Mediation, Motives, and Goals: Identifying the Networked Nature of Contemporary Activism
Jones, Natasha N.
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Many contemporary work organizations are dynamic, complex entities that are increasingly networked and distributed in nature. Using an activist organization as the site of research, this study examines how a loosely-networked, distributed organization reconciled disparate individual goals and worked to accomplish local, shared socially-motivated goals (SMGs). In addition, this research investigates how the shared goals at the local level aligned with the motivations of the larger, networked organization with which the local group is affiliated. Moreover, this study considers how activists implemented and used mediating artifacts to address specific goals and how mediating artifacts were used in localized communicative practices. Employing ethnographic research methods, this study incorporates data collected from 7 months of participant observations, oral and written interviews, and numerous collected artifacts in order to present a comprehensive view of the communicative practices of an activist group, the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW). Close reviews of the collected data generated 4 major themes and 9 related subthemes. In addition, subsequent analyses of the data yielded one overarching global theme, which is explored using Kenneth Burke's theory of rhetorical identification. The findings of the study are presented in the form of a descriptive, ethnographic narrative and are analyzed using two complementary theoretical frameworks: Activity Theory (AT) and Genre Ecology Modeling (GEM). Using AT and GEM, this study investigates how genres enacted in print, speech, and information and communication technologies (ICTs) mediated work activities and how these three categories of genres functioned in concert to support the realization of SMGs. This study demonstrates that an analytical framework that considers the rhetorical concept of identification has value for researchers attempting to understand how networked, heterogeneous organizations communicate and work to achieve common goals. Further, this study emphasizes that genres, as mediating artifacts, are embedded with identification strategies that can implicitly and explicitly promote consubstantiality within a networked organization. Finally, this research points to the need for additional studies investigating the implications of identification in networked organizations, as well as more research that examines how all three major categories of genres (print, speech, and ICTs) interrelate in networked organizations.