A funny thing happens on the way to understanding activists’ social bonds; when we interrogate them closely, they flutter away into a whirlwind of micro-sociological turbulence. This essay suggests the importance of theorizing that turbulence.
In recent decades, the most significant advances in conceptualizing social organization have come from network theory. Network theory integrates both the tug-and-pull of social turbulence and the possibility of agency. It offers a general, formal framework for conceptualizing structure, but also allows empirical and theoretical specificity (Emirbayer & Goodwin 1994:1418). The study of social movements has been at the forefront of those advances (Bearman 1993; Gould 1991), and we now know much more about the mechanisms through which networks influence larger patterns of mobilization (McAdam & Paulsen 1993; McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly 2001; Diani & McAdam 2003). However, the mandate to identify mechanisms in social ties always references the broader explanatory level. It seeks inroads only into how ties “matter” and “work” to produce broader outcomes. Continue reading