Project Description and Research Concept

Nederlandstalige versie

All pictures on this page were taken in the Chauvet cave in France.

Is interplay between virtual and real world communities creating inequality or not?

Project Description and Proceedings by Daniël Verhoeven, contact

1_0 History Short


The first inspiration for this project is a text of Paul Stubbs:

Paul Stubbs (1998) ‘Conflict and Co-Operation in the Virtual Community: eMail and the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 3, <> (PDF)


Paul Stubbs worked with Zamir in Zagreb in Croatia, the text is the first sociological approach of computer mediated communication in a war zone. Meanwhile I was a system administrator of KnoopPunt, partner of Zamir, both members of APC. It was difficult to grasp what was happening at the time. It took Paul Stubbs about 6 years to produce a second analysis on Zamir:

Stubbs, Paul, The ZaMir (for peace) network: from transnational social movement to Croatian NGO? // Internet Identities in Europe / Brooksbank Jones, Anny and Maire Cross (ur.).Sheffield: ESCUS, 2004. str. 70-84 (PDF).


Looking for solid ground I wrote an essay on constructivist epistemology in 2003, but only in 2006 I was able to write down a first analysis of conflicts in cyberspace. This marks the start of the proposed project. Having constructivism in mind, it was inspired by the discovery of mirror neurons, pragmatic linguistics and communication psychology of Paul Watzlawick. You find both on my website.


At that moment, weblogs who had attracted a lot of attention during some 3 à 4 years started to fade away. And then the Facebook epidemic started to spread in cyberspace as a plague (September 2006). Again it took several years before Facebook came under scrutiny of critical thinking. Then in December 2010 a sparkle in Tunisia led to the Jasmine Revolution, immediately followed by the uprising in Cairo on Tahrir Square, January 25, 2011. In Spain Democracia Real Ya! occupying the Plaza del Sol on 15th of May, instigated Occupy Wall Street. All these social movements in the real world, made use of social media in some extend. A wake up call? Finally Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol) proposed to found the mailinglist “unlike us critical research & alternatives in social media” on 15 July 2011.

BTW, it is a misconception that social media can play a crucial role in protest movements. Social media can make people angry about something quicker, they can easily share their message with a large group of people and they are cheap, but in the roaring sixties there were no social media to support protest, though protest was worldwide. There are some easy to understand reasons for that. Autocratic governments learn fast and their budget to play the public is many times larger than that of the protesters. Use of social media where privacy and security are most of the time inexistant gives the protesters away to the police of these governments. Every time protesters or opponents are confronted with a more powerful enemy or an enemy that is more skillful in using social media they will go to the wall.


In several blog posts the past years I’ve been looking for insight in the influence of social media on equality/inequality in the real world not grasping the whole picture. These text can be found mainly on the blog “tactical use of internet for communities“.

2_0 Period and Locality

Longitudinal research (2006-2020) interwoven with plenty of other activities in the real world, also  using or at least being present on social media. See it as slow science.

Main locality of investigation is Belgium and the Netherlands. Main locality of real world experience is the city of Ghent in Belgium..

3_0 Main Project Description

Research on the empirically verifiable interplay between “social media” and “real world communities”, creating inequality or not.

My vision on the impact of social media is influenced by critical authors as Manfred Spitzer, Sherry Turkle, Sarah Kiesler, Evgeny Morozov, Geert Lovink, Christian Fuchs, Mayo Fuster Morell, Zeynep Tufecki, Micah M. White and alike. When some limited experiments using social media as a secondary support had catastrophic results I became convinced that social media are useless and even harmful. In the end it felt like a mental concentration camp I had volunteered for.

As a consequence I stopped all communication activity on social media in 2018. Sporadically I might use social media as broadcasting channel. I’m aware that this is a radical view point, that’s why I decided to measure this hypothesized effect. I finally found a way to do this with participation of the general public. See research concept

Anyway I’m convinced that social media use should be reduced significantly while face to face communication should be promoted. Capacity building to meet face to face is a task for every citizen.

4_0 List divers literature

Bibliography in progress: here.

Additions still welcome. Send to or add in the comment section beneath.

5_0 Research Concept

Measuring and comparing the evolution of social inequality over years

The degree of social inequality is seen by me as a function of the social structure. Periods that will be discussed: the hunter-gatherers, possibly the late Middle Ages, and the period after the invention of printing, but the main part will be the period 1960-1990 and the period after 2000 when the social media emerged and became influential.

A brief analysis of the hunter-gatherer society serves as a baseline measurement and reference. Reference because various scientists such as Richard Wilkinson, Kate Picket, Robin Dunbar and Frans De Waal point out that our brain has mainly developed during the period when we, as groups of hunter-gatherers, roamed the globe. This period spans 90% of our presence on this planet.

The intention is always to show the basic social structure of a certain society. Although, for example, I mainly rely on anthropological research among hunter-gatherers, I am in fact only interested in the sociology of hunter-gatherers. This is the level at which I view and compare the processes.

Knowing that ecology played an enormous role in their lives, but that I cannot dwell on that is a generalization, which is regrettable, but which would also distort the sociological picture. This also eliminates the differences between the groups on the different continents. This limitation to one level is necessary because (1) multiple levels can only be managed by extensive teams and (2) if one starts measuring with elements of different levels, one naturally cheats. This also has to do with the complexity of people and their social structures1.

My working method is inspired on the one hand by C. Wright Mills’ critique of “abstract empiricism” and on the other hand it is an interpretation of the dynamic structuralism of Jean Piaget and the second generation of dynamic structuralists around Heinz Von Foerster, also called second-order cybernetics.

I will describe each structure in some 20-30 pages. This natural language text serves then as a source for a formal coding of the key processes and states and their links with one another, that define the actual social structure. For a sample text look here.

The code used is a stripped down Process Markup Language (sPML). This is an experimental markup language.

This sPML source defines the actual social structure as a network of directed, signed graphs. The processes and states are connected with a single directed, signed graph expressing the influence one process has on another, and one process has on a state. This causal link, causal in the broadest sense, can be positive or negative, an incentive or inhibition. Out of a significant number of connections, a network of directed, signed graphs emerges. See sample of a sPML sentence below.

Expressions and sentence in sPML

Status [eco] {
[Hunters and Gatherers]
necessity of life,
100% dependent on the ecological system.
} (lifetime, Kalahari Dessert in Africa)
Process [mov] {
[Hunters and Gatherers]
collect food without exhausting nature,
are constantly moving from one area to another.
} (lifetime, Kalahari Dessert in Africa)


I call it mathematics without numbers. The interpretation of the source code is also resulting in a graphical image of the structure. Beneath an example of such a graphical image. Beware, it does not represent my final result. It is only a provisional fragment out of the whole, to illustrate the method used. It contains 13 of the 30 process I detected till now and a selection of the causal connections found. The complete hypothetical structure is not only larger, it might still change after analysis. I’m using it to guide my reading, analyzing and writing. That work done, I hope to have reached a structure that mirrors the real social structure of the hunter-gatherers.

The example is a fragment of the causal coherence between the activities and states of hunter-gatherers for production, distribution, communication, social behaviour and psycho-pedagogical attitudes in function of their political structure, a deliberative democracy.

Directed, Signed Graph, extract of the social structure of the Huntergatherers

Though the social structure will be treated as complete as possible, I’m only interested in that part that influences the decision capabilities of the persons living in the studied period. At this point you can only compare structures. I will add my vision on the result but my personal vision is not decisive. The interpretation of these structures will be offered to the public using an informed survey.

To offer that survey and compare these structures I have to add numbers to obtain a directed, signed weighted graph. Since the final structure will consist out of a limited number of (causal) relations between processes and states; it is possible to deconstruct the result into a list of questions on those relations. People will be asked to assign a number between -50 and +50 expressing the importance as to them of this relation. Negative or positive.  A positive sign denotes stimulation, a negative sign denotes inhibition.

As you can see in the image above, all red arrows end at [dem] deliberative democracy. 15 graphs are involved in that substructure, 15 questions can be derived from the relations expressed by these graphs, resulting in 15 valuations. It is the cumulation of all these valuations that will be taken as the result of the substructure as a whole.

This will allow us to calculate the total importance of the decision capabilities during a given period. We are mainly interested in the comparison of the period 1960-1980 and the period after 2000, but the comparison with the zero measurement and an intermediate period of the late middle ages may be educational as well.

1 Rik Pinxten, 2008, p. 71


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