Mario Diani Building civic networks: Logics of tie formation1

3.1 Why alliances matter

Very few organizations can afford to pursue their goals in total autonomy. Even business organizations, that are supposed to operate in regimes of fierce competition, are substantially dependent on each other as well as on other types of actors in order to secure the financial, intellectual and professional resources which are essential to their survival and development (Fligstein 1996; Gulati and Gargiulo 1999; Powell et al. 2005). In the case of voluntary organizations active in advocacy, the centrality of alliance building has never been questioned (M. N. Zald and McCarthy 1980; Meyer and CorrigallBrown 2005). This is not because voluntary organizations would not be inclined to work in pursuit of their own distinctive agenda. This applies not only to major organizations richly endowed with resources,2 but also to much smaller, grassroots organizations: in Bristol and Glasgow alike, the list of the two most important projects pursued by each of our respondents showed hardly any overlap. At the same time, however, if we take a slightly broader perspective and look at the overall amount of projects that civic organizations are actually involved in, alliance building is usually regarded as an essential requisite of their success; it is also considered an essential component of collective action, for practical as well as symbolic reasons (Knoke 1990b, xxx). Voluntary organizations collaborate in order to maximize their limited resources, increase their reach into different social and political milieus, and their potential threat towards their opponents.

“.... the authorities, the powers that be pay more attention to more than one voice. Because people feel disempowered by the scale of the issues which they face and feel stronger by combining with others…” (Representative of black and minority umbrella group, Bristol)

1 2

Chapter 3 from Mario Diani, The Cement of Civil Society, under review. Greenpeace is probably the most extreme case of highly influential organization focusing almost

entirely on its own campaigns, even though over the years has proved more willing to engage in collaborative collective action, both within civil society and in broader policy arenas (Eyerman and Jamison 1989; Stafford, Polonsky, and Hartman 2000).

“Nobody can do everything themselves, and if what we want is an environmentally friendly Scotland involving the people of Scotland, nobody can do that on their own we all have to do it together.” (Representative of conservation group, Glasgow)

They also work together, however, in response to ethical imperatives and to normative arguments that emphasize the positive nature of collaboration, its role in building cohesion within civil society, and in strengthening collective identities associated to alternative perspectives. It is in other words possible to extend to the organizational level the well-known argument, elaborated in reference to individual participation, that holding a collective identity both helps citizens to pursue their goals and to strengthen their identification with larger collectives (Pizzorno 1978):

“[Alliance building] is important because we want to live in a harmonious society and we want to live as one big multicultural community…..It’s one way of sharing and meeting and exchanging information on community things…… it’s because we were are not talking enough to one another that we have these problems [linked to competition for resources]. This is where the barriers are because we are not communicating enough, we are not finding out what each of us are doing and if we had better collaboration, better networking we would be able to use our resources in a better way as well as have a better understanding of what people are doing..” (Representative of capacity building organization in the black and minority sector, Bristol)

More specifically, alliance building can be seen as a primary component of the relation between organizations and their environment. Resource dependence theories have stressed how organizations not only secure resources through alliances, but also operate a reduction of systemic uncertainty (e.g. Galaskiewicz 1985). In business terms this may correspond, e.g., to the reduction of competition by establishing ties to potential competitors; in the field of voluntary action, it may prevent limited resources, controlled by one organization’s potential allies, from being concentrated onto agendas that are not relevant to the organization’s itself.

“[alliances are] important to us because we provide specific services for specific client group and it is most important for us to network with other organisations and have alliances with other organisations so that we can refer people on as well as make some of those other 2

organisations accountable to providing services and support to people in the mainstream of society.” (Representative of capacity building organization in the black and minority sector, Bristol)

3.2 Ties, relations, interactions

One problem is, of course, how to study alliances, or even better, and more broadly, cooperative ties between civic organizations. Establishing the nature of social ties represents a fundamental question for sociologists, and one we are not going to address – not to mention solve – in the context of this book. At the same time, our – admittedly far more modest – task, namely, mapping the structure of civil society, strongly resonates with broader discussions. Structural analysts have handled the distinction between interactions and social relations in different ways. In explicit critique of network analysis, Bourdieu associated for example networks with ephemeral and contingent interactions, while leaving the term ‘social relations’ to designate deep differences between social positions in terms of power and access to material and symbolic resources (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 113–114).3 Leading analysts of social movements have been relatively ambiguous on the issue. In their last synthesis of the contentious politics approach, Tilly and Tarrow introduced the distinction between ‘social movements campaign’ (the classic ‘sustained challenge to powerholders…..’) and ‘social movement bases’, consisting of ‘movement organizations, networks, participants, and the accumulated cultural artifacts, memories and traditions that contribute to social movement campaigns’ (Tilly and Tarrow 2007a, 114). They kept a neat distinction between networks and interactions, but turned Bourdieu’s approach on its head: they used the term ‘networks’ to designate the more stable social relations that facilitate collective action, while collective action proper consists of sustained interactions between conflicting actors. In other writings, however, they put forward a view of social structure as emerging from repeated interactions (e.g. Tilly 2005; see also Diani 2007), suggesting a high degree of continuity between interactions and relations.


