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Chapter 5 offers insights into a critical aspect of the inner workings of movement organizations – the practice of political organizing. This practice, which often takes place behind the scenes, plays a crucial role in the sustainable functioning of these organizations and ensures their readiness for action when the time comes to mobilize for their cause. Chapter 5 shows that Southern European activists use a wide range of media-related tools and actions, both digital and non-digital, in their daily efforts to organize and engage politically. It also outlines three main challenges that activists face, mostly due to the increased use of digital media. First, activists grapple with the acceleration of political time, which provides immediacy but limits opportunities for reflection and collective exchange. Secondly, the boundaries between political and non-political life are blurring as the incessant flow of data infiltrates various aspects of activists’ daily routines. Finally, the production and dissemination of data takes place within digital media owned by commercial entities, raising concerns about surveillance and privacy. In response to these challenges, Chapter 5 explains how activists exercise agency over the data stream through three key strategies. They incorporate slower forms of digital communication to counter the rapidity of the data stream, break the stream into manageable sequences of information, and engage in less digitally mediated interactions, including face-to-face meetings, to protect themselves from surveillance. Despite these common challenges, Chapter 5 also makes clear that activists’ experiences of digital media and, more broadly, the data stream, vary across Italy, Greece, and Spain, also due to the political issues at stake, available resources and the specific contexts of each country.

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The Practices of Daily Grassroots Politics in Southern Europe

Available Open Access digitally under CC-BY-NC-ND licence

This book pulls back the curtain on the link between activism, media and technology in the quiet times of politics when people are not protesting.

Introducing the novel concept of the ‘data stream', it explores the intricate ways in which activists interact daily with various types of data and how they navigate the impact of digitalization and datafication on today’s grassroots politics.

Through rich, empirical data from Greece, Spain and Italy, Activists in the Data Stream makes a nuanced contribution to our understanding of activists’ daily political engagement in an ever-changing media and political landscape.

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Chapter 8 acts as a conclusion and summarises the main findings of our research from a theoretical perspective. It discusses the four practices first separately and then considering the many points of contact they have one with the other. Most importantly, Chapter 8 also argues that the practice of finding information anchors the other three practices, as it has both theoretical and empirical implications for the study of everyday grassroots politics in periods of latency, as well as social movements in periods of mobilization. Chapter 8 then shifts its focus to the question of activist agency in the data stream, recalling its three characteristics, namely that it is heterogeneous, ubiquitous, and perpetual. In light of these three characteristics, Chapter 8 discusses some aspects of activists’ agency by considering the role of hybridity for activists in the three Southern European countries, their skilful recourse to face-to-face interactions, and their ability to slow down the fast pace of the data stream when necessary. Finally, drawing on the empirical research presented earlier in the volume, Chapter 8 formulates a number of hypotheses about grassroots politics, social movements and the data stream, and suggests further lines of research on the topic.

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Chapter 2 centres on the process of finding information. It suggests that a significant aspect of activists’ daily political work includes the constant gathering, assembling, combining, collecting and storing of different types of data, which activists then seek to transform into relevant information. Chapter 2 demonstrates how activists collect data from various media devices and services, such as newspaper articles, radio programmes listened to while driving, and social media platforms accessed through smartphones and tablets. It indicates that the information they want to obtain is linked to various political actors, also including the movement organizations of the activists themselves. Chapter 2 also illustrates how activists carry out the practice of finding information by constantly monitoring their media coverage and regularly checking digital media analytics. Finally, Chapter 2 explains two difficulties that activists encounter when searching for information: the many different temporalities involved in the datastream, and the data overload that activists have to deal during their daily grassroots political work.

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Chapter 4 delves into the practice of gaining visibility in order to understand the complex dynamics between activists and the algorithms that govern visibility on social media platforms. It highlights that these algorithms often remain opaque, frustrating activists’ attempts to understand and navigate them. Chapter 4 explains that activists in Greece, Italy, and Spain rarely rely on economic resources to manage algorithmic visibility. It also shows that while there are differences in how activists in the three countries deal with algorithmic visibility, there are also some crucial similarities. Regardless of location, activists confront algorithms by seeking alternatives to the algorithmic regulation of the data stream. Chapter 4 highlights three strategies in this regard. It discusses how activists use reputation to increase the visibility of content, in an attempt to overcome algorithmic constraints and gain broader media exposure on social media platforms. Next, the chapter illustrates how individual activists use personal profiles to disseminate media content more efficiently, despite the potential risks of abandoning the collective profiles of their movement organizations. Finally, the chapter shows that the balance between quality and immediacy in content creation becomes crucial for activists as technological constraints affect reputation management.

