Ray Brescia


On his book The Future of Change: How Technology Shapes Social Revolutions

Cover Interview of February 10, 2021

The wide angle

The book builds on the work of scholars who have noted that social movements changed their shape and focus in the 1970s to become more top-down and professionalized. In the book, I point out that one of the reasons for this shift is that the means of communication changed dramatically.

Grassroots groups used to have to organize into what has been called a “trans-local” structure—local chapters or nodes connected to a larger, national structure. Many groups in the 1970s began to organize in more of a top-down manner and were no longer built into local chapters. I argue in the book that one of the reasons for this was that a new technology came on the scene around this time—the ability to create computerized mailing lists—and this allowed a more centralized, professionalized structure. Groups abandoned the trans-local, grassroots approach that mobilized around face-to-face encounters.

I argue further that, with social media, it is certainly possible to continue this model of organizing but I highlight a number of contemporary case studies where advocates are utilizing social media and other tools to recreate the grassroots, face-to-face organizing of prior eras. They are also rebuilding social capital and trust, two essential ingredients (and by-products) of grassroots, face-to-face organizing that were more common in grassroots movements of prior eras, before the advent of the computerized mailing list.