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Meaning and Structure in Social Movements: Mapping the Network of National Canadian Women's Organizations*

  • Susan D. Phillips (a1)


Social movements are conceived of as networks that provide structures within which organizations negotiate meaning through the construction of collective identities. Network analysis is applied as a method for mapping the relationship among 33 national Canadian women's organizations. Results show that these diverse groups form an expansive, but loosely coupled, network that is bound by a collective identity of “liberalized” feminism. However, minority women tend to be marginalized within the movement and there are surprisingly few linkages with other core social movements. Intra-movement position has significant extra-movement consequences as demonstrated by the finding that network position is a highly significant predictor of the perceived effectiveness of a social movement organization.

Les mouvements sociaux peuvent être conçus comme des réseaux qui fournissent aux organisations des structures de négociation pour la construction de léurs identités collectives. Une telle analyse en termes de réseaux est mise à profit pour l'étude des relations entre 33 organisations de femmes canadiennes. Les résultats montrent que ces groupes divers forment un réseau étendu mais lâche, fonde par un sentiment d'identité collective au féminisme libéré (liberalized). Cependant, les femmes appartenant à des groupes minoritaires tendent à être marginalisées à l'intérieur du mouvement et les liens avec d'autres mouvements sociaux sont étonnament faibles. De plus, la position occupée à l'intérieur du mouvement a des conséquences sur la position occupée à l'extérieur du mouvement. En effet, l'opinion sur l'efficacité du mouvement social est correlée avec la position occupée dans le réseau.



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1 For good reviews of the resource mobilization perspective, see Jenkins, J. Craig, “Resource Mobilization Theory and the Study of Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 9 (1983), 527553, and Tarrow, Sidney, Struggle, Politics, and Reform: Collective Action, Social Movements, and Cycles of Protest (Ithaca: Cornell University Western Societies Program, 1989).

2 Olson, Mancur Jr., The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965).

3 Gamson, William A., “Introduction,” in Zald, Mayer N. and McCarthy, John D., eds., Social Movements in an Organizational Society (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1987), 6, and Cohen, Jean L., “Strategy or Identity: New Theoretical Paradigms and Contemporary Social Movements,” Social Research 52 (1985), 663716.

4 Klandermans, Bert and Tarrow, Sidney, “Mobilization into Social Movements: Synthesizing European and American Approaches,” International Social Movement Research 1 (1988), 138, and Klandermans, Bert, “Introduction: Social Movement Organizations and the Study of Social Movements,” International Social Movement Research 2 (1989), 117.

5 Although the present analysis in no way diminishes the importance of informality and of individuals outside of organizations, it argues that organizations are the anchor points of social movements and a tractable beginning for an assessment of movement structure and meaning. (See Melucci, Alberto, “An End to Social Movements?Social Science Information 23 [1984], 829.)

6 Hall, Peter M., “Interactionism and the Study of Social Organization,” Sociological Quarterly 28(1987), 12. The term, “network,” has also become popular in the interest group literature related to policy communities. For a discussion of networks in this context see Rhodes, R. A. W., “Power-Dependence, Policy Communities and Intergovernmental Networks,” Public Administration 49 (1985), 431, and Coleman, William D. and Skogstad, Grace, “Policy Communities and Policy Networks: A Structural Approach,” in Coleman, William D. and Skogstad, Grace, eds., Policy Communities and Public Policy in Canada: A Structural Approach (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1990), 1433.

7 Melucci, Alberto, “Getting Involved: Identity and Mobilization in Social Movements,” International Social Movement Research 1 (1988), 342.

8 Cohen, “Strategy or Identity,” 694.

9 Klandermans, “Introduction,” 11. Tarrow stresses that collective action is an end in itself; see Tarrow, Struggle, Politics, and Reform, 21, and also Phillips, Susan D., “New Social Movements and Unequal Representation: The Challenge of Influencing Public Policy,” in Gagnon, Alain G. and Tanguay, A. Brian, eds., Democracy with Justice: Essays in Honour of Khayyam Z. Paltiel (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, forthcoming).

10 The distinction between struggles of imagination and those of specificity are discussed in Magnusson, Warren and Walker, Rob, “De-Centring the State: Political Theory and Canadian Political Economy,” Studies in Political Economy 26 (1988), 6162. Jane Jenson is one of the few scholars to examine collective identity at the organizational level. Identity formation via organizations is the basis of her analysis and, for this reason, her work is distinguished from that of the NSM scholars. See, for example, her discussion of how unions contributed to the creation of different identities for working women versus men in France and the United States in the early twentieth century (Paradigms and Political Discourse: Protective Legislation in France and the United States before 1914,” this Journal 22 [1989], 245258).

