Translating Occupy Toronto: Exploring movement network leadership, order and marginalisation across online-offline platforms

Author: Adam Pocrnic

Pocrnic, Adam, 2017 Translating Occupy Toronto: Exploring movement network leadership, order and marginalisation across online-offline platforms, Flinders University, Flinders Law School

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Emerging in September 2011 in New York City, Occupy is a social movement centred on redressing social and economic inequality. By October 15th 2011 Occupy was present in over 82 countries and 951 cities including the financial centre of Canada. In Occupy Toronto, conventions and practices were enacted across mutable online-offline networks to meet movement aims. Resource mobilisation theory and new social movement theory are inadequate to the task of fully examining this fluidity. This is because they typically centre their analytic focus on either the structural capacity of a movement organisation or on the agential construction of a collective identity. This thesis contends that social movements and the actors that comprise them need to be considered more fully in relational terms. This is because social phenomena are a composite of materially heterogeneous entities. This thesis employs actor-network theory (ANT) and its method of translation to explore Occupy Toronto. It evaluates the potential of ANT in providing a fresh account of how occupiers organised and mobilised a social movement network. In its account of the interplay between social movement actors and objects, this thesis draws upon the nexus of ANT and Occupy to develop a nuanced understanding of the role of leadership and the ordering and marginalisation of actors in a social movement.

In order to engage online and offline networked publics for social change, this thesis investigated how occupiers deployed the Occupy Toronto Facebook group page from September 2011 to October 2012. In total, 775 official Occupy Toronto posts and over 4200 occupier posts were collected. A number of secondary sources, such as Occupy research surveys, online interviews and videos were employed. A critical discourse analysis was applied to analyse and interpret the data. The extent to which ANT cannot capture the complexities, successes and/or failures of Occupy Toronto was examined. A relational interpretation of network building is offered through an investigation of how occupiers problematised issues of leadership; developed channelling platforms to structure and stabilise the movement; enrolled additional actors into the movement; and mobilised the movement into different realms.

The contribution that this thesis makes to political sociology is a renewed understanding of how materially heterogeneous entities effect online-offline movement network organisation and mobilisation. By examining how occupiers negotiated a movement’s leadership dynamic and how individual and collective fluidity expanded and retracted the boundaries of the network, this thesis addresses social movement action beyond the structure-agency duality. In its analysis of constituent orders this thesis also contributes to criminology as order-ology; it highlights the relationship between movement network leadership and marginalisation. This thesis finds that the Occupy movement is not easily captured by traditional social movement explanations. This is due to the individualised and blended nature of online-offline networked activism. This thesis adds perspective to an area of research that is currently lacking in descriptive and explanatory potential, the interplay of online and offline social movement networks and how actors figure prominently in the process.

Keywords: Actor-network theory, online-offline social movements, internal and external order, marginalisation, policing

Subject: Law thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: Flinders Law School
Supervisor: Professor Willem de Lint