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  • Active Centers, Creative Elements, and Bridging NodesApplying the Vocabulary of Network Theory to Radical History
  • Andrew Hoyt

Networks, Social-Movements, Anarchism, Print-Culture, Nodes, Creative-Elements, Weak-Bonds, Radicalism, Anarchists, Galleani, Newspapers, Migration, Italian-American, Transnational, Revolutionaries

Recent innovations in digital humanities research tools have encouraged historians of radical social movements to employ theoretical approaches of network analysis that were originally pioneered by scholars in the quantitative sciences. These methodologies offer exciting new ways of organizing data and understanding the interconnection of people, ideas, and spaces. However, network analysis can provide the historian with much more than a way to turn social relationships into sophisticated digital maps. Indeed, network theory offers analytically rich vocabularies that can reshape the very way we think about informal and horizontally organized historical phenomenon. For example, anti-authoritarian radicals have often been labeled using the prevailing vertical vocabulary of institutional labor studies. This language implies a rigid social hierarchy that fails to meaningfully describe the complex, egalitarian relationship between participants in these grass-roots struggles. The metaphoric sense of motion implied in the term “social movement” lends itself to talking about “leaders” who are at the front of such “movements,” guiding the direction and flow of the faceless rank-and-file participants who follow in their wake. Networks, on the other hand, are not constituted by leaders and followers but by distinct and [End Page 37] often horizontal “network elements” with specific characteristics. To illustrate the usefulness of network analysis in studies of radicalism, in this article, I examine the lives of Luigi Galleani and Carlo Abate. Galleani and Abate were part of an anarchist publishing collective started in Barre, Vermont by Italian immigrants; this collective published the newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle) from 1903 to 1920. Galleani was the newspaper’s primary editor and Abate was the primary artist.1 Galleani and Abate are usually understood as of unequal historical importance—a charismatic leader and a follower. I argue that network vocabulary is capable of meaningfully expressing the difference between both figures in terms of the roles they played in the network without arranging them into the kinds of hierarchies that institutional organizations—but not anarchist networks—tended to produce.

From 1880 to 1940, Italian-speaking anarchists created one of the most widely spread radical networks active in Europe and the Americas.2 Yet they remain one of the least understood components of the early twentieth-century labor movement. As Jennifer Guglielmo has shown, institutional labor historians have had a difficult time incorporating studies of Italian anarchists into their interpretations of the past. There are several reasons for this marginality, one of which is the way newspapers, rather than labor unions or political parties, functioned as the anarchists’ primary organizational apparatus.3 Davide Turcato’s recent publication, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution 1889–1900, expands on this theme, observing that the anarchists’ transnational networks remain “elusive objects of study” because, unlike formal organizations, the nodes of anarchist networks had “no fixed configuration, no articulation of center verses periphery or top versus bottom and information had no fixed direction.”4 Turcato identifies what he terms “cross-national” bonds among anarchists and suggests that historians study not only anarchist networks within individual countries but also their cooperation with and involvement in the affairs of anarchists from other national and linguistic groups. These truly transnational networks survived despite massive international governmental oppression that included the birth of Interpol and the 1898 Anti-Anarchist Conference in Rome.5 The anarchists’ resilience has been difficult for historians to explain. I suggest that their successful [End Page 38] resistance was made possible by their distinctive horizontal form of organizing and that this structure is best spoken about and analyzed through the language of network theory.

“Nodes” or “network elements” are linked together by differing types of relationships. Theorists in various disciplines have described network nodes as elements (chemistry), vertices (graph theory), sites (physics), and actors (sociology), while the connective tissue of network social relations is referred to as edges, ties, or bonds.6 The strength of such bonds (referred to loosely as weak or strong) represents the kind of relationship between nodes and...


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