From Social Movements to Cloud Protesting: The Evolution of Collective Identity

Information, Communication & Society, 18(8), pp. 887-900

17 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2016

Date Written: May 31, 2015


This article develops a conceptual framework for understanding collective action in the age of social media, focusing on the role of collective identity and the process of its making. It is grounded on an interactionist approach that considers organized collective action as a social construct with communicative action at its core (Melucci, 1996). It explains how micromobilization is mediated by social media, and argues that social media play a novel broker role in the activists’ meaning construction processes. Social media impose precise material constraints on their social affordances, which have profound implications in both the symbolic production and organizational dynamics of social action. The materiality of social media deeply affects identity building, in two ways: firstly, it amplifies the ‘interactive and shared’ elements of collective identity (Melucci 1996, p. 71), and secondly, it sets in motion a politics of visibility characterized by individuality, performance, visibility, and juxtaposition. The politics of visibility, at the heart of what I call ‘cloud protesting’, exacerbates the centrality of the subjective and private experience of the individual in contemporary mobilizations, and has partially replaced the politics of identity typical of social movements. The politics of visibility creates individuals-in-the-group, whereby the ‘collective’ is experienced through the ‘individual’ and the group is the means of collective action, rather than its end.

Keywords: protest, social media, collective identity, materiality, visibility

Suggested Citation

Milan, Stefania, From Social Movements to Cloud Protesting: The Evolution of Collective Identity (May 31, 2015). Information, Communication & Society, 18(8), pp. 887-900, Available at SSRN:

Stefania Milan (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Department of Media Studies
Turfdraagsterpad 9
Amsterdam, 1012 XT


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