (Klandermans 1992, Tarrow 1995) compiled a variety of incentives to engage in social movements, including individual rewards and skills building, solidaristic/social rewards, network pulls, and ideological framing. It stands to reason that online movements will find persons interested developing the community aspects of online relations as part and parcel of progressive politics.


On the basis of preliminary observation and research, we suggest that for internetworked social movements there have also been new and mostly uncharted changes in movement organization, participation and leadership. To highlight this point, we note that traditional social movements often have been organized by professional leadership. Such organizations were often highly disciplined. NSMs are more loosely organized. Indeed, they embrace more participatory democratic practices and processes. Often, their leadership is more diffuse. One unique aspect of ISMs is formation of coalitions involving organizations with various structures (both hierarchical and decentralized) which often interact in a decentralized manner but can also become tightly organized in some mobilizations (as in the Genoa with the Genoa Social Forum or in Porto Alegre with the World Social Forum). It would be a mistake to assume that ISMs in the case of AGMs are coalitions that form and dissolve with each protest. Rather, over time, ongoing flexible organizing meta-networks networks for coordination and planning are developing across many networks. For the internetworked social movements, ongoing organizational efforts over time across campaigns seem to consist of networks of flexible communications that are held together by diffuse coalitions embracing a variety of democratic identities and ideologies. As Castells (2002) has recently noted, these movements are more based on shared values and identities than specific issues. Much like the distinction between new and traditional movements, Tarrow (2001) notes that transnational movement networks oriented to global issues also manifest both in the more decentralized and fluid types of networks and in more defined and formalized relations between NGO and SMO elites. Tarrow (1998) has also written about the various types of efforts to develop decentralized movement organizations, a central challenge of which is to find a middle ground between the stifling effect (in terms of adaptability) of too much organization and dissipative effect (over time) of too little organization. Tarrow further argues that the declining influence of the state is a favorable political opportunity structure for social movement activity.

            We would add that the Internet provides opportunity structures for mobilization outside the bastions of institutional power. Just as the Iranian revolution of 1979 depended on smuggled tape recordings and support for Yeltsin against the Communist attempted coup in 1991 was facilitated by faxes and CMC, now internetworking and CMC have created new channels of communication and in turn, many avenues of expanded mobilization potential and ongoing interaction for social movements. In terms of an organizational structure, the Internet brings many organizations and persons in many-to-many relations together, enabling some networks to sustain a balance between a structured institutionalized form able to influence states, corporations, etc. in an ongoing way. Yet a fluid networks are able to mobilize in new ways to meet new opportunities and threats quickly. This is informed by ideologies holding to decentralization, organizing from the grass roots, etc. Such ideologies are mediated through online public spheres/media and through counter-summits which have been held at larger mobilizations and gatherings such as the World Social Forum.

            We propose that due to the pervasive use of the Internet and through the will and practices of grass roots democratic social movements, there is an increasing tendency for decentralized networks to inform networks structured by elites and for elite structures to inform decentralized networks. In this relation, there are emerging hybrid or dynamic network constructions, which sometimes manifest as structured in links across many networks and sometimes fluidly change connections. Contemporary movements range in structure from extremes of decentralization to centralized authority. Such extremes may persist indefinitely. However, through repeated engagements over time, in the middle of such possibilities something new is emerging: A structured yet flexible, internetworked global civil social sphere that integrates in many collaborative projects the interests and activities of many social movements.

            The above multi-focal framework for cyberactism and multi-dimensional approach understandings ISM internetworking as the creation “virtual public spheres” through alternative media to frame issues and the use of internetworking to recruit, organize, and mobilize action (individual and collective), without ignoring the unique structural and subjective aspects of internet activism and how these directly inform the movement. It is important to emphasize that counter to some early claims about Internet use that extensive online interactions may supplement offline personal interactions.

            In an intensive ethnography of Internet use, Miller and Slater (2000) found that the effects of Internet use on the virtualization of social life, or  the migration of social exchanges to Internet, varies depending on the level of formalization of the social relations. For instance, offline family and friendship relationships were extended and enriched and encouraged by CMC and not replaced by Internet relations. On the other hand, some types of economic transactions were found to move from face-to-face exchanges to primarily Net-based transactions. We suggest that the same principle is operating in social movements. Personalized interactions such as the extension of offline friendship networks through movement activity (and formation of new friendship networks) would be enhanced by Internet use. In contrast, more rationalized social movement actions such as routine decisions and data transfers in movement networks may be likely to migrate to mostly Net-based mediation.

At the meso level of analysis, we suggest the following problematics as key areas of study:

·         How mobilizing internetworks actualize and organize movement coalitions.

