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Internet Use by Transnational Advocacy Networks: a Case Study of the “No Software Patents” Campaign

Breindl, Yana (2009) Internet Use by Transnational Advocacy Networks: a Case Study of the “No Software Patents” Campaign. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece. (In Press)

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This paper proposes to examine Internet use by transnational advocacy networks - also referred to as global activism (Benett, 2003) - by studying the case of the “No Software Patents” campaign of 2002-2005 that relayed on conventional and non conventional lobbying techniques in order to influence the European Union policy-making. Transnational advocacy networks can be defined as being composed of “relevant actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services.” (Keck & Sikkink, 1998: 2). Examples of such advocacy groups include the alter-globalisation, the human rights or the environment movement yet precursors - such as the anti-slavery movement - existed already in the early nineteenth century. Following Chadwick, “campaigns that transcend the boundaries of a single nation-state existed long before the rise of the Internet. However, it is undeniable that during the last ten years transnational campaigns have proliferated, and the vast majority of these have involved significant use of the Internet” (Chadwick, 2006: 115). Indeed, for many scholars, there is a clear parallel between the network character of these movements and the underlying infrastructure of the Internet, which enables them to effectively use the various potentialities of the Internet in their struggle for social change. Since the emergence and the growing adoption of ICTs and above all the Internet, scholars suggest that hierarchical and institutionalised organizations will increasingly be replaced by more flexible forms of decentralised organizational structures (Garrett, 2006). These loose forms of protest organisations are generally characterised as networks, that is to say a “set of nodes, linked by some form of relationship, and delimited by some specific criteria.” (Diani & McAdam, 2003: 6). The nodes represent individuals, organizations or any other relevant entity (such as communities or events). The relationships between these nodes can be either direct or indirect, depending on the nature of the relation. The boundaries of the network may be defined by the analyst or include only those nodes that are related to each other (Ibid.). Based on social network analysis and additional techniques of data collection (such as in-depth interviews and online observations), the following paper analyses the role the Internet played in the “No Software Patents” campaign that mobilised a vast array of individuals, organisations and corporations who fought against the directive on “computer-implemented innovations” (generally referred to as “software patents” by its opponents) proposed by the European Commission in 2002. For over three years, opponents fought a fierce battle against this directive that resulted in various amendments made to the initial proposition and its final rejection by the European Parliament in September 2005. The Internet and other electronic devices played a major role in this battle as certified one campaigner: “for a pressure group that consists of activists throughout and even beyond the EU, there is no alternative to the extreme use of electronic communication. There is no way to meet physically, at least not frequently” (Mueller: 2006: 47). Indeed, the technological infrastructure of the Internet - and other ICTs - enabled the encounter, organisation and collaboration of a vast array of individuals, groups and organisations. Yet, a detailed analysis of this campaign makes clear that online techniques alone were not sufficient for groups wishing to influence the political process. In order to mobilise a broader public on a rather technical issue, the campaigners were forced to rely on an effective combination of offline and online protest techniques. Furthermore, the question of movement entrepreneurs will be addressed. Following Castells, the various actions of networked organization will no longer be defined around prominent leadership but by a common political agenda (Castells, 1996). Similarly, van de Donk et al. suggest that the Internet does not “demonstrate an inherent tendency to be concentrated and controlled in the hands of a few movement entrepreneurs (van de Donk et al., 2004: 9). However, evidence from the case study suggests that even in highly decentralised - and virtualised - movements such as the “No Software Patents” community, strong leaderships emerge. This is not only the case in this particular community. Evidence from the alter-globalisation movement confirms that basic technologies such as email lists can constitute new sources of power and leadership inside these networked structures (Kavada, 2008). The technological structure of the Internet may be decentralised and open yet the social structures that use it remain somewhat more vertical as leaders emerge and tend to increase their power.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Transnational advocacy, Networks, Collective action, Internet, Leadership
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:165
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:25 Oct 2011 16:37

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