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Born in Facebook: The Refugee Crisis and Grassroots Connective Action in Hungary (2016)

Posted on:
August 20, 2021

Abstract

"This article explores the impact of social networking sites on social movements and collective action. Literature on the subject ranges from celebratory claims to critical stances. However, the more sophisticated approach conceptualizing “connective action” broadens the theoretical scope. The case of Migration Aid, a Hungarian Facebook-based grassroots relief group for refugees, is such an example. In this study, we contextualize the group’s activities, exploring how they relate to the broader political environment, arguing for a need to reexamine the concept of contentious politics. We explore the characteristics that make connective action possible, with an emphasis on the group’s rhizomatic structure. The findings detail the characteristics of the rhizomatic organization and how these characteristics shape the group’s action repertoire."

(Note on "rhizomatic structure" from the authors- "As opposed to the formal, hierarchical, rigid structures built by clear-cut binary concepts, Deleuze and Guattari (1987) present the rhizome as a more informal, centerless, spontaneous, even hybrid system of relations. The organic, dynamic characteristics of the rhizome make it more adequate and suitable to our research than the network metaphor, which is more sterile, model-like, and structural. Although the network approach has great merits, the rhizome fits our research subject better.")

Findings

"Inquiry into how Migration Aid operated sheds light on how the concept of connective action can be applied and further developed to understand the specific ways a coherent organization is achieved in digitally born movements. Proposing that an emphasis on the rhizomatic structure of the group provides a unique insight, we have suggested that new rhizomatic social movements epitomize emerging types of organizations. Our inquiries led to the identification of four central characteristics of the rhizome as they appeared in the case of Migration Aid. The movement is nonhierarchical and lacks fixed starting and ending points. This organizational characteristic affected the group’s action repertoires in allowing a wide range of modalities of participation in Migration Aid’s activities. Furthermore, we also found that—although born digitally—the group was a hybrid organization. The blurring of lines between online and offline spheres within the structure also affected the group’s activities; we conclude that a hard-and-fast distinction between low- and high-threshold activities associated with offline/online operations is not applicable to rhizomatic movements.

The existence of a stitching platform in rhizomatic organizations was central for the group’s survival; in the case of Migration Aid, its Facebook group played such a role. A unique characteristic of the rhizome is its ability to reconfigure itself in both the short and long run. This flexibility, together with the stitching role of Facebook, leads to what we coin the information thermostat, a self-regulative system that permanently receives inputs from given surroundings and changes its outputs accordingly. In a broader sense, Migration Aid might be considered a manifestation of humanitarian activity in a posthumanitarian context in which the traditional principles of humanitarian action are being called into question. These principles are substantially endangered now; therefore, the relevance of Migration Aid and similar relief groups goes much further than their actual aid."

Born in Facebook - The Refugee Crisis and Grassroots Connective Action in Hungary (2016)

Summary

This article explores the impact of social networking sites on social movements and collective action. Literature on the subject ranges from celebratory claims to critical stances. However, the more sophisticated approach conceptualizing “connective action” broadens the theoretical scope. The case of Migration Aid, a Hungarian Facebook-based grassroots relief group for refugees, is such an example.
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