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Unintended consequences: the negative impact of e-mail use on participation and collective identity in two ‘horizontal’ social movement groups

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by Cristina Flesher Fominaya
ECIA Fellow
European Political Science Review

The relation between face-to-face and online communication and its impact on collective identity processes is understudied. In this article by Cristina Flesher Fominaya, ECIA Fellow, two case studies was conducted during a 3-year ethnographic study of the Global Justice Movement network in Madrid, Spain, from 2002 to 2005 to explore the unintended impact of e-mail on the sustainability, internal dynamics, and collective identity of two groups committed to participatory and deliberative practices as key features of their collective identity. The author founds that despite an explicit commitment to ‘horizontalism’ the use of e-mail in these two groups increased existing hierarchies, hindered consensus, decreased participation, and worked towards marginalization of group members. In addition, the negative and unintended consequences of e-mail use affected both groups, independently of activists’ evaluation of their experience in their face-to-face assemblies (one of which was overwhelmingly perceived as positive and one of which was perceived as negative). The article draws on e-mail research in organizations, online political deliberation research, and existing studies of e-mail use in social movement groups to analyse these findings.

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