Researching how new tactics spread through social movements (Dr Gemma Edwards)

Uploaded by manchestersociology on 27.06.2012

My current research is looking at the diffusion of tactical innovations within social movements,
and I'm particularly interested in the Women's Social and Political Union, which was established
here in Manchester in 1903.
And I'm interested in the new tactic that the WSPU brought to the campaign for votes
for women in 1905, which was a tactic of militancy. So the idea was that you would intentionally
try to get arrested and go to prison, for the sake of the cause.
So I'm interested in this new tactic - how it spread to local areas, and why local women
decided to adopt it, or not, for themselves.
I've taken the social networks approach to looking at this question, and this involves
mapping out the personal social networks of two suffragettes in particular. So I've taken
one suffragette who did adopt militant tactics, and one who didn't, and I've tried to explore
the reasons why they made that decision.
What I've argued is that it's less to do with their individual personality and their predispositions,
and it's more to do with the nature of their personal social networks. What I mean by that
is that it's more to do with the kind of discussion and debate happening with the people around
them, and the kind of expectations that arose from their interactions with the people around
Taking a social networks approach helps us look at the connections - the web of connections
- within which these women were embedded, and to think about how the structure of those
connections, but also the kind of meaning and culture that they gave rise to, affected
their decisions on whether or not to adopt militancy.
So that method involves mapping out personal social networks and in order to do that I
use a computer software programme called UCINet. UCI Net allows you to input data about people's
connections with one another and then to visualise the networks around these people. It's really
useful for measuring things to do with the properties, or the structure, of the network.
For instance I can look at who's the most central player within the network, and also
what the composition of the network is.
This was really for seeing, for example, that it was WSPU travelling organisers that came
to local areas that really gave these women opportunities to adopt militancy. And it also
allowed me to see their contact with other militants.
What we're seeing in these two diagrams are the personal social networks of the two suffragettes
that I've looked at. I've looked at their personal social networks and mapped them using
various different sources.
So for one of the suffragettes I've the historical archive that I've got mainly consists of diaries,
family diaries that were written around the time. So I've reconstructed her personal connections
over a number of years by looking at these diaries and the kind of relational information
that we get from them.
For the other suffragette, the main historical archive involves letters, and also speeches
that she made around the time of her imprisonments. Again, I've used these sources to find the
data about their connections with other people within the suffragette movement.
And I've used these to create these personal networks. And they're personal networks because
they're the networks of connections around this one particular person. These are what
we call ego-nets, or actor-centred networks.
This project's been part of a wider project I've been involved in, and we've been looking
at social networks in social movements more widely. In particular, we're interested in
covert social movement networks. So the period when the suffragettes became involved in particular
in covert activities, so when militancy became less about getting imprisoned for the cause
and more about doing destructive acts like setting bombs and committing arson, where
the whole intention was to escape.
We're interested in how the social networks that were involved in these social movements,
how they change and adapt when activity becomes underground and covert. So what we've done
within this project is we've looked at several suffragettes and their networks. One of the
future steps is to try and put those networks together and create more of a wider movement
network, and analyse that in both quantitative and qualitative ways. It's very important
within our project that we mix the methods within social network analysis.
The main methodological contribution of this research was to use a mixed method approach
to social network analysis, and in this respect I think that formal social network analysis
can benefit a lot from coming into contact with more qualitative approaches. But at the
same time, qualitative approaches, that concentrate maybe more on the individual, or the individual's
relations with one or two significant others, can also benefit from situating that individual
within the wider social network.
So I think it gets to a level of intersubjective expectations and culture that perhaps a formal
social network analysis on its own, or a qualitative analysis on its own couldn't get to. In that
respect, we see this as a model for doing a more mixed method social network analysis.