Methodology and Epistemology of a Neighborhood Social Map
Catalysts serve to spark organizing in new and important directions, overcoming the inertia of the old. A social map of our student neighborhoods aims to serve as the catalyst towards SDS engagement in the neighborhoods where we live. Moving from protest to building power requires a more systemic sharing and application of our collective knowledge relevant to organizing. Many of the insights that will compose a project like a social map will be discovered through organizing activities.
What exactly do we need in terms of data for this project to be a success? We do not need an academic endeavor divorced from organizing. No walking around aimlessly at protests asking people to fill out surveys, no sitting in a room making millions of follow up phone calls like a market researcher. We need information that can be gathered through the experience of people’s everyday lives. Insights relevant to organizing are gathered whether or not you wear an organizing hat or have a stack of flyers. These insights into how social networks work or what waterholes would be best for an event are often concentrated in the hands of a few exceptional organizers. Without a formal way to record this knowledge it often leaves with the organizers crippling the organization mid campaign.
This project aims to employ two tools to help record information about neighborhoods and will allow organizers coming into neighborhoods (for example college freshmen or out of towners) to come up to speed with the dynamics of where they are organizing. The first tool is one being pioneered by groups like AREA Chicago and Precarity: Chicago, a physical map overlayed with information. Literally it would be a “social” map, local points of interest would be identified in a neighborhood like bars, clubs, coffee spots, restaurants etc., colors might be used to identify the amiability to organizing of certain city blocks, relationships between scenes and points of interest would be identified, potential locations for events would be identified, socially connected people/houses might be identified, high visibility intersections might be identified etc. Most of this information is gathered through simple observation, and sparing our organizers the academic trappings of boxes of surveys, low response rates, and awkwardness. Everyday experiences in the lives of organizers can be translated into productive information for building social power.
The second tool used would be a spreadsheet application that would basically be a list of the information on the map with more fields for detailed explanations of why the data is displayed as such on the map. Such a spreadsheet could easily be envisioned as a Wikipedia that people could compile their information on. Most of the data inputted initially would not be coded, to maximize the total amount of information that people could later cull for readability.
What is the timeline for this project? For the next month this project will largely still be an idea to be tossed around and refined by interested participants. To facilitate this process there will be a google group created, but hopefully people who are interested can meet in the flesh to hash out questions around the project. The first step is to select a neighborhood to create a pilot project around. Once participants can agree to focus their resources on a neighborhood the next step would be to create the infrastructure necessary to the project, like a Wikipedia spreadsheet application and a google map or another map application. Interested people in the project would then contribute their knowledge of the neighborhood to the project, and those with the most commitment would help organize contributions into the applications. Ideally this project would also prompt organizers to use their “downtime” from organizing to explore the neighborhood. Exploring new places, meeting new people outside of the context of organizing for a meeting or specific event will be key resources for the success of the project. Insights from active campaigns will also be important contributions to the social map, and hopefully the reflections derived from the project will help propel further organizing and success on campaigns.
Divorcing this project from actual organizing in student neighborhoods would result in its failure. This process is a first step to building a more professional, sustained and more effective student/community organization. Expanding our organizing past the physical campus to include the neighborhoods we live is a crucial step in building student power. With the correct application of social mapping we can maintain our organization’s integrity when key organizers move on, and we will be able to effective involve new participants in the core work of organizing instead of delegating them busy work until they catch up with their more seasoned colleagues. Using this information will allow us to mobilize more effectively, and will help us build power in our communities through understanding how spaces relate to different people and social networks.