Digital Networks of Democratic Mobilization: Examining Performative, Material, and Rooted Approaches

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In a world increasingly and unevenly connected through fiber-optic cables, satellite waves, and smartphones, spatial approaches attentive to questions of power and scale are key to grounding analysis of digital networks and illuminating the possibilities and instabilities created through network linkages. This article examines digital networks of democratic mobilization through the analytical lenses of poststructuralist, new materialist, and feminist and decolonial approaches. By developing a heuristic of performative, material, and rooted approaches to network analysis, this article exposes the underlying theoretical presuppositions and analytical possibilities enabled by different ways of thinking with and through networks in geography. Performative approaches advance an understanding of networks as dynamic, dispersed assemblages, providing a theoretical lens that accounts for fluidity and multicausality. Material approaches call attention to the concrete backbones of digital infrastructures, highlighting the pathways and chokepoints that enable and constrain multiscalar flows of information. Rooted approaches foreground the spatial dimensions of social embeddedness, illuminating how digital networks emerge from and are constrained by longer struggles over territory and place making. Through empirical engagement with the networked mobilizations of the Arab Spring and the Milk Tea Alliance, we bring the insights of geographic scholarship to bear on emerging work on digital social networks and show how historically rooted spatial relations condition new vectors of risk and crisis. By tracing the ontological and epistemological orientations of particular strands of performative, new materialist, and rooted approaches, we recenter scale, territory, and place making, while emphasizing the political nature of network analysis across today’s digital landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by American Association of Geographers.

    Research areas

  • Arab Spring, democratic mobilization, digital geography, Milk Tea Alliance, networked protest

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