Skip to content

The Leadership Structure & Power Dynamics of Digitally-Enabled Leaderful Movements 

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

The effort to build non-hierarchical social movements is not new, but digital media is believed to have dramatically intensified it by enabling decentralized communication at scale. At the heart of this effort is reimagining movement leadership structures, transitioning away from leader-led movements and towards leaderless – or better yet, leaderful – movements. Indeed, movements with a strong digital presence are increasingly described as leaderful, meaning ownership and decision-making are well distributed across participants. 

While the idea of a horizontal, leaderful movement is alluring, it is fraught. Questions remain as to whether it is actually possible – even with new media technologies, and whether it is capable of or effective in achieving movement goals. Further, in insisting on a leaderful movement, leaders with marginalized identities may be erased, or participants with privileged identities may gain unelected and unchecked power. 

This study seeks to explore these questions and tensions in the digital context in order to discern how leaderful movements operate and the extent to which they are supported by digital technologies. First, it will quantitatively measure the extent of decentralization in online communication networks associated with movements deemed leaderful. Second, it will parse how power and accreditation function in such movements by qualitatively investigating the identities of those networks’ most prominent users.

Principal Investigator

Adina Gitomer, Graduate Student, Network Science


Brooke Foucault Welles, Faculty, Communication Studies

More Stories

Drawing Participation: Collectively Re-Blocking a Million Neighborhoods


Assessing ChatGPT’s Ability to Mimic Humans on Social Media


Encoding A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison for the Women Writers Project: NULab + DITI Research Project

Research Projects