Digital Resistance: Political activism and protest online

(Honors Program AY21 Fall 2020) Syllabus

Short course description
This course studies the proliferation, and implications, of digital technology in political resistance. The goal is to provide students with analytical tools and skills for understanding the strengths, weaknesses of contemporary digital resistance. The course’ perspective is on the resistance that is played out in the ‘everyday life’ of ‘ordinary’ people: a resistance that might be widespread and diffused, individual or small scale, implicitly political, disguised or even hidden. It brings to light how the ‘private’ or ‘personal’ can be political and explores the creativity of ‘cultural resistance’.

Particular interest will be payed to the study of new sources of power and their ability to subvert or censor acts of digital resistance. By taking this course the participants will gain a sophisticated understanding of the role played by technology, and technology providers, in the performance of, and resistance to, power. Course participants will develop a critical understanding of the nature of technology and its implications for local, regional, and global justice.

Examples of included texts, projects, topics, or themes
Through the study of large contemporary acts of resistance such as Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, participants will better understand classical theories of social movements and activism, while developing an understanding for the ways in which digital technologies are challenging both theoretical and practical understanding of political resistance. The course consists of introductory lectures and literature seminars. The more practical element of the course entails hands-on data collection and analysis on a contemporary case (or form) of digital resistance being carried out via social media platforms.

Fit with the mission of the Honors Program overall
In order to successfully bring about social and political change activists need to reach out to, and convince, a majority of the legitimacy of their demands. In a predominantly digital environment this means the efficient use of digital tools for social and political resistance. Any discussion on justice requires an understanding of how our relationship to justice is mediated by technology. Digital platforms provide the potential for resistance to injustice and spreading activist messages to a broader public. At the same time, they play an integral part in deceiving publics and/or sowing discord, propaganda and hate. We need to better understand the ways in which digital resistance both functions and may be subverted if we are going to knowledgably discuss justice in our digital age.


MODULE 1 Social Movements and Resistance
DeFronzo & Gill – Sociology of Social Movements
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict Civil Resistance: A First Look

Documentary – Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020)

MODULE 2 Social Movements and the Internet
Madison & Klang – The Case for Digital Activism
Jackson – Progressive Social Movements and the Internet

Documentary – How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring
Internet Activism: How are political movements shaped online?
The camera’s role in documenting a critical social movement

MODULE 3 Civil Disobedience
James – the orthodox theory of civil disobedience
Thoreau – Civil Disobedience

Documentary A Force More Powerful (1999) or Sir, No Sir (2005)
Thoreau and Civil Disobedience
Civil Disobedience
Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Civil Disobedience and obeying Just vs. Unjust laws

MODULE 4 Everyday Resistance & Everyday Activism
Scott – Everyday forms of resistance
Madison & Klang – Recognizing Everyday Activism

Documentary Nae Pasaran (2018) 

MODULE 5 Digital Activism
Milan & Barbosa – Enter the WhatsApper
DeAtley – Mobile Ambivalence at Standing Rock

Documentary – The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)
How online social movements translate to offline results
Hashtag politics: 4 key ways digital activism is inegalitarian | Jen Schradie

MODULE 6 Identity
Bobel – I’m not an activist, per se, though I’ve done a lot of it
Milan – From social movements to cloud protesting

Documentary – The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson (2017)
Is your identity given or created? | Marcus Lyon | TEDxExeter

MODULE 7 Crowd Surveillance (and resistance)
Klang & Madison – Entire History of You

Documentary – Citizenfour (2014)
How Police Track Protesters With High-Tech Surveillance Tools

MODULE 8 Markets for activism
Kovic et al – digital astroturfing, Al-Rawi & Rahman: Manufacturing rage and something on boycott/buycott TBA

Movie – Boycott (2001)
Astroturfing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Astroturf and manipulation of media messages | Sharyl Attkisson | TEDxUniversityofNevada
The Story of Boycott

MODULE 9 Protests in the Media: Coopting the radical

Documentary – The Corporation (2003) 

MODULE 10 Violence & Non-Violence
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King
The Ballot or the Bullet by Malcolm X

Documentary – The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011) The Black Panthers (2015)
Letter from a Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King Jr.
Malcolm X’s Legendary Speech: “The Ballot or the Bullet” (annotations and subtitles)

MODULE 11 Case Studies: From Women’s Rights to #MeToo 

Documentary – She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014)
#Metoo: how it’s changing the world | The Economist
The Fight For Women’s Rights | Flashback | NBC News

MODULE 12 Case Studies: From Civil Rights to BLM Freedom Riders 

Documentary – Freedom Riders (2010) Whose Streets (2017)
The Civil Rights Movement
Black Lives Matter explained: The history of a movement

MODULE 13 Case Studies: From Workers Rights to Occupy 

Documentary – Harlan County, U.S.A. (1977)
Introduction to Labour History
99% v 1%: the data behind the Occupy movement | Guardian Animations
CNN Explains: The Occupy movement

MODULE 14 Case Studies: From Environmentalism to Thunberg Earth Days (2009)
How Rachel Carson Launched The Environmental Movement
A Brief History of Environmental Justice


Messy Resources
How Do You Design a Just Society? | Thought Experiment: The Original Position

Beyond the hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter, and the online struggle for offline justice By Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark | February 29, 2016

Lila Abu-Lughod (1990) The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power Through Bedouin Women, American Ethnologist Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 41-55 (15 pages)

Scott, J. C. (2008). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. yale university Press.

Scott, J. C. (1990). Domination and the arts of resistance: Hidden transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vinthagen, S. & Johansson, A. (2013). Everyday resistance: Exploration of a concept and its theories. Resistance Studies Magazine, 1(1), 1-46.

Mukherjee, R., & Banet-Weiser, S. (Eds.). (2012). Commodity activism: Cultural resistance in neoliberal times. NYU Press.

Hands, J. (2011). @ is for activism: Dissent, resistance and rebellion in a digital culture. Pluto Press. Chicago

Dery, M. (2017). Culture jamming: Activism and the art of cultural resistance. NYU Press.

Treré, E. (2018). From digital activism to algorithmic resistance.

Malchik, A. (2019) The Problem With Social-Media Protests The Atlantic, May 6, 2019

Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). # Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United StatesAmerican ethnologist42(1), 4-17.

DeLuca, K. M., Lawson, S., & Sun, Y. (2012). Occupy Wall Street on the public screens of social media: The many framings of the birth of a protest movementCommunication, Culture & Critique5(4), 483-509.

Tufekci, Z., & Wilson, C. (2012). Social media and the decision to participate in political protest: Observations from Tahrir SquareJournal of communication62(2), 363-379.

Breuer, A., Landman, T., & Farquhar, D. (2015). Social media and protest mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian revolutionDemocratization22(4), 764-792.

Valenzuela, S. (2013). Unpacking the use of social media for protest behavior: The roles of information, opinion expression, and activismAmerican Behavioral Scientist57(7), 920-942.

Milan, S. (2015). When algorithms shape collective action: Social media and the dynamics of cloud protestingSocial Media+ Society1(2), 2056305115622481.

Baer, H. (2016). Redoing feminism: Digital activism, body politics, and neoliberalismFeminist media studies16(1), 17-34.

Kaun, A., & Uldam, J. (2018). Digital activism: After the hypeNew Media & Society20(6), 2099-2106.

Graeff, E., Stempeck, M., & Zuckerman, E. (2014). The battle for “Trayvon Martin”: Mapping a media controversy online and off-line. First Monday, 19(2).

Resistance in Art