Facebook, Social Networking, and Community Organizing

EXP-0052-CF (the Ex-College at Tufts University)

Fall Semester 2009
Wednesday evenings, 6:00-8:30 pm
Instructor: Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE (www.civicyouth.org) and research director of Tisch College
Tel: 617-627-2302
Email: Peter.Levine@Tufts.edu
Office hours by appointment (in Tisch College

Note: this syllabus is subject to change.


This class will work on three related, innovative projects that have practical significance. We will also read and discuss material that puts these projects in an intellectual context. The three projects are:

1.    “YouthMap” (which needs a better name):

CIRCLE at Tisch College, Tufts University is developing new software that will ultimately plug into Facebook. The application helps residents of a metro area to map local civic networks to promote volunteerism, collaboration, activism, and problem-solving. We are developing the software under a $598,000 federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (which runs AmeriCorps). Our goals are to use the pilot software to support civic engagement and service in our area, and to improve the software for use elsewhere. Meanwhile, the same software is also being used by students at UMass Boston and Suffolk University. We want the students at these three colleges to interact this semester.

2.    Project PERIS

Tisch College recently won another large grant ($508,000) from the same federal agency to launch Partnering for Economic Recovery Impact through Service (PERIS), a project in Somerville, MA. PERIS aims to coordinate many separate service projects in the area so that they add up to more of the sum of their parts and promote one coordinated goal—economic recovery from the current recession. By using “YouthMap” in Somerville, this class will help guide and evaluate Project PERIS.

3.    The Social Media initiative

When the Corporation for National and Community Service made a batch of grants to promote service/civic engagement through social media, CIRCLE was chosen to be the lead organization nationally. We are supposed to promote learning and discussion among all the grantees. Students in this class will learn about the other grantees and their projects and will provide input.

The intellectual context can be summarized as follows: Today everyone is excited about online social networks, which turn out to behave like certain other networks in society and in nature (such as the networks of proteins in a plant or animal cell). These networks are completely voluntary yet they can make things happen in the real world. Meanwhile, throughout history, community organizers have understood communities in terms of human networks, and they have used their understanding of local networks to make things happen. Many traditional networks are organized or even hierarchical. To what extent are traditional human networks like or unlike cutting-edge social networks, such as Facebook? How should the new science of networks change community organizing? How should community organizers’ wisdom and techniques influence the new online networks?
Most class sessions will be divided into a seminar on theory and a meeting that involves discussion of the projects and planning


The only book to buy is Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks. Other assigned readings are online (linked from here) or will be provided as handouts


Each student must post a substantive blog entry on the class blog or reply to another student’s post in detail every week. Student teams will each make presentations in class on Nov. 18 and Dec 2, describing their projects. By Dec. 9, each student will submit a short, personal reflection about the project for the instructor only to see. Grading depends on: blog posts (30%), group project as presented in class (40%), personal reflection essay (10%), class participation (20%).

September 9

Introduction to the syllabus, the software, the class website (http://bostonsocialnetwork.blogspot.com/) and the other projects described above.

Class meeting: discussion of a proposed plan for the semester.

Assignment* for Sept. 16: post a first blog post or reply to someone else’s post on the material we discussed in class or the Benkler reading for Sept. 16.

*note: the assignment each week also includes the reading listed under the following week

September 16

Reading: Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, chapter ten. Available in an html version for easiest on-screen reading or a PDF for printing.

Seminar: Discussion of online networks (Benkler)

Class meeting: Update on Project PERIS. Introduction to some specific Somerville community partners.

Assignment for Sept. 23: Explore Somerville's civic infrastructure with web searches, by talking to or emailing people you know, or by walking around. Add several nodes and links to the map. Blog about what you have added.

September 23

Reading: Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, 1-54.

Seminar: network theory (1)

Class Meeting: Discuss other websites and social networks created by grantees of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Form plan to reach out to specific Somerville partners to explain about the mapping project and to seek their guidance.

