To Use or Not to Use? A Relational Approach to ICTs as Repertoire of Contention

While we know a lot about the technologies people use in political contention, we know very little about why people choose some but not other technologies, and how people decide on specific political uses of certain technologies. This project tackles these challenging questions and studies people’s decisions on (non-)use of technology for contention.

Rapidly emerging technologies are playing a crucial role in shaping the way in which people engage with politics and pursue social justice, as we see in the cases of Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, and the Arab Spring. While the ways people use technology in politics vary across events, contexts, and societies, we know little about the reasoning behind people’s diverse decisions on use and non-use of technology for politics in specific contexts.

This project generates urgently needed knowledge about the issue by exploring how people make choices regarding technology use for politics and social justice across the globe. With seven sub-projects studying and comparing people’s deliberations when they turn technologies into contention-related tools in Europe, the United States, and China, the project acknowledges a reality in which technologies serve diverse individuals and communities in disparate ways.


What is the reasoning behind activists’ decision on use—and furthermore how to use—or nonuse of a specific information and communication technology (ICT)?

How and why do people choose and maneuver some but not other technologies in and for contentious politics, in specific contexts?



Sub-project 1: To Use or Not to Use: Explicating the Complexity of Repertoire in Digitally Mediated Contentious Politics

By Jun Liu, Project Leader and Principal Investigator

This sub-project advances a theoretical framework for the transformation between affordances and contentious repertoire in the case of ICTs.

Sub-project 2 (PhD project TBD)

Sub-project 3: Technologies of Protests in the Environmental Movement in a Differentiated Europe

By Hans- Jörg Trenz, Scuola Normale Superiore

This sub-project interrogates variation in “affordances-in-practice” (Costa, 2018) and uses of ICT across selected EU members states (i.e., Denmark, Germany, and Italy), but also tests the possibility of convergence and spillover in the formation of a shared repertoire of contention through the intensification of transnational exchanges and organizational linkages for which the EU offers a new type of supranational political opportunity structure (della Porta & Caiani, 2009).

Sub-project 4: Activists, Police, and Citizens: Visibility and Colliding Perspectives in Reporting from Protests on Social Media Platforms

By Christina Neumayer, University of Copenhagen

The sub-project examines the imagined affordances (Nagy & Neff, 2015) of social media platforms as contentious repertoire by various actors and their divergent actualizations of the visibility of protest.

Sub-project 5: Protest and Contentious Action among Informal Workers in China

By Sarah Christine Swider, Wayne State University

The sub-project explores when, why, and how informal workers in China participate in protest, mapping out their unique organizing strategies and contentious repertoire, with a focus on how these actions are mediated and coordinated by their understandings of affordances of various digital platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.

Sub-project 6: Framing Activism in the Digital World

By Xianwen Kuang, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

The sub-project analyses how NGOs in China use different social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo to frame their actions and initiatives regarding various contentious events.

Sub-project 7: Digital Media Manipulation, Disinformation, and the Alt-right

By Tobias Linné, Lund University

The sub-project studies the contentious repertoire of the alt-right movement in Sweden and maps out the heterogenous aspects of altright trolling culture and the diverse array of uses of digital media.






Donatella della Porta, Professor of Political Science, Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy 

Guobin Yang, Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA 

Hazem K Kandil, the Cambridge University Professor of Historical and Political Sociology, University of Cambridge

Lance Bennett, Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor Communication and Professor of Political Science, University of Washington, USA 

Ralph Schroeder, Professor in Social Science of the Internet, University of Oxford 



Liu, N. & Liu, J. (2022). Leading with Hearts and Minds: Broadcasters, emotion initiators, and emotion brokers in emotion contagion in China’s online activism, Social Movement Studies.


Who are the prominent actors leading the diffusion of emotional messages in China’s online activism? What roles do they play in this process in an emotion-discouraging context? In this exploratory study, we examine networked patterns of anger diffusion within the Red-Yellow-Blue kindergarten child abuse scandal on the Chinese social media Weibo. Using supervised machine learning for emotion labeling and a social network analysis approach, we identified three types of actors and profiled their distinctive roles in the process of anger contagion. Broadcasters (e.g., verified organization accounts) act as both an information source and a legitimate source to elicit other users’ emotion through emotion-free information. Furthermore, emotion initiators like celebrities instigate and lead other users’ emotions, while emotion brokers like micro-celebrities build bridges between different subgroups to form a massive-scale network of emotion contagion. These actors are indispensable and complement each other for emotion contagion in China. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings on the understanding of emotion diffusion in online activism.




Name Title Phone E-mail
Liu, Jun Associate Professor +4535328416 E-mail
Neumayer, Christina Associate Professor +4535333467 E-mail


Hans- Jörg Trenz Professor, Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy 
Sarah Christine Swider Associate Professor,  Wayne State University, USA
Chris Chao Su Assistant Professor, Boston University, USA
Xianwen Kuang Associate Professor, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China
Tobias Linné Senior Lecturer, Lund University, Sweden
Nian Liu Assistant Professor, Capital University of Economics and Business, China
Elaine Yuan

Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Illinois Chicago, USA