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Globally, Youth + ICT = Protest

August 30, 2014

Can you take the people out of the equation? A new article does just that but comes to similar conclusions with quantitative data as those of us who work directly with qualitative data (i.e. people). Photo by Monasosh

Can you take the people out of the equation? A new article does just that but comes to similar conclusions with quantitative data as those of us who work directly with qualitative data (i.e. people). Photo by Monasosh

Most of my work on globalization involves seeing it as a work of the imagination. Using ethnography, I try to see how people situated in particular locales see themselves as connected and disconnected to other locales, how these ways of seeing the world affect their actions, and what actual connections can be discovered that are consonant or at odds with their beliefs.

There are other ways of researching the global, of course. Almost the polar opposite of my approach is abstracting individual people–and to a large extent the locales in which they live out of the picture altogether–and seeing what aggregate data can show you.

This is the approach taken by an interesting article entitled “Protests by the young and digitally restless: the means, motives, and opportunities of anti-government demonstrations” by Adrian U. Anga, Shlomi Dinar and Russell E. Lucas, published in the most recent issue of Information, Communication & Society.

The authors were interested in the argument made by many social scientists, and increasingly taken for granted by the media, that protests were a result of a large disaffected population of young people (a “youth bulge”) ill served by their societies, who took advantage of ICT to foment protest.

Breaking this argument down, the authors developed several hypotheses to test against available demographic data between 1995 and 2011. The hypotheses are:

H1: Countries with a large youth cohort will be more likely to experience the occurrence of at least one anti-government protest.
H2: Countries with a large youth cohort will experience a higher prevalence of protests.
H3: Countries with higher levels of ICT penetration are not more or less likely to experience the occurrence of at least one anti-government protest.
H4: Countries with higher levels of ICT penetration will experience a higher prevalence of protests.
H5: Countries with high levels of ICT penetration and with a large youth cohort should be more likely to experience the occurrence of at least one anti-government protest
H6: Countries with high levels of ICT penetration and with a large youth cohort will experience a higher prevalence of protests.

Testing these hypotheses against demographic data and data on ICT penetration, the authors found some interesting things.

  1. First, a youth bulge by itself shows no real correlation with protests.
  2. Second, high ICT penetration by itself is actually negatively correlated with protests. In other words, being connected doesn’t by itself produce revolution, it may even inhibit it.
  3. However, high ICT penetration in combination with a youth bulge is strongly correlated with protests.

In terms of Egypt, this is unsurprising news, but it is interesting to find the work of qualitative analysts like me supported by this kind of qualitative study.

Here’s the abstract:

Inspired by the recent wave of global protests, this paper seeks to empirically investigate the role and interaction of a burgeoning young population and the penetration of information and communications technology (ICT) in explaining the onset and diffusion of anti-government demonstrations. Employing a cross-national global analysis between the years 1995 and 2011, we find that youth bulges and ICT affect protest activities in a more complicated and nuanced manner than the conventional wisdom suggests. The proliferation of anti-government protests is multiplicatively heightened when the enhanced technological means of protest are fused with the structural and opportunity-based conditions often witnessed in countries with large youth bulges. In contrast, we do not find that either of our variables of interest affects the probability of the outbreak of protests, which is rather explained by more contextual factors. A nuance in our results pertaining to the prevalence of protests suggests that it is the proliferation of technology that is more important than demographic factors. This suggests that those communication mediums, more likely to be used by younger generations, have worked to successfully amplify calls for mobilization even when those cohorts are otherwise smaller in size.

Reference:

Ang, Adrian U., Shlomi Dinar and Russell E. Lucas. 2014. Protests by the young and digitally restless: the means, motives, and opportunities of anti-government demonstrations. Information, Communication & Society
17(10): 1228-1249.

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