Jen Schradie is available to skype into a course that uses The Revolution That Wasn’t.
The book is appropriate for a variety of classes, from sociology and political science to anthropology and communication, as well as media, journalism, and labor studies. Coursework on digital inequality, collective action, political ideology, organizations, data science and other subfields could benefit from the book. In addition, students and professors interested in fake news and populist movements may find the book relevant to today’s debates.
Curious about assigning a specific chapter(s)? I found three main factors that shaped digital activism, which I used to organize this book. While I include all 34 groups in my digital activism index, each chapter zooms into a few organizations that exemplify a specific factor. In addition to the overview of the Introduction and the implications in the Conclusion, the other chapters focus on the different factors of the digital activism gap:
The introductory chapter unpacks both the conventional wisdom and intellectual puzzles around digital activism differences. I lay out the motivation for a book that zooms out from just focusing on high-profile visible protests while at the same time zooming into the everyday practices, rather than the extraordinary events, of digital activism. This chapter delves into the methodological and theoretical basis for the book without getting into too much jargon (see the appendix for the geeky academic details). In this chapter, I also explain how North Carolina, as a battleground state with both a high-tech industry and top universities, as well as some of the poorest areas in the country, is an ideal place to capture the gamut of experiences that social movement groups might encounter in using digital technologies.
The Great Class Wedge and the Internet’s Hidden Costs – Chapter 1 tackles the foundational question about whether or not digital activism levels the playing field between those from different socioeconomic classes. I not only measured how much different groups were posting and interacting online but also how the actual content varied, depending on the class make-up of the group. I uncovered mechanisms of digital differences that go beyond whether or not groups have access to digital gadgets or if they have the skills to go online. By spending time with predominantly African-American public employees in the far-reaches of rural North Carolina, I show how harnessing the power of the internet may not be so simple in a context of repression and racism.
Chapter 2, Bureaucracy’s Revenge and the Organization of Digital Activism, confronts the common wisdom that digital activism has flourished across horizontal movements, as opposed to digitally-stifling hierarchical organizations. I analyze measures of hierarchy and bureaucracy, such as decision-making levels and numbers of staff, in comparison to a group’s level of digital engagement. And with an in-depth look at everyday digital organizing practices, I compare both a structured teachers’ union and a horizontal student group. Both groups embraced the internet, but it turned out that digital engagement thrives on organizational roots more than even I had expected.
Chapters 3 and 4 delve more deeply into the political motivation of social movement groups to use the internet.
In Chapter 3, The Right’s Digital Evangelism and its Boots on the Ground, I compare right and left activists but focus on grassroots conservative groups. This digital account of Tea Party and far-right Prepper activists dispels the myth of conservatives as dupes in a Koch brothers’ conspiracy. They were digital evangelizers in their own right. By peeling back the layers of hype, I show how average conservative activists used the internet to go around a mainstream media they believed didn’t represent them anymore.
But political ideology is not simply a right versus left phenomenon, so Chapter 4, The Left’s Radical Fairness and Its Muted Online Bullhorn, takes a look at how groups’ political strategies – whether they lobby for reform or protest for radical social change – can impact their digital use. To explain this facet of the digital activist gap, I compare two different labor unions; one is reformist and focuses on influencing powerful decision makers, and the other is radical and focuses on organizing the powerless. In the process, both of these unions found themselves on opposite sides of an insurgent social justice movement, Moral Monday, which emerged in North Carolina in 2013 and sparked waves of protests across the state. This protest movement led to one of the most surprising findings of digital activism in the book, countering the prototypical view of an online warrior as a radical leftist.
Finally, the Conclusion raises the issue of what is at stake with this digital activism gap, in light of the moral panic around Trump’s tweets, Russian bots or cries of fake news. This pendulum swing of fear around the internet and politics fails to consider the people and organizations on the ground who are the ones generating, regurgitating, remixing and replying to online information, whether on the right or on the left.
And it is my hope that people from both sides of the ideological divide will find its stories, data and theories of interest – whether activists, policy makers, and journalists or tech workers and the general public. The book is for those who want a deep digital dive into what it takes to do everything from organize a protest to click on a political meme. Yet as an academic, of course I am in direct conversation with other sociologists and political scientists, as well as communication, media and journalism scholars. But because I delve into current debates around inequality, organizations, movements, unions and, yes, politics, the audience for this book is for anyone concerned about these issues, regardless of university degree.