Please join us for a colloquium being given by Laura Nelson, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University.
Cycles of conflict, a century of continuity: Using computational methods to measure why some ideas succeed and others fail
Why are some ideas and organizations influential, and others insignificant? As movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo dominate the public scene, this question is receiving renewed attention from both social scientists and the general public. In this talk I take a comparative historical perspective on this question, identifying influential and peripheral ideas and organizations within the women’s movements in Chicago and New York City during both the first and second feminist waves, from 1860 to 1975. Established accounts maintain that the predominant ideas of second wave feminism came out of the civil rights and New Left movements. Finding more similarities than differences between the waves, I instead show that second wave ideas were rooted in place-based political logics established during the first wave. In both waves, influential organizations in Chicago sought change by addressing the immediate needs of women, while influential organizations in New York City sought to change individual consciousness. Using a novel combination of network statistics to measure social structure and computational and qualitative text analysis techniques to measure ideas, I find that collective beliefs become influential when they are aligned with these persistent place-based political logics, or, secondly, when they match local social structures. These findings demonstrate how computational methods can provide empirical access to concepts that have historically been difficult to directly measure. New sources of rich, digitized data, I claim, when combined with methodological advances in analyzing unstructured data, enables scholars to measure social complexity and cultural beliefs in new – and increasingly reproducible – ways.