Social Movement vs. Political Campaign?

What really differentiates a social movement from a political campaign? Is there even a difference? In this week’s reading, both Trippi and Shirky discussed how the Dean for America campaign struggled with defining its role as one or a combination of the two. Using Dean’s open source, web-based strategy as a foundation for my analysis, I’ll advance Shirky’s argument that the Dean for America campaign was more similar to a social movement than an actual political campaign. I’ll add to the argument by suggesting that through interactive blogging and MeetUp tools, “definite supporters” started talking to each other about social issues rather than talking about the political candidate they claimed to support.

Trippi (2008) connects his understanding of the Dean for American campaign with the idea of being both a social movement and political campaign. In doing so, he describes it as “the Great American Conversation—a dynamic online discussion of our country,” stating that one of the campaign’s most redeeming qualities was its ability to get people to start chatting and meeting up with one another to talk politics (140). It was this vivacious conversation, Shirky (2007) suggests, that ultimately created a “bubble of belief,” which then made it hard for the campaign team to see that the voters weren’t really convinced that Dean deserved their vote. Instead, they “suffered the same temptations as the campaign workers to regard our fellow citizens as ‘definite supporters,’ … supporting a movement rather than a campaign” (10).

When I read about how much the Dean campaign was influenced by the ideas of individual bloggers, I came to the conclusion that the presence of an “institution” (the actual campaign team) became a lot less influential as a guiding body. When the people started to realize that this was “their movement,” the message that the people could make a difference became more important than Dean himself as a political figure. In other words, the ideas propelled the campaign forward rather than the actual candidate. By relying so heavily on peer-peer communication and less so on the guiding organization of a campaign team, the effort disbanded as quickly as it had grown, under the veil of “interactive” Internet communication.

Do you agree? Disagree? Was the fact that the campaign resembled more of a social movement responsible for its demise?

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2 Responses to Social Movement vs. Political Campaign?

  1. remysarhan says:

    I believe that slacktivism plays a big role in the demise of Dean’s campaign. People thought they were being involved and spreading awareness, yet they did not go out and actually vote. His campaign was definitely a social movement instead of a political campaign, and because of it, his failure was ultimately predicted by scholars and researchers.

  2. I don’t think that it was “slacktivism” at all that was the demise of the Dean campaign, I think it was actually the opposite. Meaghan, you are right in saying that the actual social movement started to overshadow the Dean himself, and eventually Dean just became a symbol of the push to get Bush out of power and a liberal in his place. The actual activism that supporters engaged in surrounding his campaign led to his ultimate defeat, because his supporters were not concerning themselves with his actual policies but rather compelled by the idea of “change”, regardless of what that change may entail. However, I think that it was also the fault of Howard Dean for not listening to what his supporters were actually fighting and standing for, because his job as a politician is theoretically supposed to reflect the ideas of the people, and represent what was in their best interest. This disconnect between what Dean stood for and what people thought he stood for can be attributed to the new-found online community, which allowed similar politically minded people to unite under one cause and focus more on their community than the actual candidate himself.

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