However, Crossley (2002) has developed an approach to social movements inspired by Bourdieu but

far more open to consider the heuristic potential of network analysis. 3

The view of social structure as the outcome of patterned, relatively stable interactions is also the one dominant among social network analysts (Wellman 1988; Monge and Contractor 2003), and is the one explicitly adopted in this book. While the ties that develop within organizational fields may not display the same resilience and stability as those linked to class position or ethnic group membership, they nonetheless may achieve some constraining power, and may be seen as the foundation of a peculiar form of social organization (see also ch.1). At the same time, there is no denying that certain types of ties be more stable and indicate stronger links than others, and therefore be better indicators of the structure of civil society: the frequency of interactions, their emotional intensity, the amount of shared risks and resources may differentiate between alliance ties within civil society; or, certain types of ties may prove stronger than others, e.g., sharing resources in a series of jointly promoted campaigns may be seen as more demanding, and therefore as evidence of a stronger tie, than the exchange of information, or the sharing of some basic facilities (e.g. Diani 1995). Later in this chapter we’ll introduce the difference between transactions and social bonds, that attempts to link the present discussion to the exploration of modes of coordination (Lemieux 1998; Baldassarri and Diani 2007).

Analysts of collective action fields also have to choose whether relying on ‘objective’ measures of the links between actors, or on actors’ perceptions of the strength of their ties, regardless of empirically measurable criteria. We may for instance associate strength of ties to frequency of collaboration, assuming that two organizations will be more strongly linked, if they are involved in a larger number of jointly promoted events over the years, or to the number of shared activists. On the other hand, two organizations might regard each other as particularly important partners even though they do not necessarily interact most frequently. For example, one neighborhood environmental group may regard a major national environmental organization as a most important partner even though they most frequently interact with other neighborhood-based groups on specific initiatives and campaigns (Diani 1995, chap. 1).

This study largely focuses on perceptions rather than objective measures, although chapter 6 pays some attention to organizations’ joint participation in events. This is due to both substantive and methodological reasons. In methodological terms, it has long been shown that social actors’ accounts of the actual frequency/intensity of their exchanges with other actors are less accurate than their qualitative assessment of the presence and relevance of specific ties (P. Marsden 1990; 2005; Casciaro 1998). Moreover, intensity or frequency of interaction is by definition strongly dependent on other 4

factors such as organizations’ overall centrality or size.4 In substantive terms, perceptions5 are more relevant to the main goal of this project, namely, the identification of informal yet relatively stable patterns of social organization, originating from recurrent exchanges between formally independent partners. It is sensible to assume that each actor, when planning an activity, will look first for resources/support from its closest and most reliable partners and will refer to others only if the latter are obviously relevant for the specific project being considered.6

In order to identify relevant inter-organizational ties we proceeded in two steps. Respondents were asked to name “up to five groups/organizations with which you collaborate most intensely”. While they were not submitted any predetermined list as a stimulus, later in the interview they were also asked whether, on top of the five partners already mentioned, they had connections to organizations in any of the following types: environmental groups, ethnic minority and migrants organizations, community organizations, unions and other economic interest groups, religious organizations, political parties, other political organizations, other voluntary associations, any other organization. Participation in a formally constituted organization, coordinating a number of different groups on a specific campaign, was recorded as an inter-organizational tie, similarly to an alliance between two any other formally independent organizations. On the basis of these criteria, in principle each organization might have identified up to a maximum of 37 alliance partners (the five most intense ties plus up to four ties for

For example, one monthly meeting between a neighborhood environmental group and a major

environmental association may be a strong tie for the former but a weak tie for the latter.

The role of perceptions in the development of collective action (in particular, actors’ perceptions of

their environment and the opportunities it offers) has long been recognized by movement analysts (Gamson 1992; Gamson and Meyer 1996).

One should at least acknowledge another important distinction, running between cooperative and

adversarial ties. When using network approaches to look at organizational fields, analysts of collective action and social capital have largely focused on cooperative ties (B. Edwards, Foley, and Diani 2001; Diani and McAdam 2003; Diani 2004). This book follow the same approach, although it would have also been interesting to pay attention to adversarial ties. Unfortunately, the traditional reluctance of civil society organizations to identify explicit opponents in their organizational fields resulted in the impossibility of conducting a systematic analysis of adversarial ties (we consider, on the other hand, conflictual ties to other, public and private, actors). 5

each of eight organizational types). Unsurprisingly, the average number of partners was much lower, and very similar in the two cities (9.1 in Glasgow and 9.7 in Bristol). Of those ties, in the average 2.83 in Glasgow and 1.96 in Bristol were directed to other organizations included in our unit of analysis, to suggest a stronger clustering inclination among Glaswegian groups. We also urged respondents to specify the content of the link, in order to qualify the nature of the tie.7 Specifically, we asked whether the tie implied 1) conducting joint projects; 2) sharing information; 3) pooling resources;8 4) sharing core members; 5) activists with strong personal ties to each other. We operationalized transactions as those links that only consisted of exchanges of resources, as measured by tie types 1-3. In contrast, social bonds were multiplex links which could be seen as the composition of ‘transactions’ and ‘personal ties’, measured by ties 4-5.9 The distinction will be crucial to the tracing of different modes of coordination in the next chapter.

It is worth noting that, against current trends, we did not pay specific attention to relations mediated by information technology. There might have been good reasons for doing so, and not only because this particular sphere of political activity has attracted increasing scholarly attention in recent years (Van de Donk et al. 2004; Earl and Kimport 2011): but also because new technologies play a specific role in sustaining underground critical communities of activists that were somehow present in both cities. In

As Kenis and Knoke (2002, 276) argue, most tie contents “may be classified under five broad

substantive headings: information transmissions, resource exchanges, power relations, boundary penetrations, and sentimental attachments."

