Connective action or collective inertia? Emotion, cognition, and the limits of digitally networked resistance

Saif Shahin, Yee Man Margaret Ng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Connective action, or individuals networking with each other online to form social movements, rarely leads to lasting change. In this study, we argue that such movements are ultimately ineffective because they struggle to sustain themselves over time and identify the reasons behind their transience. Our analysis focuses on Twitter conversations about Aadhaar, a biometric ID project that has raised concerns about data privacy and civil liberty in India, the world’s largest democracy. A computational mixed-methods approach incorporating social network analysis, sentiment analysis, and structural topic modeling demonstrates that connective action against Aadhaar failed to produce a sustained discourse of resistance, with people’s feelings toward and beliefs about Aadhaar vacillating sharply. The analysis draws attention to the power of brick-and-mortar social institutions, including the state and its agencies, political parties, courts, technology companies, and ‘legacy’ news media, in shaping and reshaping seemingly bottom-up discourses on digital platforms. It also identifies three interlinked weaknesses of connective action–the individualized nature of mobilization, excessive flexibility of social networks, and a negative emotional culture. We contend that in order to be effective, contemporary social movements need to utilize digital technologies for ‘collective’ action by forging collective identities that bind participants affectively and cognitively, empower them against structures of social control, and enable them to commit to non-personal and long-term objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-548
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Twitter
  • emotion
  • influencer
  • sentiment analysis
  • social movement
  • topic modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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