Over on our nice shiny new website for the Contagion project, the PI, Professor Steve Hinchliffe, has written a timely blogpost concerning the formations and formulations of concerned publics with regard to the 2013 ‘pilot’ cull of badgers in the South West of England.
In the blogpost Steve highlights the social networking analysis being undertaken as a part of the broader Contagion project, through some interesting case studies, to work through how we can understand the data available in relation to particular issues, the tools that can be used to interrogate them, and the theoretical frames we can use to epistemologically anchor and deepen what can be said about these data.
Steve is also writing, in part, in response to a recent presentation/report by the IpsosMORI Social Research Unit, who are engaging in research around ‘social listening’, which focuses on fracking and the badger cull. The social network analysis undertaken by the Contagion project team arguably deepens and nuances the broad brushstrokes of the temporal analysis undertaken by IpsosMORI and highlights the messiness of the ‘modularity’ of the network convened around the topic of concern – the badger cull. As Steve suggests:
…issues are performed or issue-led publics are generated in ways that involve a key role for social media and for twitter in particular. What we are starting to explore is how those publics are constituted – they aren’t always partisan, they tend to be heterogeneous rather than homogeneous (a standard assumptiion in social network theory is that people of like minds clump together, but this homophilly as it is called, is not so clear cut in public issues – clumping is somewhat conditional on other relations and roles). Moreover, there are suggestions here of key actors and sub-groups that confound any simple sense that social media simply relays a message – communication is messier than that. There is a roughness or spatiality to the social.