Author Archives: Laura K. Nelson

About Laura K. Nelson

I'm an open-source purist doing my best to eschew proprietary software.

Text as Data: A Call to Standardize Access and Training

Text as Fist

By Laura K. Nelson

Data come in all shapes and sizes, but in the past ten years we have seen huge leaps in the amount of data readily available in the form of unstructured or semi-structured text. This presents both opportunities and challenges for social science researchers, including social movements scholars.

Two sources of text-as-data have long been staples in social movements research: newspapers and organizational literature. Newspapers have been used as the basis for event counts (e.g., here, here, and here), as a measurement of movement frames, and as a movement outcome (e.g., here and here). Organizational literature is often used to show that the way social movements themselves express ideas is critical to their success (e.g. here, here, and here). Continue reading


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Social Movement Data

Feminism, Culture, and Computational Sociology

Recent social movements research that has excited and motivated me groups around three themes: 1) community-level effects on movements (Reger 2012, McAdam and Boudet 2012), 2) the path-dependent nature of movements (Blee 2012), and 3) the application of computational methods to study social movements (Hanna 2013) and culture (Bail 2013). My research fits loosely at this junction: I use computational methods to study the structure and culture of local social movements over time.

To do so I, like many others, conceive of local movements as fields. I formalize fields in two ways: a social field consists of 1) a structure—a set of actors that are in some way related to one another (DiMaggio and Powell 1983), and 2) a culture—taken-for-granted assumptions that both enable and constrain action (Jepperson 1991). While network analysis is an established way to measure structure, quantifying culture has proven more difficult. Continue reading


Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues, Uncategorized

The Identity Politics of Motherhood

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and many of my friends had Facebook posts about the radical anti-war origins of this holiday.

In 1870 feminist Julia Ward Howe penned the anti-war “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” which begins:

Arise then … women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:

“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,

For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

Continue reading

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Google doodle draws attention to gay rights and the 2014 Olympics

Google doodle highlighting gay rights and the 2014 Olympics

Google doodle highlighting gay rights and the 2014 Olympics

As a follow up to Lisa Leitz’s post about the same sex marriages featured at the 2014 Grammy Awards, I want to draw attention to Google’s homepage “doodle” which “honors” the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The doodle highlights six winter sports and, critically, is set against a rainbow background. Below the search bar is a quote from the Olympic Charter: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Anyone who has been following politics around this year’s Olympic games will recognize this as a not so subtle dig at Russia’s anti-gay laws and the general treatment of gay athletes leading up to the games. The political nature of the Google doodle has been picked up by a number of news sources, and one news source noted that the doodle was on the Google Russia homepage.

I think this, as with the same sex marriage event at the Grammy Awards, is a sign of the mainstreaming of LGB rights, but is also a sign that the protests against Russia’s anti-gay laws have been successful at drawing attention to the issue. Even Bob Costas mentioned the controversy around these laws on the first night of Olympic coverage, Thursday night. While the Google doodle will do little to concretely change the situation in Russia, I think it should be celebrated, and certainly should be seen as a win for gay rights advocates. But, I’m open to other interpretations. Thoughts? 

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Using Automated Content Analysis to Study Social Movements: A Review of “Computer-Aided Content Analysis of Digitally Enabled Movements” by Alex Hanna

 The use of the internet by contemporary social movements is providing immense amounts of data to social movement scholars, and more and more researchers are devoting their energy to studying this phenomenon. The size, scale, and richness of these data, however, present a number of methodological hurdles. Alex Hanna highlights some methods we can use to analyze the content of text-based internet data–using Facebook as a case study–in his article “Computer-Aided Content Analysis of Digitally Enabled Movements” (Mobilization: An International Quarterly 18(4): 367-388, 2013).

Hanna did an immense amount of work to prepare his data for analysis, he thought carefully about his methods, and his descriptive statistics go a long way toward an empirical understanding of the way social movements use Facebook. His article is a great introduction to automated text analysis methods and is an example of how these methods can be used to study social movements and internet data. Continue reading


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Corporeal Social Movements

Many of us who study social movements were at one point involved in social movements. Those who are, or have been, involved in a social movement have probably experienced the emotional intensity and the accompanying emotional and bodily exhaustion so often connected to social movements. Activists put their bodies on the line for a particular cause, risking permanent damage either by injury during a protest or action—accidental or on purpose—or by devoting long hours to the cause, to the point of emotional and physical exhaustion. Conversely, there is also the daily boredom and repetition that often accompanies movements—copying filers, scheduling and attending endless meetings and events, writing press releases, etc. For me, concepts like Political Opportunity Structure, Resource Mobilization, and Discursive Opportunity Structure, while important, fail to capture the intense, emotional, and at times boring, lived experience of activists.

Matthew Mahler has picked up on the divergence between scholarly analysis and lived experience in the field of professional politics in his article “The day before Election Day” Continue reading


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Online Feminism: Who is Listening?

A few months ago PBS came out with the documentary “Makers: Women Who Make America,” which tells the story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history”, i.e. the women’s movement. It’s a wonderful video, and everyone should watch it. While it was generally lauded as a success, one of the sections, the section on “Feminism Today,” drew extensive critiques. In this section old arguments about contemporary feminism are repeated: most women today who do “feminist” things refuse the label feminist, younger women are apathetic and take for granted the rights that the past feminist movement won, etc. It adds the somewhat new claim that today’s active feminist movement focuses its energy on global issues rather than domestic issues.

A number of active feminists immediately critiqued the documentary’s take on the current women’s movement, in particular for missing the important work being done by younger feminists. One common critique is that the documentary did not even mention the vast world of online feminism. Continue reading

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GDELT and Research on Global Women’s Rights Activity

The release of the GDELT dataset (Global Data on Events, Location, and Tone) has provided social movement researchers a powerful tool to study global social movements. Preliminary explorations of these data show its potential promise for analyzing major social movements, e.g. the uprising in Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and Syria’s civil war. It’s updated every day (!), which is great for ongoing social movement research.

As with any data, one should take caution when using GDELT to make claims about the real world. Continue reading


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