Knox Student Researches Social Media, Social Movements
February 15, 2013
by Laura Pochodylo ‘14
Through her independent research project, Knox College senior Eva Marley has discovered that Twitter is no longer merely a place to talk about the tasty sandwich you just ate. She is exploring the different roles social media sites like Twitter play in organizing young people into social movements.
"My research examines youth participating in social movements and how young adults really get involved in the mobilization and the organizational elements of participating in social movements, political activism, and protests," Marley explained.
"Overall, young adults play a really pivotal role in determining how these movements shape our political, economic, and cultural discussions and how we view what's going on in our world today," she said.
Marley determined that social media networks, areas traditionally dominated by young people, are the new platform for organizational efforts for protests. Recent examples of social media mobilization that Marley studied include some of the Arab Spring demonstrations, like the overthrowing of the Egyptian government in 2011, as well as Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States.
"I've been looking a lot at Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and how those have been used to gain supporters, as well as recruit and mobilize people to go out into the street and protest," said Marley, who is majoring in anthropology and sociology and minoring in international relations. "People are becoming more educated (about movements), but not in the traditional way."
Her focus on young adults' involvement was inspired by a theory she learned about in a sociology class at Knox.
"It is based off of this idea that sociologist Doug McAdams had. It is called ‘subjective engageability,' and it states that young adults are the people who have the most to gain from participating in social movements because they have the least distractions," Marley said.
"They don't have families, they're not married, they don't have jobs, and they usually have three months off in the summer where they can do whatever they want. They are the ideal candidates to organize these social movements."
Marley's interest in social movements was piqued while studying abroad in New Zealand (in photo at left, exploring the waterfront in Wellington, New Zealand). Although she was thousands of miles away, she was still able to watch the Occupy Wall Street movement develop through its Internet presence.
Occupy Wall Street's influence "was able to reach across the Pacific and to all of these different countries," Marley said.
While abroad, Marley was selected for the Ford Fellowship program, which supports Knox juniors as they pursue an independent research, scholarly, or creative project. When she returned home to Madison, Wisconsin, she witnessed the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill protests at the State Capitol, in which labor union members demonstrated against proposed restrictions on collective bargaining while other people staged counterprotests to support the bill. The protests ultimately led to a gubernatorial recall election in 2012.
Experiencing a protest close to home helped Marley develop her focus on social movements for her Ford research. Like many Ford Fellows, she has continued her research, and it has now evolved into her senior research project.
Marley also has discovered parallels between social movements that don't necessarily share the same goals, like those in Egypt and Wisconsin.
"There are a lot of similarities in how they were organized," Marley said. "Their internal structures were very similar."
Those internal structures shared both social media and young people in common, as her project, "#Solidarity: Youth Participation in Social Movements," explores. Marley presented her work at the 2nd Annual Horizons: A Celebration of Student Inquiry, Imagination and Creativity at Knox.
In April, she will be presenting her research at the Central States Anthropological Society (CSAS) conference in St. Louis, Missouri. It will be her first academic conference.
Marley hopes to attend graduate school for cultural anthropology. She has also applied for a Fulbright grant to return to New Zealand.
"My future plans are more focused on indigenous cultures, especially dealing with human rights," Marley said. "My dream job would be to work for the United Nations, in a position addressing human rights and indigenous cultures."
She has developed this plan during her time at Knox with the support of faculty.
"I wasn't really thinking about doing graduate school. It just wasn't really on my radar. But I think getting the Ford Fellowship, and being really encouraged to apply for a Fulbright, and just the constant support from my professors is what encouraged me to pursue graduate school."