While the conduction of joint projects implies shared information and resources, the reverse does not

necessarily apply. Organizations may also collaborate through regular exchanges of information, or through the pooling of resources (a classic example being sharing offices).

As suggested in ch.1, in principle one could also conceive of situations in which organizations are

involved in the same sub- or counter-cultural milieus, organizational industries, or movement sectors through the multiple forms of participation and the personal connections of their members (ties of the type 4-5), yet are not engaged in any type of resource exchange (V. Taylor and Whittier 1992; Melucci 1996). While, in principle, one organization might identify as an important partner another one with which has no resources exchanges but only shared activists and friends, in practice this never happened in our specific case. 6

particular, at the time of the project there was already in Bristol an active radical community that operated largely through fanzines and other forms of communication10 rather than through more conventional inter-organizational contacts. Their presence in the local political life is probably somehow underestimated, precisely because of the lack of attention to ICT-mediated communication. On the other hand, systematic studies of the role of ICT in local communities have conclusively demonstrated the enormous level of overlap between ‘virtual’, computer-mediated ties and ‘real’, face to face interactions (Wellman and Gulia 1999; Hampton and Wellman 2003). For these reasons, neglecting the role of new technologies should not alter our understanding of local structural patterns in any significant ways.

3.3 What drives and what prevents alliance building

If being able to count on alliances is universally regarded as an important organizational asset, it is far less obvious on what bases do organizations choose their partners. The building and managing of alliances entails considerable costs, their outcomes are far from certain, and risks involved are non negligible (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999, 1440). Partners may prove unreliable and unwilling to pull their weight in campaigns, thus leaving one organization to face the whole burden of collective action. Symbolic differences may also play a role. Much more than business organizations, voluntary organizations may hugely differ in their framing of issues and in their ethical and ideological starting points, despite having what on first sight might look quite compatible agendas (Gerhards and Rucht 1992; Diani 1995, 11–14; Roth 2010). Such differences may represent a serious obstacle to the establishing of an alliance. For example, the extent to which some organizations are perceived to be close to institutions may render them implausible allies for the most radical sectors of civil society:

“Whereas the protest folk, I know of certain people in Bristol that regard us as the establishment and therefore they would not work with us, not because they’d ever asked us what we think about something, that would be seen as a [treason] to their view of themselves and their place in society to work with what they regard as centralist types of

For example, militant newsletters like Schnews ( or webpages like South

West Activists Network ( 7

organizations like [us]. But what is seen as radical is the actual particular form of action they take. If you are seen as strong on the protest scene you will be less seen on the alliance scene” (Representative of international NGO, Bristol).

Conversely, protest-inclined organizations may voice positions and adopt tactics that the members, supporters and sympathizers of other organizations find controversial and possibly embarrassing. Once again, this may seriously affect opportunities for alliance building:

“…. for example, in the anti-globalisation movement, some sectors, parts of the anarchist end in Bristol have such a clear oppositional stance that a lot of people that might regard them as useful allies instead view them as complete no go areas.”(Member of sustainability group, Bristol).

Far from being a purely instrumental problem, alliance building requires the overcoming of several potential barriers, linked to cultural and/or ideological differences, the legacy of past experiences, lack of mutual trust, etc. (Griggs and Howarth 2002; Shumate, Fulk, and Monge 2005; Beamish and Luebbers 2009). Alliance building depends heavily on a sustained work of assessment – we could call it a ‘preliminary investigation’ - of organizational fields in order to acquire appropriate knowledge of prospective partners, and cues about their reliability (Diani 1995, 8; Gulati and Gargiulo 1999, 1442).

When looking at the main mechanisms behind alliance building it is advisable to consider both factors that facilitate, and factors that discourage the start of an alliance. The obvious starting point, that alliance will be more likely if the interdependence between two organizations is higher (e.g. Gulati and Gargiulo 1999, 1444), largely reflected in the priorities of our respondents. In both Glasgow and Bristol, when asked to indicate up to three main reasons behind their choice of allies, about half of civic organizations mentioned shared interests (table 3.1 below).

“People would work together if they have got a common cause or a common reason to do it. Like the Stop the War coalition, CND and Muslim Association in Britain, and the march on Saturday [February 15 2003] so they work together but normally they wouldn’t agree on things or work together …. partnership building is probably lower on my list of priorities but


where we have things that we can work with we will do and we have been working with a number of people anyway.” (Representative of Muslim organization, Bristol).