·         Collective identity formation and change via the net: how is the Internet is used in activism and how does the Internet mediate, enable and constrain social movement activism? How do the framing of movement issues and ideology and development of identities correlate with Internet mobilization?

·         Alternative globalization movement networks (rather than being fields of indeterminable differences described by some popular writers) are composed of complex sub-networks that differ in organizing style, e.g., the degree of centralization and ideology. These structural differences are associated with distinct strategies and outcomes (that may be clearly charted in local mobilizations) and may continue to manifest, perhaps more distinctly, in future mobilizations.

·         Central to some internetworking in movements, especially that inform the AGMs, is if and how the organization of the varying mobilization efforts is conducted in a participatory democratic manner. The commitment to and connection to the participation of the periphery is what may keep international and transnational movement structures, in the interaction of the general public and movement professionals, flexible and democratic.


Recruitment and the Structure of Participation

The emergence of Internet based movements requires us to inquire about how participants are recruited and actions mobilized. It has long been shown that groups with strong political sentiments show high degrees of in-group solidarity. The problem for democracy is testing ideas and factual support for ideas outside the in-group of “true believers”. Thus it becomes important for democratic groups to gain sympathy and support outside the core of the dedicated. How internetworking can and does build bridges in a crucial question for the future of democratic movements. Hence, we locate these four types of factors may be influence or be influenced by the interaction of face-to-face mobilization and mobilization via the Internet: background, network exposure, framing/ideology, and interests/motivations:


·         Background of Participants: Organizers frame messages to reach a specific audience. Previous membership in a voluntary organization is likely to increase level of participation because previous skills can be transferred regardless of the substantive issue addressed (Morris 1992). A measure of prior socialization around an issue is previous involvement in activism, or more broadly, volunteering around any issue. Another measure of interest in an issue is a long history of concern about the issue, which often involves early socialization. Whalen and Flacks (1989) suggested that many of the 60’s anti-war activists were not rebelling against parental authority, but came from more liberal, permissive families with progressive politics. Some impressionistic evidence suggests that a number of people in the ISMs had parents active in the NSMs of the 60’s. But this relationship may be specific to certain sectors of cyberactivism, thus what might be a significant relationship in one group may not apply in other groups. For example, labor activists may come from different kinds of family backgrounds than do environmentalists or human rights activists. Thus it becomes important to investigate the relation of individual backgrounds and activism.

·         Recruitment Networks: Recent movement theory explains participation as being enabled by the effect of exposure to social networks and social location and incentives.  A number of theorists emphasize that social bonds and networks are necessary for recruitment (Klandermans and Tarrow 1988, Castells 1997, Melucci 1996). Networks are not one‑dimensional but have strong and weak connections. The affective bonds between members are important facets of mobilization. McAdam (1986) showed that exposure to networks and affective bonds to members promoted joining the Freedom Summer civil rights campaign. Snow et al (1980) found that recruitment to alternative religions was influenced by contact with a movement's networks, affective interaction with members, and availability for recruitment through low commitments. There has been a great deal of debate over the political consequences of the Internet. Some have claimed that it has been colonized by consumerism, contributes to fragmentation of society and greater apathy of citizens. Others have seen the Internet as a means of creating communities based on interests and belief, not accidents of geography. Such net-based communities are as "real" as face-to-face communities and may often lead to such interactions (Garton et al 1999, Wellman 1999, Miller and Slater 2000). The limited evidence suggest that participants were first recruited  through personal connections such as friendship, social and activist networks, or through public outreach via Internet or other media, while noting that impersonal/political use of the Internet may lead to personal connections and vice-versa. A central problematic asks how to define network recruitment via the Internet.

·         Framing the Issue and Forming Identities: In social movement theory there are several distinct approaches to explaining the motivation or "push" that moves people to participate. Traditional RM theory explains motivation in terms of calculation of the costs and benefits of participation; this remains a central tenet of RM theory. An earlier theory of social movement participation, collective behavior theory, places the push for involvement in deeply felt grievances.  In the 1990s, RM theory adapted discussions of grievance framing (Buechler 2000), linking additional concerns such as legitimation and the framing of empowerment to the process of interpreting grievances, and exposure to networks. NSM theory explains participation in terms of the link of identity formation and community/network pulls. One aspect of framing work in movements today is the dense set of links between various online organizing materials. The movement literature of various movements is often informed by incisive critiques of social problems. We believe that an important connection between critique and mobilization can be found in the intensive use of Internet discourse in organizing. It is likely that both ideological socialization and friendships go up as Internet use goes up. The representations of AGM mobilizations are highly contested inside and outside the movements. Differences are at least partly grounded in various organizational commitments and cultures. Hence, framing theory is a very helpful perspective for the study of mobilization via the Internet.

