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The Collective Individualism of Activist Bloggers in Singapore

We're moving rapidly towards the conclusion of this ICA 2010 conference. The next session I'm attending starts with a paper by Carol Soon, whose interest is in activist bloggers. She notes the rise of net-activisim and transnational social movements. While the genesis of blogging lies in personal gratification, blogs also have a transformative power and can lead to greater civic engagement, by disseminating information and facilitating information exchange.

Previous studies have examined both bloggers' uses and gratifications as well as the hyperlinking and network structure of blogs and blogging; Carol's study adds to this by exploring the collective identity of Singapore activist bloggers and its role in engendering social action. Is there a tension betwen the individual and the collective?

Collective identity theories are rooted in institutions - the importance of a collective identity, the sharing of goals and atitudes - , but this does not translate exactly to blogs. Key dimensions of collective identity are a shared consciousness, identity signifiers and boundary marks, opposition to a perceived adversary, and multiplexity in collective identity.

Singapore is interesting (and paradoxical) in this context - ICT penetration is high; sociopolitical factors uphold the control and regulation of the mass media; online spaces are opening for alternative discourse; government attitudes towards new media are changing; and bloggers are converging to develop proposals for greater Internet deregulation and freedom.

Carol explored this through semi-structured interviews with some 13 activist bloggers (9 males, 4 females) from different backgrounds and demographics (students, teachers, researchers, opposition party members), and various main themes emerged. Bloggers have a common perception of the self as a specific type of blogger and see themselves as part of a larger group of sociopolitical bloggers; there was a shared vision for a more vibrant space for political deliberation; an overarching ideology of changing dominant political media discourse.

Identity signifiers include boundary markers (in blogging practices: content, style, non-anonymity, as well as talk of 'us'), and the government and media as a shared adversary for bloggers; Internet technologies are used as a means to an end to promote the bloggers' causes, and expose the cracks in the mainstream media. There is also diversity in collectivity, though, based on different goals and key topics - gay rights, migrant workers - and this diversity and difference is acknowledged by the bloggers.

So, there might be collective individualism at work here - the blogosphere is seen as a marketplace of ideas, and each have strategies for greater visibility; their collective individualism is triggerd by their ideas and is based in their opposition to the state.

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