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Methods of Network Analysis – Exercises


by Katharina Schubert

According to the summer school´s Book of Abstracts Dr. Martin Engelbrecht wanted to introduce the concept of „network analysis:

The internet has become a significant medium both for spiritual and religious discourses and for the networks that actually hold these discourses.Thanks to the options provided by the net even the scattered members of tiny and poorly structured groups, movements or even trends can organize themselves and their discourses much more effectively than ever before. This has a profound effect on the dynamics of social developments in the area of spirituality and religion.
(See also Martin Engelbrecht, Netzwerke religiöser Menschen, 2006)

So what is is all about it and what did we actually do?
After the introduction of the theory in the morning we started the exercise session after lunch. For this we divided into three smaller  groups to attend to the exercises Martin Engelbrecht gave us.

The task was: Try to produce a rough sketch of the networks involved in the discourses based on their respective positions in the discourse. Choose one of the discourses:

  1. “Keep your shirt on!” Or: Sex in Evangelicalism
  2. “Was Dino really a pet of Cain and Abel?” Or: Creationism vs. the Theory of Evolution
  3. “Can I have a Canadian as a slave?” Or: How to deal with the ‚Word of God‘

After gathering in groups, everyone had a little time to get a small overview of the discourse. In a following discussion we amassed the first information and assigned the different questions to the group members who then started researching on his allocated facet of the network.

The main aspects of research were based on the following guideline: If you have found a place in the Net, where the accordant aspect is discussed, you have to pay attention to the key terms and key phrases. Also you may recognize the different levels of discussion like: ’normal people‘, scholars, religious authorities, outsiders, media, ‚experts‘ etc. After this you have to identify the main positions. Pay attention on the level of argumentation, the direction of the argument (who speaks for/against whom), the ‚discursive power‘ of the speaker and the sources he refers to. The next step may be to identify the main network structures behind the positions. Therefore you have to check the relation between the Network and the discourse and also the character of the network based on the background of the participants. The ‚official‘ position of the network is also very important. Official documents as well as the authoritative positions and the status of the documents in and outside the Network help you to identify these positions. Now it is much easier to be aware of the dynamics of the network if you look again on the discussion. Maybe you could now look for the historical development on the level of the discourse and the network. To have a good overview on the structures of the Network you could draw a map that shows the conjunction between the key terms and also between the homepages and (very important) the links. Through this you will have an image of the Network and the dynamics in it. So you will also see, if the Network is open or closed, where the hierarchy is and where you find exactly the discursive power of the Network. The information we found by searching for this leading questions, were brought together in a second group discussion. So, the groups could summarize essential ideas of the discourses, the main structural characteristics of the networks and the mutual influence of both dimensions. After this every group gave a small report on their results to the others.

Finally it was shown, that the reviewed Networks all have their own dynamics. That there are very private Networks, with many Lay and Official participants, but also other Networks that are in a very public discourse. And there was also a completely closed Network of the creationists, giving arguments on different levels without ever disputing with the opposition. It was very interesting to see, that there are some writers who are documenting their arguments with not existing links, some who only use the bible for quotation, some use a very scientific sounding language and scientific documents for their quotation.

So there are three very different groups of arguments in one closed Network that appears to be very open for this reason. On the basis of this exercises we could become aware of this point. We learned how Networks in the Internet and also in the “real” world could look like and more important than this, we learned a lot about analyzing these networks by doing it on our own.

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