The capacity of other actors to provide organizations with essential resources, and to act as a source of information and advice, was also highly rated (about 40% in both cities). The relevance of one organization in its own field also mattered for a non negligible share of respondents (about one quarter). If we also take into account less popular reasons for alliance building, such as one organization’s capacity to provide access to important political connections, and the simple accessibility linked to having an office, we see how about two thirds of civic organizations somehow regarded resource interdependence as an important element behind their choices:

“Over time if you deliver successful services, word of mouth will spread, more organisations will come to you ... you are almost forced into a situation of creating alliances which say there are other groups who empathise with the issues that are there …. the organisation has come to that realisation that we don’t have and will never have that capacity as a single organisation to deal with an issue and therefore we need to form these alliances to better understand reactively and proactively how to deal with them.” (Representative of community association, Bristol)

“many of the groups will seek to form an alliance and a partnership that is funding driven. Much of the energy of groups is going into funding, contractual arrangements and so on and so where there are pots of money, groups will be looking for players and alliances in order to access those things mostly” (Representative of umbrella organization, Bristol)

Table 3.1 about here

At the same time, commonality in basic values and principles was by far the most frequently mentioned facilitator of alliance building, by four out of five respondents (see also Ellingson, Woodley, and Paik 2012). This applied in the same way to organizations that also assigned relevance to shared interests and resource interdependence, and to organizations that did not: about forty percent of the total respondents considered both value proximity and similarity of interests as important, while ten percent stressed the role of interests while denying that of values. On the other hand, few organizations 9

emphasized the role of more specific values and cultural traits, such as those linked to membership in the same religious or ethnic group.11 It was certainly recognized that some minority groups might be inclined to work mainly on their own, but that was largely imputed to a hostile environment:

“the Afro-Caribbean communities in Bristol are not willing to be engaged…… I think that is to do with defensive attitudes on all sides and where people have made strong efforts, then I see promising results of that. I see St. Paul’s Carnival as an opening point for a mixture of white protests and white radical and other groups” (Representative of Black and minority sector umbrella group, Bristol)

The rhetoric of inclusion and pluralism, and the negative framing of religious and ethnic intransigence, that characterized Britain –and indeed the West in general – in the aftermath of 9/11, may also have discouraged some from emphasizing the role of ethnic or religious identities in alliance building, and encouraged broader approaches:

“ the younger Muslims are much more prepared to be involved on issues other than issues related to their faith …. Certainly round the time of 9/11, since then there has been a feeling among some of the younger Muslims, they feel they are being victimised. ….. I find that by being part of an organisation which is not built around their own ethnic principles they find it actually quite liberating to be able to say, “we are part of this because of nothing to do with whether I’m Muslim, Christian, whatever. I’m involved on something which I find important socially” and they are able to be just citizens of Bristol …. the younger generation, the ones I work with, are feeling positive and are being part of something else other than Muslim culture and society. It gives them an extra identity.” (Representative of inter-faith organization, Bristol)


Those items might have been by most subsumed under the broader heading ‘shared values’ – only 3

out of 17 that identified either religion or ethnicity as an important factor did not also tick off ‘shared values and principles’ . 10

Many organizations (about 40%) were also keen to stress the importance of having complementary rather than overlapping roles and functions with their allies. As the representative of a cycling association in Bristol put it:

“we have always said it was down to the “3 Ps” so there’s provision of infrastructure for cycling, so Sustrans would be doing that, they are building a national cycle network, safe routes to schools, safe routes to stations, infrastructure so that provision. Policy change would be people like Bristol Cycle Campaign trying to affect the political arena. The third ‘p’ is promotion and that’s what we do. That would be the division of labour and that’s why there are three different organisations.”

Assigning importance to division of labour correlated negatively, if quite weakly, with emphasis on commonality of interests: in Glasgow, 39% of those that did regard division of labour as important also stressed the relevance of shared interests, vs. 60% of those who did not (p<.05); in Bristol, the figures were 42% and 60% (p<.05). In Glasgow, the importance of division of labour also correlated negatively with the emphasis on resource interdependence (52% vs. 78%, p<.01). Among organizational properties, shared tactics did not seem to facilitate alliances, while divergences on tactics were important negative reasons for not setting up an alliance (table 3.2 below). Arguments about the importance of organizations’ previous embeddedness for alliance building received mixed support, as those factors seemed far from negligible, yet perhaps less than previous analyses might have led one to expect (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999).

Altogether, about one fifth of respondents acknowledged the role of different indicators of social capital. The presence of trustworthy figures within prospective partner organizations seemed particularly important (Corrigall-Brown and Meyer 2010), and so was commitment to long term collaboration: 12


Interestingly, organizations stressing the role of social capital were significantly under-

represented among organizations highlighting at the same time the importance of shared interests (16%, p<0.05) and incentives and opportunities (10%, p<.000).


“Reputation. It’s down to the way you behave in particular situations….. it’s about actually not hiding behind the organisation, but saying I am me, I happen to be part of that but it’s about me.” (Representative of inter-faith organization, Bristol)

“Everytime I speak to a new community [group] who started an initiative, I always make a point that as an organisation we are not here to run it and go away….. I think you are looking at three years into working, before people trust you and begin to understand that you are not going to run away when it gets difficult as people have done in the past.” (Member of conservation group, Glasgow)

Let’s look now at what kept organizations apart, according to their own perceptions (table 3.2). First of all, only one third of the respondents actually identified factors that might prevent them from establishing alliances with other groups. It remains to be seen whether this stemmed from the urge to underline their inclusive, totally pragmatic and non ideological approach, consistently with the rhetoric of times in which social conflict has been ejected from political language (Mouffe 2005), or not. Among those groups that actually identified some reasons for not setting up alliances, differences in principles still mattered a lot, while few groups seemed prepared not to engage in alliances because of mere differences in specific interests, or because of prospective partners’ inability to provide relevant resources. In other words, interdependence drove alliance building, but lack of it did not seem to discourage alliances.

