Letters and networks : analysing Olive Schreiner's epistolary networks.
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This thesis analyses letters and other archival material associated with Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) and her network(s) to conceptualise and theorise aspects of "letterness" and networks. Its premise is that such qualitative micro-level analysis of letters and other historical documents can contribute effectively to contemporary thinking about both epistolarity and social networks and their analysis. Using the existing literatures on Schreiner, epistolarity and social network analysis as a starting point, the analysis of letters and other relevant archival material is used to inform the setting of analytical boundaries. Then five examples of Schreiner-related networks – the Lytton to Carpenter letters, the Great War letters to Aletta Jacobs, letters of the Men and Women‟s Club, women‟s letters to Jan Smuts, and letters in the Schreiner-Hemming family collection - are analysed to demonstrate the validity of the premise and to contribute in an innovative and in-depth way to conceptual and theoretical ideas in the field. In doing so, the thesis offers an in-depth analysis of letters and networks in a variety of historical social contexts, identifying key features within each network and exploring whether these are case-specific or generalizable in theoretical terms. This thesis argues that many existing concepts such as those of reciprocity, brokering, bridging, gatekeeping and dyads can be teased out in an analytically helpful way by using letters to reveal the variations and nuances of these concepts in micro-levels interactions. It also considers network size, arguing that existing assessments of this based on frequency of contact, emotional intensity and time since last contact are not in fact particularly important in relation to the analysis of these networks and their epistolary communications. Rather, it is what happens in networks and the letters associated with them, with network members using and deploying their letter-writing in strategic and instrumentally ways. The key arguments made by the thesis concerning letters and networks are: that the size of a network is important but not deterministic; that the balance of reciprocity in letter exchanges and correspondence is highly complex, with this emergent through letter-exchanges, letter content and also enclosures of different kinds; that the purpose of a network and the existence of central figures within it creates propulsions and constraints; that brokering is neither necessarily positive nor always proactive action; that the complex nature of interpersonal ties and how these change over time affects both letters and networks; that letters and their writers can be future-orientated rather than retrospectively focused; and, that this orientation towards the future can influence decisions concerning the retention and archivisation of letters - a fundamental issue in epistolary research - and subsequently what can be gleaned from them concerning networks.