E-mail use in the contexts of place, social networks, and empowerment: An examination of grassroots environmentalists in Estonia and Russia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Anke Wessels


E-mail use, grassroots environmentalists

Subject Categories

Computer Sciences | Geography | Political Science


As the Internet expands to all parts of the world, so does access to e-mail through this network of computerized linkages. One population group that has become active on the Internet is grassroots activists seeking social ties and informational support for their alternative agendas. This study focuses on the use of e-mail communication by grassroots environmental activists in the newly independent states of Estonia and Russia. During a period of fieldwork in those countries, a total of ten organizations in four different cities were interviewed regarding their use of e-mail for promoting their activist work. Non e-mail using groups were included in this sample population as a basis for interpreting if and how e-mail use makes a significant difference. Three questions related to e-mail use and activism are investigated: How is e-mail communication use related to each group's spatial focus?, Can resistance emerge based not on spatial concentration but in an interstitial space of e-mail linkages?, and What kind of empowerment are grassroots environmental groups pursuing through the use of e-mail? Data indicate that the level of e-mail use is not related to the place-related nature of each group's work as much as it is related to how each group incorporates this technology into its operations. Four groups with high levels of e-mail use are discussed as having developed through e-mail communication social structures that directly aid their work. An argument is made for viewing these social structures as emergent social networks. Using two definitions of empowerment, it is concluded that e-mail use does not necessarily lead to either form of empowerment, but the creative use of e-mail significantly benefits some groups in this study and enables their activist work to continue. The regional focus of this study on recently independent areas may be indicative of how grassroots activists in other less developed parts of the world may utilize e-mail communication to challenge the status quo.


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