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[liberationtech] Cyber-sceptics wanted!

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at
Wed Mar 2 13:28:16 PST 2011

On Thursday 03 March 2011 02:29 AM, Yosem Companys wrote:
> I don't often comment on the list, other than in moderator capacity...  But
> I completely agree with Jillian on Gladwell inaccuracy of weak ties vs.
> strong ties argument.  Gladwell cites Granovetter, but Granovetter's work
> clearly shows weak ties ->  info diffusion, which is what Mario Diani's
> empirical work shows about movements.  In other words, tech or not, weak
> ties fuel movements.

They might act as fuel for movements, but they don't ignite them.  A 
core set of strong ties (whether offline or online, whether they knew 
each other from earlier or got to know each other well as part of the 
movement) is required.

> Otherwise, you can't build critical mass and reach
> tipping points, which Gladwell argues in his book summary of Granovetter and
> critical mass theory.  No one questions strong ties are needed to some
> extent in early stage of activism, but as McAdam argues, strong ties early
> on are required either for high risk activism or for securing resources.
>   And from my own research on Dean&  Clark in 2004, these were bloggers&
> forum organizers who had never met each other in person (they met AFTER
> starting the netroots movement online), and yet they seemed to run virtual
> organizations quite well on weak ties.

I agree.  (And disagree to the extent that weak ties can get converted 
to strong ties: so Dean & Clark might have started out as weak ties, but 
that subsequently changed (even before meeting each other IRL).)  In 
fact, in a message on the Gladwell thread on this mailing list last year 
I'd written:

> 2. Even traditional political advocacy can actually be based on weak ties.
>        Consider Amnesty International's letter-writing campaigns.  Very
> strong, very political, requires little action, and is many times very
> effective.  There are Amnesty posters from the '70s that have a
> typewriter with the caption: "This is one of the most powerful weapons
> in the fight for human rights".  And more recently: "Saliva saves lives"
> and "Postman topples dictator".
>        However, I mostly agree with him that social media-based advocacy is
> largely based on weak ties, and that greatly limits it.  That having
> been said, a large movement of weak ties can (and quite usually does)
> have a small core of strong ties that keeps it going.  Thus social
> media-based advocacy can help convert some of those with only weak ties
> into those with stronger ties.  This is thus a case of one complementing
> the other.  Thus, I agree with Mary that this distinction is one of
> degree and of tendency, rather than absolute.

In an offlist mail to Jillian I'd written:
It seems to me we are both in agreement in terms of his argument and its 
weaknesses.  But while I conclude that for the most part I agree 
(focussing on its strengths), you conclude that for the most part you 
disagree (focussing on its weaknesses).

- Pranesh

Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society
W: | T: +91 80 40926283

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