Order from Chaos: How Networked Activists Self-Organize by Creating a Participation Architecture

Source: Felipe G. Massa, Siobhan O’Mahony, Administrative Science Quarterly, OnlineFirst Published May 3, 2021
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From the abstract:
Collectives attempting to self-organize without relying on managerial control can leverage open, digital networks to foster information exchange and agility. But, as collectives grow, the open boundaries that enable the mobilization of participants and rapid exchange of ideas can give rise to new organizing challenges that make collective action untenable. We examine this tension by exploring how networked activists self-organize through open, digital networks to achieve shared aims without belonging to a common organization that supports their cause. With a seven-year, inductive field and archival study, we capture how activists from the Anonymous collective organized 70 protest actions while struggling to integrate newcomers and coordinate increasingly complex activities. Rather than succumb to chaos or managerial control, Anonymous learned to self-organize, gradually abandoning normative forms of control in favor of forms of architectural control. By creating a participation architecture—a sociotechnical framework that empowered technical experts and unobtrusively channeled newcomers to designated forums—networked activists enhanced their collective ability to coordinate complex, interdependent actions at scale. Our grounded theoretical model reveals how the challenges of self-organizing emerge with rapid growth and how these can be overcome by configuring architectural control.