The Businessification of Social Movements

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way different disciplines overlap. For my final paper, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between social movements and design, design and science, and how information design affects all of this. My education and career background spans across multiple fields, so it’s not uncommon for me to consider cross-pollanations such as these. So as I was reading “Transactions, Transformations, Translations,” my brain was constantly thinking about the different worlds colliding here. For instance, the report itself probably could use some stronger design thinking. But what I’d like to focus on here is how I, as someone with a business degree and a number of years in the corporate marketing and advertising world, felt as I read it.

In summary: it didn’t feel right.

My take on Pastor, Ito, and Resner’s piece was that this was an effort to “businessify” the way social movements were thought of: encourage a metrics-driven “evaluative approach”—something that can often lose nuance and emotion, two extremely important elements of participation in social movements. I realize they add the “transformations” category here in order to pick up those considerations which can’t necessarily be quantified. But even this felt forced: measuring requires summing up, boiling down, making simple, preparing for a PowerPoint slide bullet point. It didn’t help that the authors admit their original goal was to prepare information for funders. No surprise that to monetize, we need to quantify.

Alright, so maybe there aren’t great alternatives—at least not obvious ones or ones I will be able to propose in this blog post. But technology has taught us that it is very good at counting things. As such, we force things to be counted. How many friends do you have? How many people “like” you? How many visitors at a meeting can tell you they changed their world view thanks to your speech?

Is motive to be considered? Is it bad to say “I give money to this cause because they are better able to convince their constituents to mobilize”? What about saying, “I give money to this cause because I believe in it”?



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