Consequences of Group Style for Differential Participation

Hjalmar Bang Carlsen, Jonas Toubøl & Snorre Ralund (2021)

Social Forces, 99(3), pp. 1233-1273.

Abstract. This article proposes a theory of how interaction in groups influences differential participation in political activism and interrogates this theory through an empirical analysis of online Facebook group interaction. We study the refugee solidarity movement in a mixed methods design employing online ethnography, survey, and “big” social media data. Instead of conceptualizing the group as a social network or social movement organization (SMO), we argue that the group’s culture emerges as patterns of interaction that have implications for what kind of activities in which group members participate. Based on observations from our online ethnography, we suggest that group interaction influences differential individual participation through processes of (1) encoding different habits and (2) attuning the activist to different aspects of situations. We support our theoretical propositions with six statistical tests of the relationship between the group-level variable of contentious group style and the individual-level variable of participation in political protest. The dependent variable, political protest, and a comprehensive set of controls stem from an original survey of the Danish refugee solidarity movement with 2,283 respondents. We link the survey data with “big” social media data used to estimate the focal explanatory variable, contentious group style, generated from content analysis of online interaction in 119 Facebook groups quantified with supervised machine learning. The results show that group style has a consistently positive relationship with the individual’s degree of participation independent of networks, SMO framing, and individual attributes.”

Extract. “Encoding habits of action and thought The first process linking group style to individual participation concerns how actors in a group develop habits of thought and action in relation to specific issues. As Lichterman and Eliasoph (2014) argue, different styles cultivate different skills among their participants. We adopt the pragmatist conception of habits as arts or competences rather than mere behavioral repetition. For instance, one must learn how to think and talk contentiously about the refugee situation. Actors develop these competencies through situational tests where they learn what principles should be used in critique (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006) and what actions are appropriate and efficient. Activists learn certain imaginaries within the group setting that both work as moral compasses and help guide action (Braunstein 2017, 152f). On a more practical note, activists gain familiarity with different movement activities and acquire the relevant skills such as how to organize demonstrations or how to help and support refugees. […] Flow engrossment also reveals how group styles filter information. This function is crucial for differential participation, because if one does not have information about future events, then surely it is impossible to participate in these events, unless by coincidence. To have relevance, information must be formatted in a way that fits the situation (Thévenot 2007). This implies that, in a given group, ill-placed recruitment attempts not in alignment with the group style risk being ignored because the attuned activists dismiss them as background noise or breaches of group norms.” (1239/1241)

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