Alliances were rather prevented by factors that were relatively less important as positive motives, such as tactics or social capital. Lack of trust in leaders, and lack of previous personal or political connections with members of other organizations, seemed to discourage alliances, as risks attached to engaging with other groups become more difficult to assess. Trust building was often recognized as an essential step to counter risks of manipulation:

“Groups like ours operate on understanding the historical experiences that we come out of and part of that historical experiences is that ….. we have been used as a [group] that somebody in order to secure funding or secure a position comes and wants to form a partnership with or want to be part of the network. Then once they have secured the funding


or secured whatever it was the goal… you are forgotten about, you’re a thing of the past.” (Representative of black and minority organization, Bristol)

Table 3.2 about here

As for tactics, although the 1990s had seen both a substantial growth in protest activities and a rise in the number of individuals prepared to engage in protest, or at least to view it benevolently (see ch.2), a sizeable proportion of organizations (about one fifth) still regarded differences in tactics as a major reason for not engaging in alliances. On the one hand, one could have expected more moderate organizations to refrain from setting up alliances with more radical ones, due to their disagreements about acceptable courses of action, and their evaluations of the possible negative consequences for their own and their constituency’s position in the political process. In the words of the Glaswegian representative of an international NGO,

“We’ll be very careful, we don’t get involved in a lot of protest stuff, we just don’t. We don’t exclude it utterly, there are things we will do, we will protest outside embassies, in general not slugging it out with them with tear gas ….. we are very choosy about what we do e.g. if people wanted to protest outside Sainsbury’s because they were allowing asylum seekers to use vouchers we won’t do that because that is not the way we are choosing to conduct this campaign. Partly there’s a whole political thing about charity status but also it was the wrong target, it was the Home Office was the target, they are the ones setting this on track and so strategically it was like don’t waste your energy on Sainsbury’s.”

Some black and minority leaders in Bristol reiterated this point in reference to the consequences of the major riots that back in 1981 had taken place in the St Paul’s neighborhood (Rex 1982):

“…we would perhaps not be over keen in supporting some of the direct action things…. and not because it isn’t important but because we feel that, again some of us have had experience where we’ve been at the brunt for protesting…… [in the St Paul’s riots] the majority of people who were jailed were black yet the thing was that there were black people and white people out on the front line, throwing stones. ….. somebody says well 13

there were some members from white organizations making cocktails and giving it to the black youths to throw.” (Leader of Black and minority organization, Bristol).

Conversely, groups that were more sympathetic towards protest might have been wary of organizations who refused even to consider more radical tactical options, thus limiting their range of possible allies:

“…. the leadership of [group X] fields itself in opposition to Oxfam, to the paid salaried, funded NGO’s – [the leader] is a volunteer and activist and he draws a line between those who are self-motivated, self-financing activists, often on the dole, and people who receive salaries……” (Member of sustainability group, Bristol).

“We just got frustrated waiting for something to happen and so we decided to approach the Parliament by disrupting proceedings, hanging a banner from the public gallery and singing songs and being arrested, we did it [on our own terms], not as CND… and it certainly stirred it up ….. we would never want to be in the position where we have to be sort of careful on the toes we tread on, that we can’t take action.” (Peace direct action group, Glasgow)

It is also important to note that no consistent differences – indeed, hardly any difference at all – could be found between the two cities despite their different political and cultural profiles. Among factors positively encouraging alliances, only access to resources turned out to be significantly more present in Glasgow than in Bristol. However, that only applied to the aggregate measure, that took into account the presence of at least one motivating factor that could be linked to resource interdependence. No significant differences emerged when looking at the indicators one at a time (see table 3.2). Among factors discouraging alliances, the only significant difference challenged common sense expectations. One might have reasonably expected Glaswegian organizations, embedded in a more polarized political culture, to assign greater importance to consistency in values and principles. However, it was Bristol organizations that gave relatively more importance to that element, despite the supposedly more pragmatic and less ideological political culture of their city (see chs. 2 and 9).

3.4 Finding the perfect match: Why do organizations choose (or not choose) certain specific partners?


So far we have just discussed actors’ perceptions of what facilitates and discourages alliance building. How such perceptions matched the ties in which actors were actually involved, is another matter. We explore this question in two steps. First, we focus on direct ties, as we try to identify what accounted for the presence or absence of an alliance between a pair of organizations. Next, we look for factors that may contribute to explain the similarity between two organizations in their patterns of alliances to third parties. In this case, two organizations were not similar because they were necessarily directly connected, but because they had relatively similar allies. In the first case, the explanandum consisted of matrices that recorded the presence or absence of a tie between two organizations; in the second, of matrices that reported for each pair of nodes (in our case, organizations) their structural proximity.13

The explanans consisted of several matrices, representing the proximity or dissimilarity between pairs of organizations on a number of theoretically relevant properties. Unless explicitly indicated, each matrix reported the absolute difference between the scores of two organizations on a given property. Consistently with the ‘null hypothesis’ that inter-organizational alliances be mainly driven by resource dependence mechanisms, four matrices were built on the basis of four variables, that reflected as many aspects of such mechanisms. The higher the values of a cell in the matrices originated from these variables, 14 the more dissimilar two organizations on that particular variable. Two matrices focus on issue priorities: one reported the similarity between organizations in their interest in issues connected to the new social movement agenda, the other, their interest in issues linked to the overarching theme of exclusion and deprivation. 15

More specifically, proximity was measured by the so-called positive-matching index (also known as

Jaccard’s index), which expresses the ratio of partners that two organizations have in common to their overall number of partners. If, as it normally happens, two nodes had a different number of partners, the index was computed using the lowest of the two numbers as a denominator (Hanneman and Riddle 2005, 211). This measure can also be seen as an approximation of two organizations’ structural equivalence (Steve Borgatti and Everett 1992), or structural embeddedness (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999).

