PRESENTATION: How Ultras Football Clubs Breed Activist

Ultras as Activist

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When should organizations engage transnational networks?

This week’s readings provided an opportunity to reflect on non-western social movement mobilizations within the context of the new era of digital transnational activism. Markus Schulz’s paper on the Zapatista mobilization against NAFTA in the mid-1990s has far more similarities to the 2011 Egyptian Dignity uprisings than traditional American and European literature. Both the guerrilla Zapatista fighters in Chiapas, Mexico and the Egyptian Ultras (youth football fans with militant experience fighting the police) are not traditional social movement organizations (SMOs) in the conventional sense. Instead they both formed within their regional context and mobilized against the state as a component of a larger social movement when the interest of their organization were threatened. The Zapatistas and Egyptian Ultras, to a certain extent are open to using physical force to, “strengthen civil society vis-à-vis the state” (1998). While the Ultras are not guerilla fighters like the Zapatistas, their militant-like organization against the police cannot be denied.

Both groups have used “weak ties” with other transnational organizations to form temporary alliances to reach their common goals. While the transnational network of the Egyptian leftist Ultras had been established for over a decade, they failed to embrace the revolution as a part of their larger frame and therefore did not activate members outside of Egypt. Instead, members acted individually within their local networks to support the revolutionary movement at the neighborhood level. As a result, several Egyptian Ultra members have died fighting for the cause but the group continues to experience strong state oppression. The Zapatistas however, embraced the potential of forming new partnerships through engaging the support of foreign activist networks. Through digital activism, the group succeeded in activating members of ‘global civil society’ to bring awareness on the Zapatista struggle.

With this in mind, we can now question whether the Egyptian Ultras’ decision to not formally support the revolution an attempt to stay true to their original framing as a football fan club or the shortsightedness of their horizontal organization which was unable to foresee their potential capacity in impacting the politics of their state? In the era of transnational activism it is essential to realize the choice movements have in activating and including foreign networks.

New Cartography for “Placeless” Activism

This week’s reading on tactical media highlighted various emerging modes of digital intervention as alternative forms of social struggles. These “placeless” conflicts differ significantly from traditional protests in that they often target changing public perception through the creation of media or bringing attention to a cause through the disruption of services. Together, these new strategies create networked spaces within the digital sphere that have real impact on popular beliefs that influence critical social debates ranging from religion, to political support of wars.

The map below illustrates a solid attempt to locate hotspots of activism. The map geo-referenced All GDELT protest data for 2013. GDELT or the Global Database of Events pulls together local, national and international news sources and codes them to identify all types of protest. Understanding that changing public perception is the most powerful outcome of any social movement, how can cartography be leveraged as an analytical tool for modern-day activism?

protest_map

SOURCE: John Beieler, Ph.D. Student at Pennsylvania State University with the help of Josh Stevens

Working Paper: The Public Spheres of Contemporary Movements- An analysis of the relationship between the media culture and protest practices of the Ultras in Egypt and Spain

ABSTRACT

Virtual and spatial relationships have become the defining factors of recent popular movements throughout the world as new communication technologies become widely embraced. The relationship of these two dimensions of ‘public space’ has been highly debated. Theories range from ideologies of networked, unstructured digital movements capable of sparking spontaneous social unrest, to theories of choreographed popular uprisings (Castells, 2009; Gerbaudo, 2012). This semester’s term project will compare the media cultures of two youth groups: the Cairo al-Ahly Ultras and the Catalan Barcelona FC Ultras, called the Boixos Nois, as they mobilize for local popular movements. The aim of this project will be to understand the relationship between their strategic use of social media and the occupation of physical public space as they fight for deep socio-political structural changes.

Although soccer fans have traditionally been viewed by academics and politicians as ‘hooligans’ who physically act upon ‘social anxieties’, a rising number of clubs have undoubtedly become influential social actors in the most pressing political issues despite state oppression (Guilianotti, 2013). These bottom-up youth subcultures will be analyzed based on their online media-making practices and their strategic use of urban space for socio-political issues that extend beyond the stadium. Ultimately this analysis seeks to explain how social media and physical protest are being utilized as mechanisms within the larger process of social movements in two strikingly different contexts. Specific interest will be played to cultural differences, values, identities, and narratives of the movements at hand.

Through the use of Gerbaudo’s theoretical framework, known as the Choreography of Assembly, I expect to find implications of emotional priming or ‘scripting’ through popular social media outlets in order to mobilize their followers. A strong attempt will be made to identify the media creators in hopes of providing insights to these horizontal yet highly organized clubs.

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Please follow this link to read and comment on my working draft with preliminary results.