11 Jenson, “Paradigms and Political Discourse,” 236 (emphasis in original). For further discussion of the relationship between agency and structure in this context, see Kriesi, Hanspeter, “The Interdependence of Structure and Action: Some Reflections on the State of the Art,” International Social Movement Research 1 (1988), 349368.

12 For network analysis based on resource dependencies, see Benson, J. Kenneth, “The Interorganizational Network as a Political Economy,” Administrative Science Quarterly 20 (1975), 229249. For examples of analyses based on group or individual interlocking memberships see Rosenthal, Naomi, Fingruld, Meryl, Ethier, Michele, Karant, Roberta and McDonald, David, “Social Movements and Network Analysis: A Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Women's Reform in New York State,” American Journal of Sociology 90 (1985), 10221055; Mariolis, Peter, “Interlocking Directorates and Financial Groups: A Peak Analysis,” Sociological Spectrum 3 (1983), 237252; Mintz, Beth and Schwartz, Michael, “Interlocking Directorates and Interest Group Formation,” American Sociological Review 46 (1981), 851868. An example of analysis using information-sharing linkages is Granovetter, Mark S., “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973), 13601380.

13 The method of examining a “project” is derived from an adaptation of Personal Projects Analysis as developed by Little, Brian R., “Personal Projects: A Rationale and Method for Investigation,” Environment and Behavior 15 (1983) 273309. For the application of Personal Projects Analysis in an organizational context, see Phillips, Susan D., “Projects, Pressure and Perceptions of Effectiveness: An Organizational Analysis of National Canadian Women's Groups” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Carleton University, 1990).

14 There was no case in which a group was mentioned as an associate in two of the four advocacy projects that was not also listed as a group in a general working relationship.

15 A professional association is defined as an organization that admits individual persons based on their professional qualifications. Some of these associations have regulatory and disciplinary power over their members, while others do not. A professional association must be differentiated from an association of professionals who as individuals are acting collectively as advocates for a public interest beyond their private or professional interests. For instance, the Canadian Medical Association is a professional association, whereas Doctors for Choice is a public interest advocacy organization. It is recognized that many professional associations such as the Canadian Nurses Association and Teachers Federation have been important players in furthering the status of women in Canada. However, for purposes of testing a new method, the selection of groups was confined to voluntary advocacy organizations. Because social service organizations also have a different internal dynamic—the primacy of the client relationship—they, too, are excluded from the present analysis.

16 Application of these criteria led to inclusion of some groups with mixed-gender memberships because their organizational interests, namely those of pro-choice, family planning and children, were deemed to be central to women's concerns. Also included were two of the major groups from Quebec because they increasingly have been required by the federal government to be involved in national conferences and consultations.

17 For a discussion of women's organizing at the grassroots level, see Adamson, Nancy, Briskin, Linda and McPhail, Margaret, Feminist Organizing for Change: The Contemporary Women's Movement in Canada (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988).

18 Black, Naomi, “The Canadian Women's Movement: The Second Wave,” in Burt, Sandra, Code, Lorraine and Dorney, Lindsay, eds., Changing Patterns: Women in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988), 8283.

19 Errington, Jane, “Pioneers and Suffragists,” in Burt, , Code, and Dorney, , eds., Changing Patterns, 67; Strong-Boag, Veronica, “Setting the Stage: National Organization and the Women's Movement in the Late 19th Century,” in Trofimenkoff, Susan Mann and Prentice, Alison, eds., The Neglected Majority: Essays in Canadian Women's History (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977), 89.

20 Bacchi, Carol, “Divided Allegiances: The Response of Farm and Labour Women to Suffrage,” in Kealey, Linda, ed., A Not Unreasonable Claim (Toronto: The Women's Press, 1979), 106107.

