the uber-ization of activism

In the NY Times, UCLA sociologist and orgtheorist emeritus Ed Walker had an insightful column about the nature of modern activism. What does it mean when an interest group can just “rent” a bunch of people for a protest? From the column:

Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the “Fair to Share” campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring “community organizers” to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon’s “Readers United” was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.

So it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s still a bright line between being a business and being a campaign organization, or between consumer and activist. Tech companies’ customers may think they are being served. But they are often the ones providing the service.

The whole column is required reading and illustrates the nebulous boundary between traditional politics and social movement politics. Self-recommending!

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PS. “Uberi-zation” is such a weird word…

Written by fabiorojas

August 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

3 Responses

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  1. This is a good column showing why the complete lack of political diversity in sociology (and the academy) is such a problem. Ed probably hasn’t been in a gun shop, ever. But had he shopped there since, well, about 1985, he would see lots of political activism/social movement/marketing efforts. The NRA has grown through the symbiotic relationship between customers and suppliers.


    Prof West

    August 12, 2015 at 12:51 pm

  2. That would be a fair critique of the NRA was a for-profit corporation with an organizational mission other than lobbying, or if the grassroots activism for gun rights you reference was being orchestrated by bullet manufacturers. The NRA is a nonprofit advocacy group with the explicit goal of lobbying. Uber (and the other companies Ed references) is not a nonprofit, not an advocacy group, and not a lobbying organization. It’s a transportation company.

    But, by all means, continue making dumb comments on blogs that you think confirm your own political biases about the academy.



    August 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm

  3. Uh … the GUN MANUFACTURERS pay for the NRA lobbying materials in the gun shop. But, yes, my assumption that you have seen any of Ruger’s stand up for your rights posters seems pretty solid. The gun manufacturers are like uber, the NRA is merely the vehicle for the activism, like uber does with its smartphone app.


    Prof West

    August 12, 2015 at 5:20 pm

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