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Social Movements and Political Agency in the Digital Age: A Communication Approach

A Research Paper by Anastasia Kavada, published by Cogitatio

This article by was published under an Open Access license by Cogitatio. The abstract has been reproduced here, and the full article is available to download for free from Cogitatio.

Digital media pose a dual challenge to conventional understandings of political agency. First, digital media destabilize long-held assumptions about the nature of collective action, about social movements and their capacity to effect change. This is because digital media are thought to facilitate more decentralized, dispersed, temporary and individualized forms of political action that subvert the notion of the collective as singular, unified, homogeneous, coherent, and mass. One way of resolving this challenge is to view the collective in looser terms, as a process rather than as a finished product, a conceptualization that can be influence our understanding not only of social movements, but also of other political actors and of society as a whole. Second, digital media highlight the need to take communication seriously in how we conceptualize both collective action and political agency. Placing communication at the centre allows us to develop this looser and more processual understanding of the collective by studying it as a process that is constituted in and through communication. Inspired by organizational communication and particularly the work of Taylor and van Every (2000), this essay proposes a conception of collective action as emerging in conversations and solidified in texts. This conceptualization allows for a more multiplex and variegated view of political agency that takes into account the specific context where agency is exercised and the power that different actors can exert in a communicative process of negotiation, persuasion and claim-making.


This article should be cited as: Kavada, A. (2016). Social movements and political agency in the digital age: A communication approach. Media and Communication, 4(4), 8-12.

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

Anastasia Kavada


Anastasia Kavada is a Reader in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster. She is Co-Leader of the Arts, Communication and Culture Research Community (ACC), and Co-leader of the MA in Media, Campaigning and Social Change. Her research focuses on the links between online tools and decentralized organising practices, democratic decision-making, and the development of solidarity among participants in collective action. Her work has appeared in a variety of edited books and academic journals, including Media, Culture & Society and Information, Communication & Society. She is currently working on a monograph with the provisional title ‘Experiments in Democracy: Digital Communication and Social Movements’.


13 August 2016
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