Social Network Analysis Methodology Paper: Case Study of Black Lives Matter Movement

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Short history & key studies where it is used

The social network analysis method for research began as an analytical tool to describe relationships within a community by structural anthropologists and sociologists, but is now an extremely useful tool for so many other social (and even nonsocial) sciences due to its versatile and relatively accessible nature. Social network analysis has become increasingly popular in studying social movements, where the collective mobilization of the group quite literally depends on/grows out of the relationships and connections of the individuals as well as the group as a whole; social network analysis stresses the notion that an individual's behavior is very heavily influenced by its community and socialization, and the idea that “how an individual lives depends on how that individual is tied to larger webs of social connections” (Caiani 371). Social network analysis is very useful with studying social movements because it recognizes how these movements are comprised of many different individual actors each of which have their own extensive set of relationships, and how these collective networks and ties transmit not just information to one another, but shape the group’s values, frames, and even identities (Caiani 370). It is the recognition of the impact and influence these shared values and identities have on collective group action that make this method especially useful for researching violent and/or radical groups, who share very strong opinions on certain matters, which often leads them toward terroristic acts - whether they are a radical right or left group, or any other terrorist organization.

Basic how to on how to use the methodology (800)

Social network analysis is a great method for studying social movements because it recognizes these movements as a product of a social framework, which is comprised of actors and ties - or the group members and their relationships - which shape the group’s beliefs, decision making, and their collective action or mobilization. With that being said, the first step in analyzing the social network of a chosen social movement is identifying these actors, or determining which members or associates of the movement belong in the network. This part of the process can be rather difficult, as it can be hard for an outsider to determine who should be considered an actor in the chosen movement, but for the most part when determining who should be included in the network all of the following should be included: all actors who have self-identified as being members of a group or movement, all individuals who personally took part in a group’s actions, and even individuals who are only briefly involved with the group, or only played a minor role in the eventual actions of the group.

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Once the nodes - or actors of the network have been decided, researchers then create a graphical representation of these nodes and map out the ties or relationships between actors. When mapping ties, it’s also important to categorize or rank the ties. There are many different categorizations of ties - they can be binary or not, symmetrical or asymmetrical, and even negative or positive (Perliger Pedahzur 8). And while it is important to differentiate each tie “type”, it is more important to differentiate the strength of ties, because that is thought to have a far more significant influence on the social dynamics and eventual actions of the group. When differentiating ties, you have weak ties - which are relationships with acquaintances, and then strong ties - which are relationships with family and close friends. When determining the strength of a tie, the most important factors to consider are the magnitude and frequency of interaction between actors. Many vital internal group processes and dynamics, such as solidarity, cooperation, and conflict resolution depend on the strength of the ties between members, so it is important to pay close attention to those components of the network.

How can this method be used to study social movements?

Social network analysis can be used to study social movements in a multitude of ways. As we know many of today's social movements have a vast number of relationship networks from vocal leaders who act as public figures to the movement, as well as their followers, and the many lower level members who are more involved with direct grassroots organizing. Looking specifically at a movement such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), we see the extensive network the movement has built, from their strong online presence and connections, to their nationwide organization which has chapters in most major cities, as well as their strong alliances with many influential political figures, activists, and other grassroots organizations. Black Lives Matter is an especially interesting social movement to look at using social network analysis, not just because of the extensive network of personal relationships they have built through their demonstrations and organizing, but also how their social media presence has amplified their voices, and helped to grow their social network in ways previously impossible to social movements.

By using the social network analysis to study a movement such as Black Lives Matter, we can learn not just how these groups interact or function internally, but also how these groups are influenced by outside actors or connections. We would first analyze and rank the actors of the group, looking at who the leaders of the group are and setting a hierarchy or chain of command. In this specific case, Black Lives Matter is a heavily surveilled social movement, and has been since the very beginning, which in one retrospect aids the social network analysis process, because many of the important actors in the network - as well as many of their close connections - have already been identified by law enforcement agencies. One could analyze the movement both as a whole, and/or by comparing each chapter’s social networks. Because social network analysis aims to uncover the specific relationships and internal dynamics that drive a movement to act a certain way, it may be better to compare chapters rather than looking at the movement as a whole, since one chapter may act radically different than another simply due to a specific connection or relationship said chapter has developed. For example, if the Cincinnati chapter of Black Lives Matter works directly with someone who has been a victim of police brutality, or has a history of violent run ins with police, they may operate their chapter in a much different and potentially more “violent” way than a chapter who directly works with organizations who stress nonviolent action. We can also use this method to investigate the public response to the movement, and what recruitment process look like/produce; we can study this by looking to see if joining a specific chapter of the BLM movement increases the likeliness of one to partake in more violent or “radical” demonstrations, or if the relationships they build in a specific city leads to more peaceful protests against police brutality.

We would also look at the online nodes of these city movements. Black lives matter basically grew out of social media, so it is clearly a pivotal node in the movement. Twitter and Facebook are two of the biggest places where the BLM movement has a lot voice and does a lot of it’s recruiting, so it can give a lot of insight into group dynamics and interactions. Social media allows us to observe who individuals are interacting with online as well as in person, what they are sharing, and who is responding to these posts and visiting these websites.

Ethical concerns (300 words)

The social network analysis methodology does raise some ethical concerns that can and should be examined - specifically around consent and privacy. As we know privacy is a right Americans hold very dear, and when using the social network analysis methodology you would be monitoring American citizens; This means that individuals of interest are being heavily surveilled, not just in their activism, but in their freetime, their online presence, and their interactions with other individuals (ex. catching up with friends or spending time with family members). This could be seen as a breach of privacy, not just to those people of interest - but also the unwilling and possibly completely uninvolved individuals such as family members who are unaware of a loved ones involvement in a movement or some sort of illegal activity. Incorrectly associating someone with a movement, especially a violent or potentially violent movement could put said individual in danger - either through political or state violence, or retaliation by the “real” members of interest who may feel as though they can no longer trust this person. In addition to surveilling unconsenting individuals, this method could also lead to the inaccurate categorizing - and even criminalizing - an entire movement or group of people based off the actions of a few members of the network. Also, since your online footprint never goes away, another risk this method runs is linking a person’s past online activity to their current beliefs or behaviors, when in reality they may not actually hold such beliefs or engage in said actions anymore.

Works Cited

  1. Caiani, Manuela. “Social Network Analysis.” Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research, Oxford University Press, 2014.
  2. Perliger, Arie, and Ami Pedahzur. “Social Network Analysis in the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.” OpenSIUC, Working Papers, 2010, opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/pn_wp/48/.
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Social Network Analysis Methodology Paper: Case Study of Black Lives Matter Movement. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-network-analysis-methodology-paper-case-study-of-black-lives-matter-movement/
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