Assignment for Sept 30: Teams of students reach out to specific Somerville partners, add data to map about those partners. Individual students blog about that process or about Barabari.

September 30

Reading: Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, 55-92

Seminar: network theory (2)

Class Meeting: Discussion of the Somerville partner's reactions, look at the emerging map, identify needs for more data. Also, explore UMass Boston and Suffolk courses.

Assignment for Oct 7: Teams or individuals collect data for map. Some teams or individuals communicate with peers at UMass Boston or Suffolk. Blog about those experiences or Barabasi.

October 7

Reading: Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, 161-78. National Conference on Citizenship, Civic Health Index 2009 (focus on Internet).

Seminar: network theory (3). Handouts will explore network visualization.

Class Meeting: Discussion of the emerging map. Update on Project PERIS. Plan next steps.

Assignment for: Blog posts should concern work at other Boston institutions

October 14

Reading: danah boyd, "Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites," First Monday, Volume 11, Number 12 — 4 December 2006

Seminar: Facebook as a social network. (Pros and cons). Differences between Facebook and our map

Class Meeting: Discussion of the emerging map, plan next steps

Assignment for Oct 21: Will depend on plans but will probably include some research into Somerville's economy, described in blog posts.

October 21

Reading: Robert D. Putnam, "Community-Based Social Capital and Educational Performance," in Ravitch and Viteritti, eds., Making Good Citizens,  pp. 58-95.

Seminar: Concept of social capital. Discussion of social capital and the Internet

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project

Assignment for Oct 28: To be determined, based on progress with project

October 28

Readings: Barry Wellman, "Physical Place and Cyber Place: The Rise of Personalized Networking," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 25 (2001); Miki Caul Kittilson and Russell J. Dalton, "The Internet and Virtual Civil Society: The New Frontier of Social Capital" (April 16, 2008)

Seminar: social capital online

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project.

Assignment for Nov. 4: Discuss and recommend changes to the YouthMap software.

November 4

Reading: G.H. Gamm, Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed, pp. 1-24, 58-60, 88-9.

Seminar: networks, hierarchies and demographic change in Boston

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project

Assignment for Nov 11: To be determined, based on progress with project


November 11

Reading: Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar, Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood, pp. 10-78.

Seminar: deliberate community organizing and demographic/social change in Boston

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project

Assignment for Nov 18: To be determined, based on progress with project


November 18

Reading: Mark R. Warren, Dry Bones Rattling, pp. 3-71

Seminar: community organizing as a strategy for building networks

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project

Assignment for Dec 2: To be determined, based on progress with project

December  2

Reading: Boston Indicators Project; John Kretzmann, John McKnight, and Geralyn Sheehan, A Guide to Capacity Inventories: Mobilizing the Community Skills of Local Residents.

Seminar: asset-based community development (ABCD)

Class Meeting: To be determined, based on progress with project

Assignment for Dec. 9: short personal paper due

December 9

Reading: Obama executive order on transparency and participation; portions of the Kennedy Serve America Act

Seminar: policy issues involving the Internet and civil society

Class Meeting: Debrief, next steps for project


Peter Levine is Director of CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and Research director of Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Levine graduated from Yale in 1989 with a degree in philosophy. He studied philosophy at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, receiving his doctorate in 1992. From 1991 until 1993, he was a research associate at Common Cause. In the late 1990s, he was Deputy Director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal. Levine is the author of The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens (2007), five other scholarly books on philosophy and politics, and a novel. He also co-edited The Deliberative Democracy Handbook (2006) with John Gastil and Engaging Young People in Civic Life with Jim Youniss (2009) and co-organized the writing of The Civic Mission of Schools, a report released by Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE in 2003. He serves on the boards or steering committees of AmericaSpeaks, Streetlaw, the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, the Kettering Foundation, the American Bar Association Committee’s for Public Education, the Paul J. Aicher Foundation, and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium.