Frames and Fields on Twitter

Associate Professor, School of Sociology and ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods; Leader, Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON) Lab Australian National University

This presentation outlines preliminary findings from a research project focusing on activism on Twitter. We characterise an online activist field as a social arena in which participants vie for the definition of the most urgent cause or risk issue, and we ask the question: to what extent is it conceptually and empirical valid to regard protest activity on Twitter, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, as an online activist field? Network analysis is used to examine two core aspects of field theory: the behaviour of incumbents and new entrants in response to a new issue or frame, and the dynamics of field formation. The project extends our earlier research on environmental social movement organisations and online collective identity formation, and contributes to emerging research on activism in the era of the “networked individual”.

Robert Ackland is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Sociology and the Centre for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University. He has degrees in economics from the University of Melbourne, Yale University and the ANU, where he gained his PhD on index number theory in the context of cross-country comparisons of income and inequality in 2001, and he has worked as an economist at the Australian Department of Immigration and the World Bank. Since 2002 Robert has been conducting quantitative research into online social and organisational networks, and his research has appeared in journals such as the Review of Economics and Statistics, Social Networks, Computational Economics, Social Science Computer Review, and the Journal of Social Structure. He leads the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks Lab ( and he created the VOSON software for hyperlink network construction and analysis, which has been publicly available since 2006 and is used by researchers worldwide. Robert established the Social Science of the Internet specialisation in the ANU’s Master of Social Research in 2008, and his book Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age (SAGE) was published in 2013. Robert has been chief investigator on five Australian Research Council grants and in 2007, he was a UK National Centre for e-Social Science Visiting Fellow and James Martin Visiting Fellow based at the Oxford Internet Institute. In 2011, he was appointed to the Science Council of the Web Foundation’s Web Index project and he recently contributed a background paper to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. More information can be found here: