Social Network Theory Basics

A new area of study has arisen called “social network theory,” indicated by the graphic below.  By “social network” we don’t mean social media websites, but literally, any network of people.  The rise of social media sites did, however, make researchers much more thoughtful and aware of social networks, and study them as detailed maps of specific one-to-one relationships, instead of as a vague concept of a vague community.

social network theory

Most socialist groups believe it’s one of two things that are all-important in defining their identity:

  1. Their party line, ie their set of stances, usually thought of as somehow better than other groups’ stances
  2. Their specific type of movement work, usually thought of as somehow better than other groups’ movement work

Actually neither of these things may be the defining factor in their ability to recruit or retain members.

A study performed on the Freedom Riders showed that the determining factor in whether they stayed on the campaign or quit was not their level of political knowledgeability, but how many other people in the movement they knew.  Making sure political knowledgeability is spread throughout the entire movement is important for other reasons (strategy/membership empowerment/movement democracy), but for the sole sake of keeping people in, it doesn’t seem to be the main thing.

People often stay in a group not because of how much they identify with the ideology, but because of how many people they know in the group.
They often then inauthentically and retroactively edit their ideas to fit the group, instead of rationally deciding upon their ideas, and realigning their social or political connections according to their beliefs.

The most vibrant, largest organizations of the German Socialist Party of the 2nd International were actually its cultural organizations — basically social clubs that did what seemed to be entirely apolitical activities.  People connected.  It was political.  As any counter-insurgency manual would tell you, this is critical to building our own American insurgency.

Another way of expressing this, less focused on the map of relationships and more on the dynamic itself, is called relationship-centric organizing.


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