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Studying Connective Action from an International Perspective

The second speakers in this ANZCA 2017 session are Andrea Carson and Luke Heemsbergen, who continue our discussion of connective political action from an international perspective. This presentation emerges from the work of the Political Organisations and Participation group in the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA). There is an overall perspective of a move away from traditional modes of engagement to a more flexible, citizen-initiated and policy-oriented engagement with politics. This has also changed practices of organisation and mobilisation to political action.

One dimension of this is also the use of particular platforms for activism; these are often corporate-controlled, or sometimes government-sponsored, and therefore have their own affordances and limitations that need to be considered in the process. Further, participation means different things to different people, for different ends; in this context, what 'success' would mean may also differ. There are of course also very different contexts of political activism here, enabling different forms of interaction with existing political and civic institutions. How any such processes are studied by scholars, activists, and activist scholars, finally, also differs widely.

Such research also reveals some limitations of applying the connective action framework outside of developed democracies. Overall, connective actions scale up quickly, produce large mobilisations, have flexible political targets and bridge different issues, create new protest repertoires, and draw on open source software in promoting their goals; in emerging democratic nations (such as Indonesia, Bahrain, and Taiwan) these approaches may need to be adapted to specific local contexts. Whether in these or in established democracies, however, the research highlights a wealth of different approaches to collective and connective action.

Some of the work worth highlighting here is Fiona Suwana's study of youth-driven political activism opposing corruption in Indonesia (which had some early successes, but failed to sustain its energy in the long term due a lack of leadership); Kylie Moore-Gilbert's study of online and offline activism by the Shi'ite February 14 Coalition in Bahrain (whose freedom of expression was severely curtailed by the ruling regime); Shiau Ching Wong and Scott Wright's work on the Anti-Media Monopoly Group's work in Taiwan; and Verity Trott's study of feminist activists' Twitter networks in Australia (which showed some of the limitations of the connective action framework in fully explaining such activist practices).

There is therefore a need to further develop this and related frameworks, beyond the 2012 perspective that Bennett and Segerberg's original article represents.