Activist as Social Marketers: Fighting for limited online attention

Although the specific role of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in recent social movements has been heavily debated in the Communication of Social Change (CfSC) literature, it has undoubtedly become an essential tool for many movements and activists. The commodification of user generated data on these platforms is ironically tying many social movement organizations (SMOs) to the very systems they oppose. The value of these platforms lies in its ability to create “crowds of individuals” or viral flows of information between physically disparate populations (Kavada, 2010). Both private enterprise and SMOs are attempting to harness this power by extending their causes or products to new audiences through the sharing of information in hopes of ultimately influencing behavior.
Digital marketers view this potential as a competition of online space and attention. Marketing is based on the premise that a certain amount of attention is necessary before a consumer will invest in a product or service. Marketing attempts to bridge the gap between the amount of attention available and the amount of attention required for action by either entertaining consumers so that they voluntarily pay attention or by reducing the amount of attention needed to generate action (Teixeira, 2014). People are increasingly spending more time online which further justifies the online presence of marketers and activists.
Much of the CfSC literature has been critical of the use of social media activism, often referring to the falling transaction costs to engage in activism as “slacktivism”. The singing of an e-petition or the following of an online campaign should not be undervalued but instead understood as a step within a larger process. Like marketers, activist must begin to understand the steps potential supporters make before engaging in a more meaningful way. The Resource Mobilization Theory (McCarthy et al., 1977) attempted to identify the various types of supporters as either adherents or constituents. What is now missing is an analysis of how digital platforms are changing how people transition between these two fundamental types of supporters and how SMOs’ use of digital media can facilitate the growth of social resources.
Much can be learned from the private sector since companies are investing vast amounts of financial resources into exploring these relationships through targeted campaign advertisement. While social movements do not have the capital to do such campaigning, they can arguably still benefit from marketers. Marketers will be increasingly exploring low-cost digital advertising strategies as costs continue to rise. It is these projects, many of which require user-generated material, that activist should closely study for potential adoption.

Image

SOURCES:

Kavada, A. (2010). Activism transforms digital: The social movement perspective. In Joyce M (ed) Digital Activism Decoded. New York, NY: Idebate, pp.101-118.

McCarthy, John D. and Mayer N. Zald. (1977). “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 82: 1212- 41.

Teixeira, T. (2014). “The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-055.

Are non-relational channels of diffusion obsolete in our digital age?

Soule (1997) explores within-movement diffusion of student protest tactics in the 1980’s through the assumption that student activists from different schools do not have direct network ties. The rise of information communication technologies (ICT) has generated digital networks that have been accredited with enabling rapid mobilization (Gerbaudo, 2012). ICTs have enabled citizen journalism to flourish which arguably makes the sharing of physical tactics available to all with access to communication technologies. One such example is of the Zapatistas’ use of global networks to diffuse information about their struggle. However, Earl (2013) makes the important point that, innovations such as protest tactics cannot simply be broadcasted but must also be learned and adopted. This adoption through online networks has led to the use of tradition protest tactics such as petitions to be used by non-political issues. Earl calls this phenomenon “disease jumping” since this epidemiological analogy describes the phenomenon of adoption by unrelated sub-populations. Taken together, there are three general diffusion processes which occur through online networks: 1) Information broadcasting is the most basic and requires no reaction from the observer; 2) the diffusion of innovations; and 3) “disease jumping.”
The #WithSyria campaign contains some examples of all three diffusion processes. #WithSyria was initiated on 14 March 2014 to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the Syrian War and to call for an end the war. The movement began with a movie and awareness campaign. Days later the movement was launched in 35 countries through local NGOs and led to several well-attended protests in capital cities. Arguably “disease jumping” has also occurred by providing non-activist in the West with an opportunity to openly protest against the Syrian War. The red balloon from the original awareness campaign video has become an icon of the movement. This tactic has been adopted from the gay rights movement and R4BIA campaign. #withSyria

The Public Spheres of Contemporary Movements: An analysis of the relationship between the media culture and protest practices of the Ultras in Egypt and Spain

ABSTRACT:

Virtual and spatial relationships have become the defining factors of recent popular movements throughout the world as new communication technologies become widely embraced. The relationship of these two dimensions of ‘public space’ has been highly debated. Theories range from ideologies of networked, unstructured digital movements capable of sparking spontaneous social unrest, to theories of choreographed popular uprisings (Castells, 2009; Gerbaudo, 2012). This semester’s term project will compare the media cultures of two youth groups: the Cairo al-Ahly Ultras and the Catalan Barcelona FC Ultras as they mobilize for local popular movements. The aim of this project will be to understand the relationship between their strategic use of social media and the occupation of physical public space as they fight for deep socio-political structural changes.

Although soccer fans have traditionally been viewed by academics and politicians as ‘hooligans’ who physically act upon ‘social anxieties’, a rising number of clubs have undoubtedly become influential social actors in the most pressing political issues despite state oppression (Guilianotti, 2013). These bottom-up youth subcultures will be analyzed based on their online media-making practices and their strategic use of urban space for socio-political issues that extend beyond the stadium. Ultimately this analysis seeks to explain how social media and physical protest are being utilized as mechanisms within the larger process of social movements in two strikingly different contexts. Specific interest will be played to cultural differences, values, identities, and narratives of the movements at hand.

Through the use of Gerbaudo’s theoretical framework, known as the Choreography of Assembly, I expect to find implications of emotional priming or ‘scripting’ through popular social media outlets in order to mobilize their followers. A strong attempt will be made to identify the media creators in hopes of providing insights to these horizontal yet highly organized clubs.