Sustainability & Social Media: Scaling Social Networks to Social Movements

This project is directly concerned with issues of scale in social-computational systems. How can we exploit the power of contemporary networks to bring people together to act and operate at scale? In particular, can we draw lessons from sociological investigations of social movements to turn current interests in social media and social networking into larger-scale actions? In his book on “smart mobs,” Rheingold (2002) documents the role of mobile technologies as coordinative tools in large-scale social action; although in most of the cases he documents, technology is used to support real-time coordination of existing interesting groups. Our question is, can social media help to engender those social interest groups and social movements on a large scale over time?

We are performing a a mixed-method investigation of social-computational systems, combining:

  • The deployment and iterative refinement of a prototype technology for personal reflection in environmental sustainability, designed along lines suggested by research in social movements and media discourse;
  • Quantitative assessment of the growth and development of participation in the communities linked by this system and relations to the structural properties of social networks and temporal aspects of information flow;
  • Qualitative examination of the processes of identification with and enrollment into a social movement through the sharing of participation and resources for situating oneself within.

team : //

Paul Dourish, Melissa Mazmanian, Ellie Harmon, Jed Brubaker