Matrices from these and other variables were created with the Ucinet routine ‘data\attribute to


More specifically, the ‘NSM issue’ variable combined the ‘environment’ and ‘globalisation’ issue

scales identified in table 2.4; the ‘exclusion and deprivation’ variable combined the ‘social exclusion’, ‘housing’ and ‘ethnicity and migration’ scale. See Appendix for details. 15

Two matrices also focused on organizational properties. One reported differences in levels of organizational formalization (see table 2.1), in order to test the hypothesis that organizations tended to engage in ties to actors with similar organizational profiles. The other measured the difference in the number of times that organizations had been identified by other organizations as leaders in the local civic sector. The main question here was whether organizations with similar levels of local influence and/or prestige would tend to join forces; or whether, consistently with the expectations of dependency theory, asymmetrical relations will prevail between local leading organizations and other less influential actors. Another matrix reported in each cell the number of public events in which organizations had been involved in the past,16 in order to check to what extent past experiences of collaboration might have shaped network configurations at later stages. This matrix provided the best possible approximation of what has been defined as ‘relational embeddedness’, namely, “the extent to which a pair of organizations (dyad) had direct contact with each other in the past” (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999, 1462).17

A third set of matrices measured the similarity or dissimilarity of pairs of organizations on the basis of their relations to institutional and protest politics. One matrix measured the extent to which two organizations differed in their overall evaluation of the approach to civil society and citizens’ participation brought about by New Labour since the late 1990s. Another matrix measured the overall involvement of civic organizations in public-private partnerships, with high value cells reflecting greater differences in the number of public private partnerships (PPPs) in which two organizations were involved. In principle, similar levels of involvement in these policy-oriented fora might have been expected to create indirect ties that might in turn prove conducive to alliance building. Finally, one matrix measured how much two organizations differed in their adoption of a protest repertoire. This


The full list of events (26 in Glasgow, 17 in Bristol) is discussed at length in ch.6. Here we only look

at events that took place before the year 2001. Annual events (e.g. May 1st or International Women’s Day) have been excluded from this particular matrix.

However, it does not represent a direct measure of relational embeddedness as the presence of a tie is

inferred from involvement in the same event, and not from respondents’ direct identification of another organization as a partner in intense past exchanges. 16

enabled us to look at the crucial role of tactics in shaping alliance building (see table 2.4 for details on these measures).

The whole exercise may be summarized in a nutshell as a test of the homophily principle, applied to organizational populations. Studies focusing on networks consisting of individuals have identified a range of sources of homophily, including, with a varying salience depending on context and nature of the tie, gender, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, age, occupation, etc. (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Cook 2001). In a similar vein, it’s important to check whether similarity on some property affects the probability of a tie and/or of similar allies between pairs of organizations. Table 3.3 below reports the standardized coefficients of analyses in which adjacency and similarity matrices for both cities are regressed on the matrices we have just introduced, using QAP (quadratic assignment procedure).18 However, as the direct interpretation of those coefficients is not straightforward, my comments on the findings will refer to table 3.4. It only reports the sign of the coefficients that turned out to be significant at .05 level or below, and has adapted it in order to match the logical relation between matrices. 19

First, arguments by resource dependence theorists were carried quite consistently across the two cities, on two grounds at least. Similarity in organizational profiles showed significant correlations to the presence of an alliance, suggesting that bureaucratic organizations would be more likely to set up

As the data reported in these matrices are by definition non independent, traditional regression

methods are not really suitable. QAP allows for the non independence of the observations (Hanneman and Riddle 2005, chap. 18). It is also worth remembering that in QAP regressions the overall amount of explained variance is not very meaningful. It is certainly not comparable to results obtained from an ordinary least squares regression (see e.g. Mizruchi 1993, 287–289).

For example, the negative coefficients in row 3 in table 3.4 suggest that the more two organizations

differ in their organizational structure, the lower will be the chance of an alliance between them, and viceversa. Accordingly, table 3.5 reports a positive sign for the corresponding cells, to indicate a positive relation between similarity on that particular property and the chances of an alliance. In contrast, the sign of the coefficients in row 5 has not been changed, as higher scores in the matrix measuring number of joint involvements in past events actually predict higher chances of alliances going on at the time of the project. 17

alliances to their likes, and that grassroots, informal organizations would do the same. No evidence was found for grassroots groups engaging disproportionately with more formalized organizations, providing them e.g. with militancy on specific occasions and receiving technical advice and material resources in return. This seems to depend at least in part on the scepticism of some of the most participatory – although not necessarily radical – groups towards the role played by of big, professionalized charities. They were sometimes blamed for focusing on their self-reproduction and attracting substantial funds to the detriment of more informal but more committed and engaged actors:

“We are more suspicious of big charities….. there are plenty of examples there in Scotland of organisations that get a lot of money and you wonder exactly what they are doing and a lot of their money gets spent on a lot of expensive research for a lot of PR and less gets spent on tackling the issues that are coming up from the ground, e.g. in relation to refugees….. governments round the world will say “Yes, well we have heard of them and people keep saying things about them, therefore we must give them money” whereas organisations that are grassroots who perhaps deserve the money don’t get anything because they are not established enough, they are not playing the language of the people that are giving the money out.” (Representative of black and minority housing association, Glasgow)

This attitude cannot be equated to the simple rejection of any imbalanced collaboration. To the contrary, organizations showed a significant inclination to set up alliances with actors that had a different level of prestige and influence within the civic sector than their own. In this sense, the fact that ‘likes ally with likes’ in terms of organizational profiles did not imply symmetric, horizontal patterns of alliance building in the civic sector. Both formalized organizations and informal grassroots groups actually seemed involved in exchanges which were somehow imbalanced, if one looked at the perceived influence of the partners in the local civic sector.

