The New Frontier of Activism: A Study of the Conditioning Factors For the Role of Modern Day Activists

Andreas Holbak Espersen & Søren Walther Bjerregård

Student thesis: Master thesis


The purpose of this thesis is to examine how the new frontier for activism, known as online activism and as seen in the resistance towards SOPA/PIPA, affects the conditioning factors for the role of the activist. In brief, we seek to investigate how activism as a social phenomenon is changed by the technologies applied, and how this affects its relation to decision-making processes.
To facilitate this study and answer the main question of the thesis, three separate questions are deployed, thus defining our analytical strategy. First of all, we intend to shed light on the technological evolution of activism. Secondly, to grasp this new frontier of online activism, we perform a study of a contemporary case and ask: What, who, where, when and how? Third and finally, we conduct a summarizing analysis on the findings of the two analytical chapters in order to answer how online activism is different or alike from the genesis of activism.
In order to answer the first question, Foucault’s concept of genealogy is applied as analytical method. The analysis discovers through analyses of propaganda, interventions, boycotts, strikes and processions over the last 500 years, a dispositif of activism, conditioned by four factors: risk, critical mass, capital and time and space.
The analysis continues with an in-depth study of a contemporary case of online activism. Initially, we establish that is a central actor and in the centre of the attention network in regards to the SOPA/PIPA. Through the qualitative virtual field study, we find that the users of reddit apply different online technologies in their resistance against the proposals.
Finally, we conclude that that online activism resembles the offline technologies in many ways, but that there are some key differences, especially on the conditioning factors for the role of the activist. As a consequence, the subject position of the activist is transformed. This has implications for the future role of the activists. Furthermore, our findings raises issues calling for further research.
One indication of our study is that it is impossible to derive, whether online activism will have an effect on political decision-making processes. Another is, that scholars who reduce online activism to something insignificant will lose substantial potential for future research on activism as phenomenon.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages145
SupervisorsErik Caparros Højbjerg