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): The use of digital technologies in shifting forms of political activity

By Mads Skovgaard, University of Copenhagen

This subproject will examine the contentious repertoire of current socialist politics in The United States emerging at the intersection of institutionalized electoral politics and decentralized social movements, with a focus on the role of digital media platforms as facilitators and mediators of political activity.

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.




Special issue call on “Big Data in Human Behaviour Research: a Contextual Turn?”, Journal of Big Data


    • Keynote on social media analysis in the European Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities.

      Jun Liu, the PI of the project, is invited to give a keynote on social media analysis and a tutorial introduction to semantic network analysis in the European Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities at Aix-Marseille University on June 20-23, 2022. More information please visit the summer school’s website.
    • Big Data in Communication Research: A contextual turn? – The 2022 International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) pre-conference 
    • Special issue call on Social media and political contention: challenges and opportunities for comparative research, Journal of Information Technology & Politics.
    • SAPERE AUDE Lecture 2021 by Jun Liu.
      Time: 4 April 2022, 19.00-21.00. 
      Place: Videnskabernes Selskab, H.C. Andersens Boulevard 35, 1553 København V.

      Jun Liu, the PI of the project, is invited to give a Sapere Aude lecture at the Royal Danish Academy. Visit the event’s website for more information about the lecture

      Watch the Sapere Aude lecture by Jun Liu. 



    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 



    1. Liu, J. and Wang, J. (eds. 2022). Social Data Governance: From Reflective Practices to Comparative Synthesis (Special Theme), Big Data & Society.

    3. Liu, J. (2022). Social Data Governance: Towards a Definition and Model, Big Data & Society


    With the surge in the number of data and datafied governance initiatives, arrangements, and practices across the globe, understanding various types of such initiatives, arrangements, and their structural causes has become a daunting task for scholars, policy makers, and the public. This complexity additionally generates substantial difficulties in considering different data(fied) governances commensurable with each other. To advance the discussion, this study argues that existing scholarship is inclined to embrace an organization-centric perspective that primarily concerns factors and dynamics regarding data and datafication at the organizational level at the expense of macro-level social, political, and cultural factors of both data and governance. To explicate the macro, societal dimension of data governance, this study then suggests the term “social data governance” to bring forth the consideration that data governance not only reflects the society from which it emerges but also (re)produces the policies and practices of the society in question. Drawing on theories of political science and public management, a model of social data governance is proposed to elucidate the ideological and conceptual groundings of various modes of governance from a comparative perspective. This preliminary model, consisting of a two-dimensional continuum, state intervention and societal autonomy for the one, and national cultures for the other, accounts for variations in social data governance across societies as a complementary way of conceptualizing and categorizing data governance beyond the European standpoint. Finally, we conduct an extreme case study of governing digital contact-tracing techniques during the pandemic to exemplify the explanatory power of the proposed model of social data governance.

    2. Peng, Altman Yuzhu, Kuang, Xianwen, and Hou, Jenny Zhengye (2022). Love NBA, Hate BLM: Racism in China’s Sports Fandom, International Journal of Communication, 16, 3133–3153. 


    This article aims to explore how racism plays out in China’s sports fandom in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement sweeping across the globe. To this end, we conducted a case study of basketball fans’ postings on the most popular Chinese-language sports fandom platform, Hupu. The research discovered that the often-negative assessments of the BLM movement posted on Hupu were largely informed by racism deeply held in traditional Chinese thinking, which provided the grounding for Chinese sports fans to appropriate racial discourses to assess progressive equal-rights politics in Euro-American societies. The trajectory of such a discursive practice was twofold, enabling these sports fans to rationalize their political views pertaining to both international and domestic arenas. The research findings urge scholarly attention to the dynamic interplay between regional popular cultures and global equal-rights politics in the digital age in China and beyond.

    1. 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
    Skovgaard, Mads PhD Fellow +4535327821 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  


    Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant
    Project period: 2022-2025
    PI: Jun Liu

    The project has been approved by the Research Ethics Committee for the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen (File number: 504-0079/22-4000).