How are digital media changing the way in which people mobilize for a collective cause? Why do some individuals take part in protest, and others not? These issues are investigated through the UK student campaign against raised tuition fees.

The campaign against increased tuition fees for undergraduates represents the first popular mobilization against the new government’s policies for deficit reduction. Since November 2010, tens of thousands of students have joined demonstrations in London, and hundreds have been arrested following confrontations with police and extensive property damage. This ongoing campaign by students provides a unique opportunity for social scientists to investigate two important questions in the literature on social movements and political engagement. One is the enduring theoretical puzzle of why some individuals take part in protest, while others do not. The other is the topical issue of how digital media are changing the way in which people mobilize for a collective cause.

The project develops a twofold empirical approach. First, it explores the motivations for participation using semi-structured interviews, where respondents can answer at length and be quizzed directly about their perceived political efficacy and the problem of marginal contribution.

Second, the project analizes the digital trails of the Oxford campaign, paying special attention to changes in online activity preceding and following key events in the mobilisation process. By analyzing these sources of data, we will be able to track the growth of the campaign over time and identify the motivations and tipping points that helped attain a critical mass of followers.

John Fell OUP Research Fund