Social Movements in Digital Spaces: Experiences of online campaigning
Burnage, Amy (2012)

by Amy Burnage – School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham

Small organisations experience the increasing imperative of using the internet in very different ways. Over the last decade, numerous products, initiatives and services have been developed to offer training and guidance for adopting digital space. For organisations whose primary objective is campaigning for policy change, the internet is usually one of a number of strategic platforms they will choose to employ. However, while there are standard assumptions and trends over what works and what does not in campaigning, fundraising, and organising; there is very little known about how groups handle the process of moving their activities online.

Taking a narrative case study approach, this research therefore seeks to understand three things; first, how campaigners use digital space to inform and influence policy; second, how campaigners experience and value the increasing “digital imperative”; and third, what this experiential evidence can tell us about the broader social conditions at play. This paper will focus on the second of these questions, through outlining the early findings from 6 months of fieldwork within a campaigning organisation. Through interview, observation, and documentary analysis (within both the physical organisational boundary and the online spaces that its campaigners use); a story is beginning to emerge with a strong organisational focus on processes, practices and relationships, alongside more abstract notions around agency and power.

In order to ensure this story holds weight outside of digital literatures, it will be exposed to a number of academic and activist communities. These early findings will serve as the first stage of this process of public deliberation.


I am a third year doctoral researcher at University of Birmingham, School of Social Policy. I also work as a graduate teaching assistant on undergraduate modules within the School and have been involved in a range of projects with the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), from sector mapping to knowledge exchange. My academic interests lie primarily in civil organisation, social movement and social justice, both in UK and global contexts.

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