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Chapter 6 explores how activists use various digital and non-digital media to cultivate and maintain connections within and beyond the social movement. Face-to-face meetings remain essential for sharing information with key political and social actors, and for building trust and productive collaborations. However, in the digital landscape, the data stream is becoming increasingly important for engaging with dispersed supporters. Many organizations are strategically blending digital and face-to-face interactions, using the heterogeneity of the data stream to engage in the practice of maintaining connections. In addition, Chapter 6 examines activists’ daily interactions with bystanders, which include both private one-on-one messages and public exchanges in online spaces. Activists skilfully manage the coexistence of private and public data streams to maintain meaningful connections, relying on digital writing skills to communicate effectively. Chapter 6 illustrates how maintaining these connections requires concerted effort and attention, with activists systematically reading, filtering, and responding to messages. These interactions are neither random nor sporadic, but require continuous engagement and an understanding of their consequences. Activists use their knowledge of digital media and data sequences to navigate this practice effectively, recognizing the need to curate interactions that align with specific aspects of their movement organizations. Overall, Chapter 6 highlights how the practice of building and maintaining relationships varies also depending on the choice of digital or non-digital media. It also highlights the importance of the resources invested by movement organizations, particularly when using different digital media to expand their interactions with supporters, sympathizers, and curious individuals.

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Chapter 1 sets the stage for our journey into the relationship between digital media and activism in the quiet times of politics. First, Chapter 1 explains why it is important to study the daily unfolding of grassroots political work, and thus to consider the relationship between activists and digital media when the former are not protesting in the streets. Chapter 1 then discusses the processes of digitization and datafication in relation to activism, introducing the key concept of the ‘data stream’ as a heuristic for unpacking how digitalization and datafication shape activists’ everyday experiences and how activists exercise agency over these two processes. Furthermore, Chapter 1 discusses theories of practice and the specific media-in-practice approach, which is the main analytical lens through which the empirical research presented in this volume is conducted. Chapter 1 then moves on to present some initial research findings by presenting the four main practices that emerged as most relevant for activists in Greece, Italy, and Spain in the quiet times of politics and in relation to their use of digital media: information gathering, political organizing, gaining visibility, and sustaining connections. Finally, Chapter 1 outlines the structure of the book and provides a roadmap for the chapters that follow.

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Chapter 7 explores how activists navigate the complex world of modern journalism and cultivate meaningful connections with journalists, particularly when not actively involved in protests. It delves into the challenges activists encounter in building lasting relationships with journalists in Greece, Italy, and Spain. One significant challenge is the close alignment between legacy media and institutional politics. The chapter sheds light on how activists tackle this issue, as well as the implications it has for their interactions with journalists. Another obstacle stems from the working conditions of journalists in these countries. With many journalists working as freelancers outside traditional newsrooms, activists must adapt to these dynamics to effectively engage with the journalistic community. Finally, privacy and safeguarding personal communications emerge as a critical concern. Building on insights from Chapter 6, this chapter delves deeper into the importance of protecting privacy in activist–journalist interactions. Overall, Chapter 7 provides a glimpse into the strategies activists employ to establish and nurture connections with journalists, highlighting the unique challenges they face in the ever-evolving media landscape of Southern Europe.

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Chapter 3 argues that, in highly digitalized societies, activists’ need for being seen becomes important even during times of political quietude, when they are not engaged in street protests or other types of mobilization. The chapter goes on to explain how activists and their organizations use distinct methods to increase their visibility beyond their core supporters. Chapter 3 demonstrates that activists intentionally control their visibility by carefully managing the data stream and manipulating it to their advantage. They also use legacy media outlets such as television, radio, and newspapers to increase their exposure, indicating that these traditional forms of media are still relevant for activists seeking visibility. In this section, Chapter 3 talks about the choices that activists must make if they wish to be a source of information for legacy media. Then, it looks at the crucial role that social media plays for activists and their organizations. Lastly, Chapter 3 examines alternative media, which can take the form of a non-digital platform to express their viewpoints.

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Chapter 5 examines the relation between humour and the body. Traditionally, bodily functions like urination and defecation have served as the ripest material for comedy. Scatological jokes liberate us from the norms of politeness and decorum, but they also offer a reprieve from repressive social structures. This is the view of Mikhail Bakhtin, whose concept of ‘carnivalesque humour’ captures the renegade spirit of laughter and provides an antidote to the stern diktats of state and church. Inspired by Bakhtin, contemporary thinkers see carnivalesque humour – rooted in the lower bodily stratum – as a means of popular resistance against despotic regimes. But comic ribaldry isn’t always a progressive force in society. As the chapter argues, the far right stokes division in the culture wars by characterizing certain types of bodies as disgusting and hilarious. Scatological jokes invoke a combination of repulsion and amusement, a volatile mix of feelings that’s sometimes used to delegitimize the rights of gay and transgender people. At its worst, body-based humour has the capacity to reframe real physical violence as a bit of knockabout fun – an effect that plays out with tragic consequences in the public sphere.

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