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Unintended consequences: the negative impact of e-mail use on participation and collective identity in two ‘horizontal’ social movement groups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 January 2015

Cristina Flesher Fominaya*
Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK Senior Marie Curie Fellow, National University Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland


The relation between face-to-face and online communication and its impact on collective identity processes is understudied. In this article I draw on two case studies conducted during a 3-year ethnographic study of the Global Justice Movement network in Madrid, Spain, from 2002 to 2005 to explore the unintended impact of e-mail on the sustainability, internal dynamics, and collective identity of two groups committed to participatory and deliberative practices as key features of their collective identity. I found that despite an explicit commitment to ‘horizontalism’ the use of e-mail in these two groups increased existing hierarchies, hindered consensus, decreased participation, and worked towards marginalization of group members. In addition, the negative and unintended consequences of e-mail use affected both groups, independently of activists’ evaluation of their experience in their face-to-face assemblies (one of which was overwhelmingly perceived as positive and one of which was perceived as negative). The article draws on e-mail research in organizations, online political deliberation research, and existing studies of e-mail use in social movement groups to analyse these findings.

Research Article
© European Consortium for Political Research 2015 

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