21 For an overview of women's organizations in Quebec, see Collective, Clio, Quebec Women: A History (Toronto: The Women's Press, 1987), 336341. For a more detailed discussion of second-wave organizing in Quebec and AFEAS and FFQ in particular, see Maroney, Heather Jon, “Contemporary Quebec Feminism: The Interrelation of Political and Ideological Development in Women's Organizations, Trade Unions, Political Parties and State Policy, 1960–80” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, McMaster University, 1988), 179225. Burt suggests that AFEAS is indicative of the essential difference between anglophone and francophone women's groups: the Quebec version of traditionalism is consistently more feminist and militant than that of English Canada. See Burt, Sandra, “Women's Issues and the Women's Movement in Canada since 1970,” in Cairns, Alan and Williams, Cynthia, eds., The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity and Language in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press for Supply and Services Canada, 1986), 146.

22 Analysis of the history and impact of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women is presented in Kome, Penny, Women of Influence: Canadian Women and Politics (Toronto: Doubleday, 1985), 6797; Morris, Cerise, “Determination and Thoroughness: The Movement for a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada,” Atlantis 5 (1980), 831; Vickers, Jill M., “Politics as if Women Mattered: The Institutionalization of the Canadian Women's Movement and its Impact on Federal Politics 1965–1988,”paper presented to the ACSANZ'88 Canadian Studies Conference,Canberra, 1988.

23 R.E.A.L. stands for Realistic, Equal and Active for Life.

24 Burt argues that R.E.A.L. Women is part of the women's movement while Erwinand Dubinsky assert that it represents a counter movement (Burt, “Women's Issues and the Women's Movement in Canada,” 139; Erwin, Lorna, “R.E.A.L. Anti-Feminism and the Welfare State,” Resources for Feminist Research 17 [1988], 147150; and Dubinsky, Karen, “REAL Dangerous: The Challenge of R.E.A.L. Women,” Canadian Dimension 21 [1987], 47).

25 Digraph techniques are discussed in Harary, Frank, Graph Theory (Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1969), and Harary, Frank, Horman, Robert Z. and Cartwright, Dorwin, Structured Models: An Introduction to the Theory of Directed Graphs (New York: John Wiley, 1965).

26 It should be noted that the link between R.E.A.L. Women and the CWL is a tenuous one based primarily on their joint actions in the pro-life movement. However, the CWL remains strongly embedded in the institution of the Church and its field of action is primarily at the parish, rather than the national level.

27 Berkowitz, S. D., An Introduction to Structural Analysis: The Network Approach to Social Research (Toronto: Butterworths, 1982), 46.

28 McAdam, Doug, “Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency,” American Sociology Review 48 (1983), 741.

29 The nature of the women's movement in the UK is discussed in Gelb, Joyce, “Social Movement ‘success’: A Comparative Analysis of Feminism in the United States and the United Kingdom,” in Katzenstein, Mary Fainsod and Mueller, Carol McClurg, eds., The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 267289, and Bouchier, David, The Feminist Challenge: The Movement for Women's Liberation in Britain and the U.S.A. (London: Macmillan, 1984). The movements in western Europe are described in Dahlerup, Drude, ed., The New Women's Movement, Feminism and Political Power in Europe and the U.S.A. (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1986), and Rucht, Dieter, “Themes, Logics and Arenas of Social Movements: A Structural Approach,” International Social Movement Research 1 (1988), 305328.

30 Weick, Karl, “Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems,” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976), 3. See also Gerlach, L. P. and Hine, V. H., People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), 3378.

31 Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, 33–78.

32 For alternative measures of centrality see Burt, Ronald S., Toward a Structural Theory of Action (New York: Academic Press, 1982), 3337; Freeman, Linton C., “Centrality in Social Networks: Conceptual Clarification,” Social Networks 1 (1979), 215239; and Knoke, David and Kuklinski, J. H., Network Analysis (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1982).

33 The native women's groups, NWAC and IWA, have path distances of 93 and 64, respectively; the disabled women's group, DAWN, has a distance index of 63; the visibility minority groups, CBW and NOIVMW, have distances of 60 and 61; the first-wave groups of the NCW and FWIC have indices of 75 and 83.

34 A t-test of the number of linkages held by feminist (second-wave) versus non-feminist (first-wave) groups (p>.05 in a one-tailed test) reveals that there is no significant difference between them. However, scrutiny of the network graph (Figure 1) illustrates that there is a difference in the target of these ties. The feminist sector of the women's movement is more connected within itself and, similarly, traditional nonfeminist organizations (such as the CFUWand NCW) are more integrated with each other than cross-linked with the feminist sector. However, the YWCA—not selfdefined as feminist in orientation—plays an important bridging role between the traditional non-feminist groups and the second-wave feminist organizations. The only strong tie linking these two sectors involves the YWCA which has ties not only with NAC, but with more specialized groups such as NAWL, LEAF and CAAWS. Moreover, the YWCA is one of only two bridges between the aboriginal women's groups and the rest of the movement.

