Explaining the escalation of networked activism through repertoire reconfiguration

Extant research shows that even with limited resources, activists can surprise more powerful targets by continuously introducing tactical innovations. Yet, the on-going creation of novel tactics can give rise to organizing challenges that complicate collective efforts in underappreciated ways. This is particularly true for networked activists who cooperate through digital social networks to achieve shared aims without belonging to a common organization that supports their cause. How do networked activists organize to create on-going tactical innovations? While scholars have made progress in determining what predicts the introduction of new tactics, we know little about how the process of tactical innovation unfolds. We argue that by examining how networked activists create and adapt their organizing repertoire, or the set of practices and tools used to enable tactical innovation, we can explain not only how tactical innovations are created and deployed, but also how networked activism can escalate. With an inductive field and archival study, we examine how, over a seven-year period, the Anonymous online community escalated from ad hoc raids on single targets to coordinated operations against multiple targets. We offer a grounded theoretical explanation of how escalation is enabled by reconfiguring a repertoire of practices and tools to address emergent organizing challenges and a particular explanation of how this process unfolds in the context of networked activism.

Discussant: Candace Jones

JOURNEYS: Session 3