Infectious Innovations? The Diffusion of Tactical Innovation in Social Movement Networks, the Case of Suffragette Militancy

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This paper explores the diffusion of a tactical innovation - militancy - within the British Suffrage Movement, 1905-1914. It concentrates upon the influences that arise from personal social networks and which affect ego's decision about whether to adopt the new tactic. UCINET is used to map and visualise the activist networks of two suffragettes who made different adoption decisions. This reveals that 'weak ties' to 'innovation champions' (i.e. suffragette 'travelling organisers') connected both women to opportunities to learn about, observe and adopt militancy. In order to explain why one suffragette adopted the tactic and the other did not, however, there is a need to link structural and cultural analyses of social networks together. Here, I do this by following up empirically what Fuhse [Fuhse, J. (2009). The meaning structure of social networks. Sociological Theory, 27, 51-73] has called the 'meaning structure of the network' consisting of interpersonal expectations and network culture. I propose that the 'meaning structure' of the network is linked to the structural patterning of social ties - and the subjective meanings of ego - through the communicative interaction in which they both are rooted [Mische, A. (2003). Cross-talk in movements: Rethinking the culture-network link. In M. Diani & D. McAdam (Eds.), Social movements and networks: Relational approaches to collective action (pp. 258-280). Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press]. Focusing on communicative interaction and intersubjective meanings indicates that there is value in approaching personal networks as socio-cultural 'lifeworlds' [Habermas, J. (1987). The theory of communicative action, volume 2: System and lifeworld. Boston, MA: Beacon Press; Passy, F., & Giugni, M. (2000). Life-spheres, networks, and sustained participation in social movements: A phenomenological approach to political commitment. Sociological Forum, 15, 117-144.). This approach is particularly valuable in highlighting the construction of a 'moral point of view' within networks, which fundamentally shapes the symbolic legitimacy of culturally controversial tactics. © 2014 © 2013 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-69
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • diffusion
  • lifeworld
  • mixed-method SNA
  • Personal social networks
  • social movement participation
  • suffragette militancy
  • tactical innovation


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