35 Recent changes in the funding available to the FFQ illustrate the fragility of the role of bridges in a network. Conversations with representatives of NAC in December 1990 indicate that the participation of the FFQ in joint advocacy projects has greatly declined in the past year due to severe cuts in their operating budget.

36 Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” 1366.

37 Rosenthal et al., “Social Movements and Network Analysis,” 1051.

38 Prentice, Susan, “The ‘Mainstreaming’ of Daycare,” Resources for Feminist Research 17 (1988), 5963.

39 There is a growing literature on assessing variations in structural ties that moves beyond simple examination of overlapping memberships. See Schmitter, Philippe C. and Lanzalaco, Luca, “Regions and the Organization of Business Interests,” in Coleman, William D. and Jacek, Henry J., eds., Regionalism, Business Interests and Public Policy (London: Sage, 1989), 224228.

40 This supports the case made by Jill Vickers that native women increasingly relate more to the movement of aboriginal peoples than to the women's movement (Vickers, Jill M., “Bending the iron Law of Oligarchy: Debates on the Feminization of Organization and Political Process in the English Canadian Women's Movement 1970–88,” Institute of Canadian Studies, Carleton University [unpublished paper. 1989], 1).

41 This substantiates the point made by Burt that Quebec women's groups have relatively greater involvement with the labour movement than do groups in English Canada. (See Burt, “Women's Issues and the Women's Movement in Canada,” 146–47.)

42 For a discussion of the linkages between the women's movement and the peace movement in Britain, see Coote, Anna and Pattullo, Polly, Power and Prejudice Women & Politics (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990), 119127, and Kirk, Gwyn, “Our Greenham Common: Not Just a Place But a Movement,” in Harris, Adrienne and King, Ynestra, eds., Rocking the Ship of Slate: Toward a Feminist Peace Politics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989), 263280.

43 Boles, Janet K., “Building Support for the ERA: A Case o f Too Much, Too Late,” PS Political Science 3 (1982), 572; Jenkins, J. Craig and Perrow, Charles, “Insurgency of the Powerless: Farm Worker Movements (1946–1972,” American Sociological Review 42 (1977), 251; and Knoke, David and Wood, James R., Organized for Action: Commitment in Voluntary Association (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1981), 187.

44 For a discussion of the problems of assessing effectiveness of SMOs, see Garrison, William A., The Strategy of Protest (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1975); Gundelach, Peter, “Effectiveness and the Structure of New Social Movements,” International Social Movement Research 2 (1989), 427442; Huberts, Leo W., “The Influence of Social Movements on Government Policy,” International Social Movement Research 2 (1989), 395426; and Etzioni, A., “Special Interest Groups versus Constituency Representation,” Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change 8 (1985), 171195.

45 The responses for all 44 public officials are aggregated for each group such that there is one additive score for each of the 33 groups on the measure of perceived effectiveness. This rating is independent of the degree of support or affinity that the respondent has toward the organization and its goals, but implicitly relates the performance of women's groups to other interest groups with which public officials have had contact. Some public officials, for example, said that they fundamentally disagreed with the goals and ideology of a group, but nevertheless thought that the group was effective in getting its message into the policy-making system.

46 In analysis, budget figures are multiplied by .001 in order to avoid correlations of very large numbers with small ones.

47 These results accord with a similar analysis of perceived community influence of local US volunteer associations conducted by Knoke and Wood, in which effectiveness was found to be strongly related to interorganizational position (Knoke and Wood, Organized for Action, 187).

48 It is interesting to note that age of the organization has no significant relationship with either network position or financial resources. The correlation of age of the group with relative centrality is .071 and with budget is .153.

* I wish to express my appreciation to Jane Jenson for ideas and assistance in preparing earlier versions of this work and to the anonymous reviewers for this Journal for their helpful comments. The financial assistance of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Margaret McWilliams Scholarship of the Canadian Federation of University Women is also gratefully acknowledged.

Meaning and Structure in Social Movements: Mapping the Network of National Canadian Women's Organizations*

  • Susan D. Phillips (a1)


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