@Civic Paths: Patricia Lange

Patricia Lange, , spoke at Civic Paths this past week. Her talk centered on YouTube vloggers and a genre of video loosely classified as “rants” or “raves”. In particular, Lange talks about youth deployment of the mode of discourse . Beyond viewing these as either ineffectual (as prior research on rants sees them in a negative light, with the ranter as someone who removes themselves from society) or as the video equivalent of “flaming” a messageboard, Lange defines rants as basically taking issue with a problem and argues that there is are positive effects as these types of videos invoke some kinds of polemics.  Lange identifies different genres of rants, focusing on the emotional, problem-centric rant. Lange is particularly interested in rants where people complain about YouTube and her study focuses on analyzing a series of 35 such videos and their comments.

YouTube offers a space for youth to get angry about controversial topics which are difficult to talk about in real-life spaces. These rants often contains rational arguments, which seek to informing others, build solidarity, and perhaps inspire action. Underlying these rants is the notion that things cannot improve without complaining about current conditions, which offers a bridge into thinking about rants as a part of the civic engagement process. Lange left us with a variety of questions, such as:

  • What do we make of serial ranters?
  • How do we define a video as a rant and not
  • What are the differences between YouTube rants versus other kinds of rants, particularly when positioning it as a form of civic engagement?
  • How do we analyze rants across infrastructures?

@Civic Paths: Jane Junn

Civic Paths hosted Jane Junn, Professor of Political Science at USC. Her talk focused on election data, in particular on voter turnout and who specific demographic groups voted for over the last 10 Presidential elections. Junn’s main argument was to advocate for the need to take intersectionality into account when interpreting election data, in particular, her work highlighted the disparities between the voting patterns of white women and women of color. She argues that, while white men tend to vote more Republican and persons of color tend to vote more Democrat, white women tend to move between parties and that movement is, in certain years, enough to swing elections one way or another. Junn argues that the usual analyses of election data seem to report data on women as a group or on persons of color, but not the intersection of the two, even though women of color face a different set of challenges than white women do in society.

Junn argued for several points:

  • We can’t use old models that think about 1960s America without thinking about the changing population.
  • Rather than always comparing to men, the model voter should be women.
  • The key – for Obama: getting minority turnout; for Romney – turnout of white women
  • Categorization matters since group categorization alters the way people think about themselves and systematically alters the group behavior
  • Latinos, not considered a racial group in the census until 1977, play an increasingly larger role in election turnouts
  • A general call for the formation of politically relevant categories
  • There is a need to think about categories intersectionally
  • Categories that have a structural significance, are more interesting analytically than those that are hierarchically ordered

@Civic Paths: Lina Srivastava

Lina Srivastava (http://linasrivastava.blogspot.com/) is a consultant and media activist who works with companies and organizations on various projects in order to impart transmedia design and participant engagement to activist causes. Trained as an Intellectual Propety lawyer, she switched to present work, founding a Consulting Firm in 2008, which focuses on the strategic planning of Transmedia campsigns which target the intersection of Human Rights and The Arts. She is motivated towards working on what she describes as “Transmedia Activism”.

Currently she is working on several projects addressing immigration and cultural preservation, working with Human Rights organizations, NGOs, UNESCO, the World Bank, UNICEF, and private companies. The work consists of creating fleshed out transmedia campaigns which targets these issues as well as devising means of creating engagement in viewers and in creating business models for the campaigns.

Her talk elucidated some of the challenges of bringing transmedia design to activist spaces, particularly creating compelling narratives that transcend an individual text and inspiring engagement across media. She also expressed the importance of balancing factual knowledge and understanding of cultural context with creating and expressing affect with media. Srivastava emphasized the importance of narrative, grounded in factual data, that inspires people to become involved in political and civic action.

Explain yourself: Bridigng Discourse and its applications to Participatory-Civic Engagement Groups

When individuals engage in behavior that might be considered inauthentic by other group members, they, or other members, often engage in bridging discourse to explain why the behavior is congruent with the idea of being period; in doing so, they demonstrate that their behavior is linked to the same ideology to which other group members link their behavior. When group members engage in behavior that others see as incongruent with the group’s ideology, they risk portraying themselves as deviant and indicating that they believe the ideology of the group is unimportant. Other group members may feel that such actions reflect poorly on the group as a whole, and this may change the collective identity of the group. When individuals engage in bridging discourse, they protect themselves, or others, from stigma but also maintain the collective identity of the group. Members accomplish this by reinterpreting the group’s ideology, redefining their behavior, or offering explanations as to why they should be excused from meeting the group’s standards.

Decker (2010)

Stephanie Decker’s recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography argues for the idea of bridging discourse, that is, discourse that individual members of a group may employ in order to explain inconsistencies of action with the overall group identity, in an attempt to maintain cohesion. While the ethnographic research that serves as the basis of the paper is focused on participants in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), this model of intragroup discourse may prove useful for the group, especially in discussing groups that have a upper management which may be attempting to change the group’s focus/direction.

Decker’s piece as well as the work she draws on is primarily based on Goffman’s frame analysis work. Decker’s work builds from Snow et. al (1986) work on frame bridging. While frame bridging refers to the connections between two or more different, but compatible organizations with each other or an organization with an individual who has a different, but compatible frame, bridging discourse deals with intragroup discussion between individual members or between a member and the group in whole. Decker also cites research on frame alignment by Oliver and Johnson (2000), which focused on recruiting practices in social movement groups. Here Decker is trying to expand the types of groups this sort of research can focus on, but it is worth noting that, given the research group’s focus on social groups that are also, in various ways, social movement groups, that this line of work bears further inquiry.

