Social media and activism: I wrote an essay… honest!

I’m not too proud of having been a lousy student. I don’t think I ever got an assignment in on time, and really found it a struggle to get much information out of libraries or lectures and into my head. Of course, since leaving uni for the world of work, I’ve found a big sop for my wounded pride in managmenty self awareness tests. It’s all because I’m an activist learner you see (not my fault whatsoever, honest!), and find it awkward to learn something unless I’m actually in the process of trying it at the same time.

So when I was asked to do an essay on union activists and social media for US academic journal WorkingUSA, I was a bit panicked. Luckily I managed to work it out by developing a presentation on many of the themes I wanted to cover, so I could test it out with different audiences first. The final essay “Connecting Activists” is now published in the current issue of WorkingUSA – go buy/loan a copy now!

I have to admit to finding academic journals a bit odd. You get asked to write something many months before it appears, as there’s a pretty complicated process to go through, with every submission approved and then final articles reviewed by the editorial board (who are all rather busy people already). The final article (with properly referenced footnotes and reading) is then included in a magazine that has a limited circulation of specialists, who pay quite a bit to subscribe online and in print, their institutionally paid subs covering the not inconsiderable expenses of all that work.

So you end up with something that can’t be searched or shared to help make new connections with other people who might find it useful, has a lot of extra background baggage nobody’s going to check, and in any case is already a bit out of date by the time anyone does see it. The social media activist approach suits me much better – occasional gems hidden in a huge pile of throwaway ideas, available to people who never knew it was what they were looking for.

I made the mistake of mentioning to my three-degreed wife that maybe academia should maybe give up on journals and just start some blogs instead to speed things up, and to her my thoughts sounded much more wacky than established academia sounded to me. So if you build your own argument on something, how do you know it’s a constant if the source might get commented/updated/deleted? How will people trace it back to see if what you’re doing stands up? How much of your own time do you need to invest to work out whether something is kosher, if it isn’t already peer-reviewed? And how are you going to ever measure anything properly to see if you were right or not? Well, I consider myself told, ho hum, and I need to make a bit more of an effort to engage with this kind of learning.

I’m giving a presentation on this theme (social media and union activism) later via web conference, so had to nip out and buy a webcam earlier. Whatever other faults Microsoft may have in their webcams, they make up for it by thinking of book-resistant me, with a nice big day-glo green cover over the USB lead, telling me to for chrissakes see the quickstart and install the software before just cracking on and plugging the thing in as I was about to do and screw up my system. So, by rather laboured analogy, sometimes a more ‘activist’ approach to networking mightn’t be the best idea, and a bit of distance and academic scrutiny could do us the world of good.

Pls to share (thanks!):

5 thoughts on “Social media and activism: I wrote an essay… honest!

  1. Hi John,

    Per my previous comment, I read your article, “Connecting Activists . . . ”

    The article had an easy to read style, quite refreshing from most other journal articles I read that seem to be more concerned with using thick, academic syntax than with getting their point across.

    Of particular interest to me was how you pointed out several factors concerning how labor unions (or activists in general) should not use social media for recruiting and mobilizing. These would certainly be insights that most activists would want to review prior to taking campaigns online.

    Overall, a good paper. I’m subscribed to your RSS feed, so I’ll keep an eye out for any other of your work in the activist and social media field.

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