Tables 3.3-3.4 about here

Differences across cities were quite substantial for all the other factors included in the analysis. In Bristol, alliance building was easier between organizations with similar levels of interest in deprivation or in themes closer to the new social movements such as the environment or globalization. None of this was found in Glasgow, where issue agendas were very poor predictors of alliance building. The picture 18

is reversed if we look at organizations’ levels of involvement with institutions. Sharing similar opinions on New Labour’s approach facilitated alliance building in Glasgow, while had no impact in Bristol. Likewise, Glaswegian organizations with similar levels of involvement in public-private partnerships were also more likely to work together as allies, while Bristolian ones were not.

Interestingly, the overall impact of similarity in action repertoires was quite modest, with a significant positive correlation with alliance building to be found only in Bristol, and only for the adjacency matrix. Despite claims about the depth of the differences in action repertoires, as shown in section 3.3, in practical terms they did not seem to constitute a major practical obstacle when it came to alliance building, as long as controversial tactics were not used on the occasion of jointly promoted events. A quite detached attitude towards more confrontational tactics seemed to prevail. When they were rejected, this was not necessarily on principles, but rather stemmed from the recognition, once again, of the need for some sort of division of labor within civil society:

“All our staff have [been involved in direct action] but we are very careful to say that none of that action is part of [our organization]. You are not representing [us] when you are doing that. For all those reasons for being a charity, people we work with, local authorities, regional government, national government and all of the difficulties you face. So that’s not part of our brief, we don’t work in that way. But all of our staff do it.” (Representative of cyclists association, Bristol)

“We wouldn’t engage in some of the tactics that they engaged [in the campaign against pool closure], we wouldn’t get involved, I mean, people occupied the buildings and things like that, we wouldn’t discourage it but we wouldn’t get involved in it, we wouldn’t like to be labelled in that way…. we wouldn’t say, “no don’t do it” but we wouldn’t want to be labelled as that sort of organisation because it closes down too many other avenues of influence and discussion. We are quite happy for someone else to go and do it because it is a pressure on another front.” (Representative of Muslim organization, Glasgow)

Finally, previous ties between organizations once again facilitated alliances in Glasgow but not in Bristol. As path dependence mechanisms are usually regarded as a powerful predictor of interorganizational alliances (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999), it is worth asking why they seemed to operate in 19

one city but not in the other. One possible explanation, consistent with arguments that assign previous ties the role of reducing the complexity of a certain organizational environment (Gulati and Gargiulo 1999), points at the higher levels of political fragmentation in Glasgow. As we have seen (chapter 2), accounts of Bristol civil society portrayed it as dominated by a largely pragmatic political culture. This in turn resulted in alliance building being largely dependent on the similarity of the interests that two organizations had in specific issues. In contrast, the political environment in Glasgow seemed more complex, and more fragmented across traditional political cleavages. This resulted in alliance building mechanisms that depended more heavily on differences in attitudes towards New Labour policies. The greater depth of ideological differences might have also rendered alliance building more dependent on stronger ties between prospective partners, forged through shared past experiences of collective action.

In Glasgow, however, divergences of opinions on the role of New Labour were just one aspect of the complex relationship between traditional left and civil society organizations. For example, the trade unions’ closeness to the Labour Party appeared in some cases to discourage alliance building with civil society organizations, even on issues where there was an objective convergence of interests. This was candidly acknowledged by a Scottish Trade Union Council representative:

“That’s what I’ve always found, an inclusive approach is the best way, ‘let’s highlight the issue and let’s not get party political here’…. but that is very difficult within the trade union movement because about half of our affiliates are also affiliated to the Labour party and ….. sometimes the wish to disagree with your political enemies and agree with your political allies dominates more than your commitment to the issue”.

The picture was even more problematic if one looked left of Labour. The Socialist Workers Party (who in Glasgow in 2001 had merged with other left-wing groupings to form the Scottish Socialist Party, from which was to split in 2006) was frequently singled out as a problematic alliance partner in both cities:

“they are really hard to work with …… they are just going to like take up issues and use them for their own political ends and basically we won’t work with them. It’s hard because on the asylum issue they were very strong and they were saying lots of good things and that is an issue but it is hard we don’t want to go for an all out anti-Labour Party line again either, we 20

do oppose the Labour Party policies but not the kind of general “let’s just ditch the Labour Party” kind of a way” (Representative of international NGO, Glasgow)

“they try to take over everything that they are involved in and make it their cause, you go to a public meeting, somebody from SWP will always stand up and make a very long speech pushing their party line. You go to any protest, they will be there with ready-made banners giving them out to people with ‘Socialist Workers Party’ across the top. People don’t like that” (Bristol activist)

However, other accounts were more positive regarding the role of SWP in local alliances. According to the representative of an umbrella organizations working on inequality and deprivation issues in Glasgow,

“Because of the nature of their involvement in various campaigns and their relatively healthy membership in [our organization], well, a couple of local groups involved and …. one board member for a few years as well so, there has been a relationship there but it was never one where they have ever attempted to “use” [us] for their own political work.”

