Week 7: Notes from Readings


Social Movement Research

The main work I read was Methods of Social Movement Research which helped me to think about what approach I would take in my research. After reading this book, I still feel that a combination of semi-structured, one on one interviews with key actors in the movement along with network and discourse analysis of websites and the links between them, would seem like the best approach for my subject matter. Of course a final decision on this can’t be made until I’ve really perfectly defined my question. However, the interviewing method remains very appealing to me because through this approach, I can “gain access to the motivations and perspectives of a broader and more diverse group of social movement participants than would be represented in most documentary sources” (Blee and Taylor 2002).

Interesting ideas raised in the book included the possibility of a more collaborative approach to research with the subjects of your study – ultimately feminist activists have the same motivations as I do – to understand the trajectory of the women’s movement and to use the internet effectively to help spread ideas about feminism. This is a particular advantage of semi-structured interviewing strategies, in that it makes such a collaborative research process possible. As Blee and Taylor (2002) put it, “[t]he open-ended nature of such interviewing strategies makes it possible for respondents to generate, challenge, clarify, elaborate, or recontextualise understandings of social movements based on earlier interviews, documentary sources, or observational methods”. The chapter on semi-structured interview techniques also discusses life story interviewing, which is also relevant for my interest in looking at the ways people come in contact with feminist ideas early in their lives or the ways in which people find community in feminist groups online. Did they find them through real life communities or did they find likeminded individuals on the net first? My semi-structured interviews should include a substantial chronological focus or at least try to find out the historical context (on a personal level) of individual online activism.

The book also backs up my plan to use several different methods of research, calling this “triangulation” (Blee and Taylor 2002). Triangulation “both increases the amount of detail about a topic and counteracts threats to validity associated with any one of the single methods” (Denzin 1989 cited in Blee and Taylor 2002).

Network analysis, as part of my research methodology, would have the purpose of discovering the weave of the Australian online feminist community. Is it closeknit or looseknit? Are the factions and divisions within it significant and what do the breakoff groups look like? How are they divided demographically and ideologically, for instance are there clusters of bloggers of different age groups, or are some factions more exclusive and restrictive of input? This can be asked within interviews, as well, but it would be helpful to have confirmation of individual descriptions of the way the community is structured.

I have begun some preliminary network analysis – mostly data entry at this stage, which includes identification of links and actors (or nodes) within the network. How I’ve been doing this thus far is by identifying several Australian feminist blogs, and listing a) the links they provide to other websites b) the website owners that have commented on their recent blog posts and c) the websites they link to from within recent entries. This is something Diani (2002) describes as “snowball sampling”. I will do some testing to see whether this kind of information will bring up any meaningful results in terms of network analysis to help me design my final model for the analysis. At the moment I can think of a couple of possible weaknesses – for a) the fact that bloggers tend to link to different numbers of websites – some sites may have exhaustive lists, others just a handful of close friends, however in terms of network analysis these would show up as having the same strength of linkage. This could distort the results and make certain sites look more important solely as a result of including many links in their “blogroll”! B) seems like a relatively foolproof analysis apart from the fact that commenting across blogging platforms can be complicated so it might tend to encourage e.g. WordPress bloggers to comment more on other WordPress blogs than other kinds of blogs e.g. Livejournal due to non-universal identification systems. And thirdly, c) is problematic because linking to outside blogs, while a good way to create meaningful networks in a political discourse community, is more likely to be done in some blogs than others depending on the personal style of the blogger, and this may also distort results.

Finally, the chapter by Johnston (2002) in Methods of Social Movement Research looks at frame and discourse analysis and the differences between these two concepts. Discourse analysis, which I will be performing on blog entries and other feminist community sites, looks at “what is actually said or written” rather than “the knowledge embodied in textual structures” as in frame analysis (Johnston 2002, 67). However both are important for identifying the sense of community within the Australian feminist online network as well as the continuity of the ideas within the network – what are the ideas that participants share that make them identify with the group as a whole, but also how did they reach this point on a discursive level?

But again, I still need to get a more concrete understanding of the background of social movement theory, and thus the next thing to do when I come back to social movement literature is to begin a really serious literature review, rather than getting too sidetracked on these methodological considerations, at least for now.

Blee, K.M. & Taylor, V.
Semi-Structured Interviewing in Social Movement Research
Klandermans, B. & Staggenborg, S. (ed.)
Methods of Social Movement Research
University of Minnesota Press, 2002, pp. 92-117

Diani, M.
Network Analysis
Klandermans, B. & Staggenborg, S. (ed.)
Methods of Social Movement Research
University of Minnesota Press, 2002, pp. 173-200

Johnston, H.
Verification and Proof in Frame and Discourse Analysis
Klandermans, B. & Staggenborg, S. (ed.)
Methods of Social Movement Research
University of Minnesota Press, 2002, pp. 62-91


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