next up previous contents
Next: The Events as Context Up: Exposure, Networks, and Mobilization: Town Previous: The Petition Movement and

Mobilization Within and Outside Social Structures

Diffusion research convincingly demonstrated the importance of the web of social linkages as an carrier of innovative behavior. This influence of personal contacts is not restricted to innovations such as family planning methods and the prescription of certain medicine (cf. Coleman 1957 and Rogers and Kincaid 1981 for these classical examples): personal interactions also have an impact on political orientation, beliefs and behaviors as it has been acknowledged in political science a long time ago. To the surprise of the general public, media, and academia alike, Lazarsfeld and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate the great impact of social interactions on the change in voting preferences (cf. Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet 1948). The early attempt to include structural variables into the research agenda clearly showed the extend to which social linkages matter for political processes and decisions on a dyadic level.


Within mobilization research this structural view is most explicitly expressed in the resource mobilization approach. Kriesi (1988), as one representative of this approach, notes: " (...) that understanding organizational structures is of crucial importance to understanding mobilization processes" (cf. Kriesi 1988: 41).5


Though the results of both studies are convincing at first site there is one major theoretical and methodological drawback inherent in either example cited. Social networks are by far more than the random combination of individuals interacting in dyads: as these interactions are patterned they form structures of higher order, that entail opportunities and constraints for individual actors and groups. This point has recently been advocated by Diani (1997): "From our perspective, an important question relates to the integration of social movement actors in their broader communities, and to their capacity to mobilize consensus outside movement subcultures (Diani  1997: 139). To our knowledge no empirical study was able to follow that call and tackle these important but complex, structural effects.


The fact that collective social phenomena are often characterized by their steep growth (which is also true for the petition movement as is shown in Figure 1) can in part be explained by the multiplicative properties of social structures.

From a methodological point of view, the multiplicative properties can only be understood if one studies the embeddedness of individual actors in the structures surrounding them: depending on where an actor is located in the social structure he experiences more or less strongly the growth of activity in his personal social environment. Sooner or later he will come in touch with activists and the amount of exposure will determine his likeliness to become active himself. This argument can be reformulated into a more general hypothesis: The more contacts an actor has to other actors who are already active in the revolution, the more likely he will become active himself. This process of mobilization can continue within a given structure for as long as there are actors who experience a rise of activity in their personal surroundings. With the extension of these contacts to activists, peer group pressure rises and the question whether or not to become politically active is stated again and again for the individual actor. The extension continues to accelerate as long as these newly activated actors interact with people who have not yet become involved in the political movement.


Social structures describe who interacts with whom and who can become potentially important for whom. While we assume that social structures matter for the diffusion of new political ideas, it would be oversimplified to put deterministic weight on structural explanations alone. Not all recruitment necessarily takes place within an existing social structure. Similar experiences and an equivalent positions within society in large are very often assumed to cause political change. Such equivalent positions can result from the same access to power and representation, access to property, and same legal positions. People who are tied in such equivalent positions do not necessarily need to be tied in the sense of social networks or social structures. It is even more likely to assume that this is not the case. In a social situation where power and privileges are unevenly distributed the ruling class has strong interests and often the potential to work against the establishment of effective organizational structures on the side of their political opponents.


Taking into account the two sources of mobilization presented above, we presume that the center of revolutionary activity is located where structure and equivalent positions resulting in similar interests come together.


... 41).5
In his analysis of the Dutch petition movement against the deployment of cruise missiles, he found a convincing relationship between the likeliness of an individual to sign a petition and his or her integration into "counter-cultural networks". Kriesi defined counter-cultural networks as social circles of people who are in the core of this particular petition movement or any other of the so called "New Social Movements" (NSMs) (the women's movement and the homosexual movement are other examples) (Kriesi 1988: 50-54).

next up previous contents
Next: The Events as Context Up: Exposure, Networks, and Mobilization: Town Previous: The Petition Movement and