Thursday, November 26, 2015

Defining anthropological community through #anthroboycott

Back on my pc--and here's my whole visualization for #AAA2015.

It's the largest set of tweets I've ever mapped from AAA: 21, 879 edges, 3543 nodes.  I ran it when I got to my office on Monday, November 23 and it covers the whole 8 day window that includes some pre- and post-tweets.  I used the Clauset-Newman-Moore cluster algorithm to group the tweets--said to be particularly effective in revealing community structures in large networks.  Finally, each identified "group" is arranged in its own box, courtesy of the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale layout algorithm.  Nice!  That said, it's hard to beat Marc Smith, who mapped out the network on Saturday, November 21.  He's got a neater graph than mine--it's his software, after all!  But I still wanted to work through my own data.

In many ways, the graph is typical of associations.  Marc Smith et al (2014) might call this an example of a "tight crowd": "highly interconnected people with few isolated participants."  And yet, there are some definite clusters here, suggestive of what they call a "community cluster": "Some popular topics may develop multiple smaller groups, which often form around a few hubs each with its own audience, influencers, and sources of information."  Let's look at the individual clusters themselves.  Each has been identified with its own color.

Here are some of the larger "groups":

1. Dark Blue: Boycott resolution.
2. Light blue: Panels discussion.
3. Forest green: Tweets from the AAA, their re-tweets and their discussion.
4. Light green: Discussion around medical anthropology, associated panels and events.
5. Orange: The anthropology of education, associated panels and events.

On the basis of this, I would argue that the AAA conference is stuck somewhere between the "tight crowd" (typical of organizations) and the "community cluster"; in other words, the AAA conference combines homogeneous groups of people mostly concerned with their particular topics and communities with larger interests that span different clusters.

Next, I ranked the Twitter accounts by betweenness centrality, which measures the importance of a node (or vertex) based on the number of times it falls "between" two nodes on the shortest path between them.  "Importance," here, then, is different than just simply popularity; instead, betweenness centrality measures some of the importance of a node to the flow of information.

1. americananthro
2. anthroboycott
3. palestinetoday
4. benabyad
5. omanreagan
6. pacbi
7. cultanth
8. cmcgranahan
9. jasonantrosio
10. socmedanthro

Nodes with high betweenness centrality may act as "brokers" or "gateways" for flows of information and influence between different clusters.  It's worth noting that associations and group Twitter accounts (americananthro, cultanth, socmedanthro) are represented as well as the Twitter accounts of particular active individuals (omanreagan, cmcgranahan, jasonantrosio, etc.).  

But I want to concentrate on a few: anthroboycott, palestinetoday and benabyad.  These Twitter accounts have high betweenness centrality, and they serve to connect these different clusters that would, otherwise, lack even their comparatively modest connectivity.  

This is readily evident in this graph, where I filtered to include only tweets that contained the hashtag #anthroboycott.

Here are some of the top tweets (measured by the in-degree centrality of their associated node).  Much of the traffic concerned a few themes: 1) the historic vote, and the clear majority of the pro-boycotters.  2) solidarity with various pro-Palestinian groups.  3) discussions of the procedures during the boycott vote.

1. VICTORY at #aaa2015: @americananthro Clears the Way for Final Vote on #AnthroBoycott

2. RESOLUTION 2 PASSES! #Anthroboycott #BDS #AAA2015

3. Over 1500 people at #AAA2015 for the #Anthroboycott!

4. RT @OmanReagan: Everyone who stays to vote on Resolution #2 can have a free drink @WennerGrenOrg party after! #Anthroboycott #AAA2015

5. #AAA2015: Congratulations to the organisers of the #Anthroboycott!

6. I reported on2014 #Gaza war, when #Israel bombed universities. Tel Aviv U released statement gvg support for army #AnthroBoycott #AAA2015

7. E. Williams and J. Pierre discussing #anthroboycott @aba_aaa members to attend @AmericanAnthro #aaa2015 #abapanels

8. Now: motion to DIVEST from Israel. #BDS #Anthroboycott #AAA2015

We could conclude many things from these graphs, but I want to suggest that these say something about anthropology and anthropologists in the American Anthropological Association.  Divided into subfields and sections and, generally, communicating with others in their specializations, anthropologists at the annual meeting may have little in common with others who also identify as anthropologists.  Most of our tweets are variations on live-tweeting that summarize themes we've picked out of papers and panels--in other words, tweets that are tightly coupled to our own, narrow interests and specialities.  And yet, certain issues (and their lively discussion) serve to cross these different clusters.

Are these issues, then, defining moments for anthropologists in the AAA?   If we go back to earlier AAA conferences where anthropologists were asked to take a political or ethical stand on issues (e.g., last year's #BlackLivesMatter), we can see similar patterns, with the protest against police violence spanning multiple groups.  Here's a graph from Marc Smith (again!) from last year:

From the Nodexl Graph Gallery

Would it be too much to suggest that these ethical and political orientations are what brings anthropologists together?  That it's not just a "public anthropology" (in the abstract), but a concrete politics?  It's certainly something for the AAA to contemplate--these critical moments of public anthropology are performed amidst the American Anthropological Annual Meeting, but they are not orchestrated by the AAA.  Indeed, they seem to proliferate despite (or because?) of the efforts of the AAA to quell the emergence of this kind of public anthropology in the association.  Indeed, despite predictions that the politicization of the Association will "break apart" the AAA (something I heard several times from different people in Denver), the exact opposite seems to happen.

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