3.5 Conclusions

The analyses presented in this chapter illustrate the differences between the two cities, that emerge when we pass from the analysis of organizations’ behaviour and attitudes taken as an aggregate, to the analysis of relational patterns. If we look at the overall propensity of organizations to get involved in alliance ties, as well as, most important, to the factors that individual organization representatives identified as crucial facilitators or obstacles to alliance building, the profiles of the two civic sectors appear remarkably similar (tables 3.2-3.3). If, however, we look at how the same factors affected the probability of alliances between specific pairs of organization, then differences between cities are not negligible. There was certainly homogeneity in the tendency of organizations to exchange resources with organizations with a similar structure (either bureaucratic or grass-roots) while at the same time engaging with organizations with a different level of perceived influence (with less influential group looking for stronger partners, and influential groups aiming at extending their area of influence over 21

more marginal actors). However, there was overall quite a mismatch between the criteria that actors identified as driving alliance building in general, and what seemed to lay behind the alliances that actually took place. In the latter, differences between cities were quite pronounced.

The findings presented here may be at least partially imputed to differences in local political cultures and traditions. Alliances between civic organizations were embedded in a previous history of joint participation in events and in similarity of opinions on the state of the civil sector and on relations to institutions in Glasgow. Given the stronger resilience of the left-right divide in the Scottish city, conditions might have been more favourable for the development of alliances between ideologically homogeneous actors, who had developed some level of mutual trust over time. In contrast, alliances seemed primarily driven by proximity in issue interests in Bristol. In a context in which cleavages appeared to be largely pacified, the only factor keeping organizations with a common agenda apart was disagreement on protest repertoires, as protest might be perceived by many as in contrast with the compromise-oriented style of policy making, dominant in the city.

Focusing on the factors that lead to the formation or absence of a tie between two organizations, i.e., on the most basic components of network structures, has enabled us to illustrate the two most important themes of this book: the tension between properties (in the specific, organizational properties) and relations, and how different settings (or local opportunity structures) may affect network structures. It is now time to move ahead, and explore how the interplay of attributes and relations shapes modes of coordination in different local contexts. To this purpose, however, we need to show how specific, dyadic alliances combine in more complex network patterns, and how such combinations may be associated to specific modes of coordination. That’s the task for next chapter.


Table 3.1 Facilitators of alliance building (percentages) Glasgow Bristol Total 52 52 52 22 11 9 2 6 3 3 69 43 27 6 5 37 3 79 1 18 14 4 0 6 2 5 59 39 23 6 4 41 5 83 2 20 13 6 1 6 3 4 64 41 25 6 4 39 4 81 2

Same specific interests Social capital Trustworthy leaders Previous personal bonds to their members* Members have similar past political background Shared culture Same religious practice Same ethnic group Resources & access* Provided us with resources/ information/advice Major player in our field/area Important source of political/media connections Easy to contact We have complementary roles/functions We tend to adopt similar tactics Shared values and principles Do not identify any facilitator *p<0.1


Table 3.2 Obstacles to alliance building (percentages)

Different specific interests Social Capital Their leaders are untrustworthy No personal bonds to their members Members have different political background Shared Culture Different religion Different ethnic group Resources & Access Unable to provide us with resources/information Minor players in our field/area Alliance with them would damage our political/media connections Difficult to contact We are competing for the same resources We disagree with their tactics Different fundamental principles** Do not identify any constraint on alliance building** **p<0.01

Glasgow Bristol Total 6 13 9 14 11 2 2 0 0 0 6 1 2 3 1 0 21 11 73 16 8 5 3 2 2 1 13 2 3 6 3 0 16 25 55 15 10 4 2 1 1 0 9 2 2 4 2 0 18 18 64


Table 3.3 QAP regression predictors of alliances (adjacency matrices and Jaccard similarity matrices)

Glasgow Adjacency Organizational formalization Influence in the civic sector -.033*** .069***

Glasgow Jaccard -.016** .058**

Bristol Adjacency -.025** .079***

Bristol Jaccard -.017* -.001

Deprivation issues NSM issues

-.012 .017

.009 .028

-.018* -.034***

-.037*** -.023*

Joint involvement in events before 2000 Opinions on New Labour approach Involvement in PPPs Protest repertoire R2 * p<.05; **p<.01; *** p<.001 .010





-.021* -.022* -.017

-.046** -.044** -.027 .011 .01

-.013 -.004 -.018*

-.018 -.004 -.017 .003


Table 3.4 Predictors of alliances (summarizing table; signs of coefficients have been adapted to reflect logical relation; only coefficients significant at p<.05 or lower are reported)

Glasgow Adjacency Similar organizational structure Similar influence in the civic sector Similar agenda on deprivation Similar agenda on NSM issues + Similarity (Jaccard) + Adjacency + -

Bristol Similarity (Jaccard) +

+ +

+ +

Joint involvement in events before 2000 Similar opinions on New Labour approach Similar involvement in PPPs Similar adoption of protest repertoire



+ +

+ + +


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