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From Causality to Emergence: re-evaluating social media’s role in the 2011 English riots

Baker, S.A. (2014). From Causality to Emergence: re-evaluating social media’s role in the 2011 English riots. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(1), pp. 6-14.


This paper is an attempt to re-evaluate the role of social media on the riots. It draws upon interviews and qualitative analysis of tweets posted during the riots to examine how digital modalities reconfigure power relations between vulnerable and invulnerable populations as collectives seek to enact social change. The importance of social media for understanding collective action, I argue, lies in its relevance for conveying what one could call the performativity of public space. My thesis emerges in response to the rise of big data analytics as a means to predict and respond to political unrest, exploring the limits of predictive analyses with regard to issues of trust, power, memory and emotions. My claim is that understanding the power of the digital requires a more sophisticated understanding of emotions. To this end, I emphasize the need to employ multi-method approaches to study new forms of “mediated crowd” membership that combine digital methods with more traditional approaches to emotions research.

Publication Type: Article
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
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