·         Benefits and Costs: The social constructionism of framing theory explains motivation in terms of framing interests. Social movement theorists note that interests in social movements change over time, based partly on group interests, and distinguishes three central motives for participation: collective motives related to willingness to help produce a collective good, social motives related to reactions of significant others, and reward motives based on individual costs and benefits (Fireman and Gamson 1979; Klandermans 1984). Collective motives may figure strongly in the inclination to act, even when self‑centered motives are strong. People contribute to a collective good precisely because people are aware that nothing would happen unless someone takes the initiative.


At a micro level of analysis, the above considerations may be summarized in the following research questions:

·         What factors dispose persons to activism? How are people recruited into ISMs? Why do people join, participate and/or leave movements, e.g., what are the costs, benefits and outcomes gained through participation in movements? We will consider factors such as a person’s background, values, ideology, and the origins and basis of his/her network exposure and subsequent membership.

·         What factors are associated with different levels of participation and commitments of organizers, active participants and passive membership?

·         How do personal and social factors intersect with and impact identities and ideologies? What are the interactions between network participation, framing of issues, ideology, and identity formation in ISMs? 


IV. Summary

In the last few years, with the rise of networked society (Castells 1996, 2001; Hunter, 2002; Sassen 1998), democratic social movements, network armies,  with a distinctly global orientation have emerged. Organizers have become skilled in the use of the Internet. The Internet has made possible new forms of social relations, “internetworking” as well as net-based political actions, “cyberactivism.” In some ways, internetworked social movements (ISMs) share the goals articulated by earlier democratic mobilizations such as the unionization, suffrage, and civil rights movements. But with the use of the Internet, ISMs stand as unique forms of social organization and movement activism.

            Twenty-first century social change, internetworking, collective identity formation, social movement mobilization, and democratic social action are a very complex social field. To understand the complexity of internetworked social movements ranging from more structured organizations like labor unions to more fluid movements like the alternative or anti-globalization groups, we believe is necessary to engaged multileveled comparative studies of movement networks and internetworking. In developing critical social understandings of the dynamic nature of modern protest, we suggest that social movement theories of network societies (Klandermans 1992; Melucci 1996; Tarrow 1998), the emerging field of Internet studies (Jones 1999; Garton et al 1999; Miller and Slater 2000; Wellman 1999), and the critical theory of the Frankfurt school are all important analytical perspectives. Our model of social movements considers scale and dialectical elements amongst diverse social factors, of which we highlight:

·   At a macro level, in the information age, it is crucial to understand the role of Internet media in the historical emergence of various virtual “public spheres” and creation of new large-scale movement networks, quasi-enduring structures, ideologies and identities (Calhoun 1997; Castells 1998).

·   At a meso level, the relation of social movement internetworking can be effectively mapped in studying mobilizing networks, processes and dialectics of the collective identities construction, and the development in ongoing contents of movement strategizing for democratic social change.

·   At a micro level, it is necessary to articulate in larger context, the recruitment, mobilization, commitments, identity formation, and nature of participation of individuals in civic activism.

The rise of global social movements is rooted in the secular trend of the expansion of democracy and civic activism over the last three centuries that has become intertwined with the new technologies of communication. We believe the current round of mobilizations will lead to new insights as various as: How inclusive democracy and some elements of global civil society may be developing via the emergence of virtual public spheres; how internetworking interacts with identity formation and the framing of issues; how internetworking facilitates participation in civic activism and movement mobilization.

      The Internet, with its widespread access and ease of use, has both democratic and anti-democratic potentials. While large numbers of people mobilize via the Internet for progressive social ends, various fascist, racist, and other anti-democratic forces are also using the Internet. Social scientists need a better understanding of the social nature and implications of such movements and the new, growing arts and technologies of “internetworking” and net-based “cyberactivism”.






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[1] See SocioSite Activism directory,, and New Social Movement Network,, for lists of movements on web.

[2] For instance, see the extensive database at the Hague Appeal for Peace website,

[3] Note that some of the new alternative media adopt the same approach to freedom of news that the free software net does to code: open access and free use. For examples of various alternative media, see the Independent Media Center (IMC), Common Dreams Media,,, Direct Action Media Network, and WebActive websites.

[4] During and after the G8 protests in Genoa, 2001, the IMC web received over 5 million hits a day.

[5] For examples of hacking for personal reasons, see Lemos’ (1996) discussion of the Minitel, a government sponsored bulletin board that hacker's transformed into a system that included personal messaging, and Cleaver's (2000) discussion of the ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet.