Social Change

                The model for social change employed in this paper follows a composition of theories and concepts from distinguished experts in the field of Social Work1.  Ideas found here pull notions from David Bornstein, Sarah Alvord, Barbara Crosby and John Bryson and otherwise follow suite with the modern social work theory taught at the graduate college at the University of Illinois.  This paper seeks to illustrate the potential connection of Facebook to social movements through an overview of some of the fundamental aspects of their formation and operation processes.  Social capital is absolutely vital in any social movement and as such Facebook becomes an important venue for support or resistance.

Riding the Waves

                Traditionally leaders and social entrepreneurs have a masterful command over both interpersonal engagements and towards interpreting the larger social processes afoot that set the context for a given situation.  They take note of the potent and large-scale forces of change in operation in society, which in the case of Facebook and the Chief is the US’s heightened transformation into the information age and the considerable extension of student life onto the web combined with the massive student populace’s allegiance towards sports and colorblind regard towards race.  Any context provides opportunities and constraints and while Facebook offers more weak ties than ever before critics quickly call in to question the utility and ease of activation that these ties actually carry with them.  Local and situational context is paramount in the case of the Chief – very few people outside of the UIUC community even know much of anything about the debate.  Pro-Chief leaders, whether they’ve done it explicitly or not, have appropriately positioned themselves in relation to the broad and tight social context in place at U of I.  What’s more is that they’ve aptly tapped into a very emotional and volatile issue which is more likely to rouse involvement among the student populace.

Making the Right Moves

                Having the context on your side is only the first step to inspiring social change, however.  Social movements are at root about altering the way people think and behave and what strategies might best accomplish this task are not always clear.  Philosophical debates rage over what methods are appropriate or effective, vying between altering attitudes vs. behavioral emphasis, positive vs. negative inducements, and challenging or changing societal processes vs. working within processes for a substantive outcome.  The pro-chief escapade at U of I seems to assume a given attitude (most students are already sympathetic to their cause) and thus rallies many of its efforts towards rousing protest or shows of solidarity.  They have the positive (or negative, depending on how you frame it) inducement of peer pressure, students want to feel like they belong to a cause together with their friends and acquaintances.  And lastly because most students don’t hold significant positions of power (this is one of the few ways besides age that they might feel marginalized) pro-chief groups often wish to challenge decisions or processes related the Chief (the whole ‘down the NCAA’ spirit).
                The movement leaders have successfully captured at least one common objective: keeping the Chief alive, or even bringing him back.  Their powerbase remains primarily among students at the University but the scope broadens when they include alumni around the nation and local people (so called ‘townies’).  Their target group is largely the undergraduate populace, which is precisely why Facebook becomes a substantial component in the game.  Other objectives remain a little more obscure, such as the size and extent of the change sought (and details about what to do about those who feel his presence is offensive), time frame, and techniques to alter behavior.  The crux of the issue is that the students have little formalized institutional power, and must fight the quick turn over rate inherent to a university environment. 
                One place the pro-chief advocates have managed to do well is by expanding objectives to include other groups, stimulating coalition building.  Perhaps the most powerful example is the Marching Illini, where severe social stigmas might be attached to anyone who is even neutral in regards to the Chief, much less against him.  The band director himself is one of the most vigorous advocators and the influence of the group also bleeds into a wide variety of sporting and school pride organizations.  The Greek community has latched on to it strongly as well, whose member features a disproportionate number of white and advantaged members who are more likely to come from a colorblind background2.

Bringing it Together

                Facebook offers a superb opportunity to research the pro-chief social movement at U of I.  Between containing a comprehensive record of student perspectives and consequent exchanges as well as potential avenues of social capital generation and use, researchers can track the ways Facebook has served as a platform to support and mobilize resources amongst students to keep the pro-chief campaign alive.  Furthermore, Facebook is an environment where new social movements are bound to take place, and researchers should consequently work to enhance or combat these in the future.  This paper goes on to suggest a partial approach to dealing with the current pro-Chief interchange as it is encountered on Facebook.  In order to do this, however, one must start with inquisition.

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[1] Initially gathered by previous co-author Elena Chiappinelli, a graduate student in Social Work at UIUC, Jeff is less familiar with this material and so provides tentative, contingent reference.

[2] Unfortunately I don’t have the data to say this based on research studies but instead take the stance based on experience conducting race relations intergroup dialogues amongst students.