Briefly, bridging discourse is described by Becker as a set of strategies employed by group members to help ease incongruities between their actions and the group’s overall identity in order to smooth over those differences and maintain group cohesion. In her work with the SCA, she describes several instances of members employing bridging discourse to explain their actions. In particular, the main use of bridging discourse in the SCA was explaining why someone was not in period dress. Sneakers and rubber soled boots in particular served as a focus for group dissonance since one of the group’s overall tenet is to maintain the illusion of period (medieval and early renaissance) garb. Examples of bridging discourse used was claiming to be a new member and therefore ignorant of group policy, apologizing profusely and claiming a time/logistical snafu prevented the proper garb from being worn, or (in cases where members are in period, but culturally clashing garb) by incorporating the seeming inconsistency into an elaborate backstory for the persona one was portraying in SCA events. Members who are reacting to this discourse may make exceptions to the behavior, especially if the deviant member in question is considered a valued member of the group, in order to maintain group identity.

Of course, this bridging discourse has certain limits. Members can choose not to employing bridging discourse and accept a reputation as a deviant within the group. Secondly in particular, if enough members behave consistently outside of the group’s frame, it may shift the frame of the group so that members are no longer deviating from the group. Decker notes that “[group members] explained that, while they did not want to include members who did not make an attempt to be historically authentic, they found it important for the sake of the group to accommodate members with various interpretations of the ideology… while such members often noted that this flexibility alters the concept of authenticity and lowers the groups standards for historically accurate behavior… this flexibility ultimately made it possible for the group to survive,” (292).

Bridging discourse, then, might be something worth noting in our conversations and other research on the group we are looking at. Especially considering groups such as Racebending and the HPA, which have or are planning to change the scope of the group’s identity from a top down angle, it may be useful to see how individual members react to this shift and whether bridging discourse is utilized to either enforce the old group identity or the new one. In a group such as IC, it may be useful to see if bridging discourse is utilized among members when talking about events or the group identity in itself.


Decker, S. (2010). Being Period: An Examination of Bridging Discourse in a Historical Reenactment Group. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(3) 273-296.

Walking Away and Staying Put: Considering Burn Out and ‘Stoppage’ in the Participatory-Civic Trajectory

This is the first post in our newly created Civics, Popular Culture, and Participatory Culture Blog. Each week over the summer and beyond, the members of the research group here at the University of Southern California will write their thoughts and observations over the course of this pilot study being conducted. The issues discussed are not limited to data recorded or analysis, but also methodological, theoretical and personal notes and observations. As a group we have agreed that these notes are at best, off the cuff and an attempt at capturing some semblance of self-reflexivity as researchers (a participatory culture in and of itself!) and not meant to be considered fully formed, cited, or ready for primetime.

With that, I’d like to touch on two topics I’ve been mulling over for quite some time. The first is, on an individual level, the burn out that can be experienced by members of participatory groups and how our considerations should think about this phenomenon. The second, on a wider scope, I’d like to think about the trajectory we are attempting to construct or model and think about groups who may not neatly fit into that trajectory, specifically by not “progressing” along the track. My main concern going into this research is to keep a broad view of what it is we are looking for in the case studies we’re focusing on as a group as well as our individual work as well. As much as we like seeing successful groups or participatory culture used in a civic manner, it’s also important to remember that both creating and maintaining the structures to engender such action is difficult and some groups will face setbacks implementing these kinds of activities or may decide not to engage with them to a level everyone would agree is “civic” or more than philanthropy.

One of the topics we have talked about informally has been the issue of burnout among members of the groups we are looking at. Especially since one of the groups we would like to look at are long time members as well as former members of these participatory groups, it behooves us to contemplate issues of burnout. If and when we interview former members of groups, it is important to make sure we really can reach at some of the question in the discussion guide with regards to motivation, organization, and persistence. I think Ito’s section in persistence and transition is a good reminder that members of these various participatory groups may not stay long term with once group or another or that, because of the group’s organization, or their personal role or stake in the work being done, have decided to pull back from civic engagement type work temporarily or permanently/

Similar to these concerns, I’ve been thinking about the observation with HPA, specifically regarding the ‘fan research’ group they’ve put together. Their reference to the Browncoats and perhaps pushing them into work beyond philanthropy, while admirable, makes me a bit wary. On our end, I’d like to think about the model we are trying to construct. This isn’t to say that we have been trying to push the participatory groups to fit a model, but that over the course of this early research and, further down the line, we need to keep an eye out for groups who, while perhaps interested in some types of civic-minded activity, would perhaps not be as far reaching as some of our initial case studies. As I mentioned earlier, much of my thoughts in these two areas (beyond a somewhat cynical disposition) is my wariness in falling for the easy trap of trying to model a distinct progression “to move along the trajectories between participatory culture and civic engagement.” In a similar vein, I’m interested in how the HPA’s “fan research group” will fare in terms of outreach and their own attempts, both internally and externally, to expand its political activities outside the scope of the Harry Potter content world and encouraging other groups, such as the Browncoats to move “past” philanthropy into political action. Again, these are goals to be lauded, but it will be interesting to see if members or other groups react indifferently to the shift.

A second form of reticence may not necessarily be an unwillingness to “move up the ladder”, but a sense of built-in cynicism within the community itself. My own personal research on Anonymous has provided example of successful and unsuccessful activist work as defined by the group itself, due to various low-attendance physically-based protests (most recently regarding the once proposed, not dropped plans for an Australian internet content filter), many members of the community feel that offline forms of protest are not worth the effort. I should not of course this example differs from our case studies in terms of overall organization, in group communication, and leadership, but as a model, I think it’s worth taking into account in group narratives about successful and unsuccessful action by the groups and how that may play a role in morale, sustainability, etc. And, I should note that, in the case of Anonymous, as much as in-group critics bemoan physical protests, they are at least given one attempt for each major cause, though if proven unsuccessful, they tend not to be tried again.