“Hands off our benefits!”: how participation in the comment section of the 2009 Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together, contributes to understandings of online collective action
thesisposted on 2023-08-30, 14:01 authored by Claire Preston
The idea that the internet enables disparate individuals to link together easily has focused attention on characterising collective action under these circumstances. My research looks instead at a situation which mixes the disparate and those united by various forms of shared identity, and material grievance. The case I focus on involves overlapping groups of benefits claimants: disabled people, carers and older people. These groups are under-represented online and their political activity in a digital environment has rarely been researched. The context of my research is a consultation over social care, which provoked a campaign of opposition and the posting online of nearly 3,000 comments on the green paper’s executive summary. This constitutes collective action because it was undertaken for a collective purpose: to defend disability benefits from a perceived threat. In order to take the focus I want, I develop a conceptual framework that includes all three drivers of collective action that feature in social psychology models - efficacy, injustice and identity. Much comparable research considers just one or two of these drivers. My analytical approach is primarily inductive but I employ a mixed-methods design, including digital tracing, inductive thematic coding and basic statistical analysis. The data is drawn from the campaign and the comments. I find that most of the comments exhibit a shared sense of injustice. They also frequently include expressions of collective identity made with reference to various groups, rather than to one overarching group. Personal narratives often accompany these collective expressions. The campaign messages spread horizontally among varied, but mostly pre-existing, forums, social networking sites and blogs. The mobilisation also had a vertical element due to the involvement of private company acting, in a hybrid manner, as a campaigning organisation. My research contributes to knowledge by showing that when online action includes people who are motivated by collective identity, traditional and more contemporary collective action processes do not simply co-exist: there is a dynamic interplay between them. It also demonstrates the value of focusing on lower-level networks. This shows that the role of the drivers can vary among the groups of actors involved and, where the drivers combine, they have a reinforcing tendency.
InstitutionAnglia Ruskin University
- Accepted version