In my quest to synthesize network theory and social movement research for usable tools, I pulled three books off my shelf to revisit which ones will help with this.

They are: 

  1. Networks of Courage and Hope by Manuel Castells
  2. Communities and Networks by Katherine Giuffre
  3. The Organizational Networks Fieldbook Edited by this passel of people: Robert L. Cross, Jean Singer, Sally Colella, Robert J. Thomas, Yaarit Silverstone.

I am only offering here a tease of why I plan to dive more deeply (or not) into each.

Networks of Courage and Hope

Castells’ Networks book delves into the various networked social movements that arose from 2007-2010 ranging from the Arab Spring to the protests against the Great Recession in Iceland and Spain to Occupy in the USA and the mass protests in South America. Reading his dense and pointed intro that reviews his basic framework, I was reminded my own core analysis is largely the same. Effective power is rooted in the power of institutions to shape thinking. Counter power takes advantage of networks, themselves made of communication, to forge new kinds of spaces and human experiences.

What Grew out of the Arab Spring?

What is most compelling to me now, looking at his tome from 2012, is what happened to the networks of “courage and hope”? From Turkey to Brazil to Trump in the USA, since 2016 we seem to have seen the rise of right-wing populism. Did the networked social movements all “fail”? Or have they evolved? Are there clear genealogies of people, ideas, strategies, and tactics from those insurgent movements to those now?

Basically, what is the sequel? In Star Wars imagery, Is it “Revenge of the State” (the networks sputtered and are negative lessons) or is it “The Return of the New Hope” (that period gave birth to the cohort of people and ideas powering the movement now?)

Which Came First? The Community or the Network?

Giuffre’s book is a novel approach that tackles two needs simultaneously. First, it links what we mean by “community” with the power of analyzing networks directly. To me, network analysis is often like an x-ray of the structure and flow of what we understand more holistically. We experience community or identity even as those experiences are what we name as fundamentally network events. I am thrilled to see such a salient and logical linking of community and networks.

Dr. Giuffre Teaches at Colorado College

Second her book is also a primer on understanding networks which each chapter tackling basic ideas like centrality, cohesion, and so on through canonical concepts and their accompanying tools. For anyone teaching networks, or seeking to learn how to do network analysis, this is an excellent start. Each chapter concludes with a specific practice using the UCINET software.

For my purposes, revisiting how fractured networks relate to community is very relevant. Given that within the progressive movement we have various identities rooted in geography or affinity, we need to understand how community and cohesion are affected by network cleavages and dynamics. Moreover, how can organizers use either network analysis or insights to manage the tricky process of creating community? Maybe the final book will shed some light on this…

Bonus: Dr. Giuffre has a Ted Talk “How Social Networks Drive Creativity.”

Hands On! The Fieldbook

I personally love the metaphor of the natural historian: as netcentric thinkers, we are often finding beauty and difference in the diversity of what we find out “in the wild” of real networks.

Robert Cross and his colleagues offer up something like one of those Audobon-type field guides of trees or flowers that I love to have on hand when strolling the woods of Pennsylvania. Except, instead of what is trillium and how it can be a food, we have chapters addressing questions like leadership, innovation, and change in organizations and how netcentric thinking matter.

Typical View of an Organizational Network. Clearly, there are groups by color within the network? Why are they there? How do they matter? The answers are clearer after some netcentric training.

Though from 2006, I think many of the chapters are still deeply relevant. Most come from people leading workshops and teaching managers how to use the power of networks. The volume has the actual nuts-and-bolts of how to conduct these kinds of workshops, providing great value to anyone, like me, who would want to implement these workshops for others. One task would be to adapt many of them to arenas outside business. I doubt the core lessons and uses would change much, although motivation and incentive for people in networks about social change would probably differ from profit-centric businesses.

Next Up…

All three have different research or practical implications. I look forward to deeper dives in each one and sharing back here constructive critique and useful insights or lessons.