How Emotions and Networks Unfold in a 'Leaderless Movement'? Public Sentiments and Mobilizing Structure in Hong Kong's Summer of Dissent

Project: Research

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This study will examine the public sentiments and mobilising structure in Hong Kong's summer of dissent. Following increased crackdown on social activists and tightened controls over civil liberties after the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the opposition is marginalised and its movement networks are impeded. Despite the absence of visible political opportunities and organisational resources, millions of Hong Kong citizens took to the streets in summer 2019 to protest against a proposed extradition bill. The mass mobilisation evolved from a single-issue contention to incorporate structural claims, escalated tactics, and inter-group solidarity unparalleled in Hong Kong's activism. It is imperative, therefore, to explore which groups of citizens choose to engage in collective action, and how they coordinate with others, deliberate on tactics, and construct protest frames. Borrowing from the cultural and communication approaches in social movement studies, this study will examine the formation of new meanings and networks during what perceived to be a leaderless movement. The alternative lens infers that culture or digital tool is not only a formative condition of social movements, but also comprises a constitutive role in shaping movement characteristics and dynamics. First, we will apply computational content analysis to trace the meaning-making process among diverse groups of protest actors. Meaning-making refers to the process of articulating and disseminating a set of coherent narratives and frames for the movement. Second, we will conduct social network analysis and interviews with activists to reveal the characteristics of connective action during online and offline interactions. Mobilising structure is measured by the degree of connectiveness among individual protestors, channels of mobilisation, and mechanisms of deliberation. Third, we will assess if increased length of protest amplifies certain actors' credibility and intensifies polarisation of opinion, producing informal leaders and trusted networks. This project aims to survey whether Hong Kong's summer of dissent features an ideal form of leaderless movement sustained by digital information technologies, and if so, what networks and mechanisms ensure mobilisation and coordination over time? By blending content analysis and network analysis, this study will produce original and rich data to explain the pattern, trajectory, and meaning of contentious politics in Hong Kong. This evidence-based research will advance the comparative study and conceptualisation of modern-day protests, inform policymakers on how to map public sentiments and provide insights on political reconciliation after upheaval. It will also address the growing academic and public interest in Hong Kong politics and society following the summer of dissent.


Project number9043086
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/09/20 → …