I’m feeling a bit rusty at writing blog posts right now. It’s been about six months since I last posted. Hopefully, I’m going to try to keep them shorter and post more frequently on a wider variety of topics.
Recently, I’ve been reading a great sociology book called Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Dr. Zeynep Tufekci. She studies social movements and technology. I’ve followed @zeynep, her Twitter handle, for years. While I’ve been exposed to some of her academic ideas before, it was great to read them in the extended format of a book. Twitter and Tear Gas is easy to read, and I think that non-sociologists would find the book highly relatable. In fact, she uses metaphors in a way that is reminiscent of literature. Also, she documents her travels to study social movements in many countries, which I think made the book engaging.
I marked up my copy—always a sign of great content. However, I’m going to focus on Chapter 8 on “Signaling Power and Signaling to Power.” The key hallmark of good sociology is asking the right questions. Tufekci asks important questions in this book like:
If numbers and energy do not tell the whole story, how do we measure a protest’s power? Why do some movements have little impact while others are potent agents for social change (191).
Tufekci outlines three different types of capacity in social movements: narrative capacity, disruptive capacity, and electoral/institutional capacity. While the other two types of capacity are important, I’ve been reflecting on electoral and institutional capacity since I read the book. It’s described as:
a movement’s ability to keep politicians from being elected, reelected, or nominated unless they adopt or pursue policies friendly to the social movement’s agenda, or the ability to force changes in institutions through both insider and outsider strategies (192-193).
One of the best aspects of Tufekci’s writing is how she contrasts worldwide, contemporary and historical social movements to illustrate these types of capacity. Lots of people I know have been becoming more politically active. An understanding of the difference between types of capacity might help them make skillful choices in directing their activities to help the social movements that they care deeply about.
If you want to read the examples related to capacity in Chapter 8, Tufecki’s entire book is available here through Creative Commons. However, Tufekci makes a compelling case on her website as to why it’d be helpful for people to buy her book, which is what I did. I love the fact that this book is available for people who might not be able to afford it, like many of my students.
Finally, if books aren’t your cup of tea, then you might also find her Ted Talk from September 2017 called “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click ads” particularly relevant, given how social media, especially Facebook, is in the news right now. I just showed it to my social diversity and introduction to sociology students in the past few weeks, and they found it quite engaging and relevant. It led to student self-reflection on their social media usage. Soon, I plan to make some posts on what I’ve been reading in the past six months, as well as my thoughts on the Hugo nominees for this year.