Social Network Analysis

Peter J. Carrington

in Communication

ISBN: 9780199756841
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Social Network Analysis

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Since its beginnings in the 1930s, social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a major paradigm for social theory and research in such areas as communication, organizations, markets, community, the family and marriage, small group dynamics, social support, social mobility, and animal behavior. It is used by researchers in such disciplines as sociology, social anthropology, social psychology, political science, history, communication science, economics, epidemiology, criminology, ethnology, ethology, physics, and information science. At the heart of SNA are three insights, or assumptions: that social relations are more important than individual attributes in understanding human society; that the structure of social relations is more important than their content; and that social relations can be represented by graphs of points and lines, which can then be analyzed visually, or using the concepts, theorems, and methods of graph theory. Like any mathematical approach to social research, SNA strips away the unique details of social situations to reveal, or model, the underlying structures. By doing so, it enables the researcher to identify similarities across widely disparate contexts. For example, Harrison White, one of the founders of SNA, wrote that “subinfeudation reminds one of industrial decentralization” (Monograph 2, Philadelphia, A. N. S. and American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia: The Academy, 1963, p. 77), a medieval system of land tenure and political allegiance that is structurally similar to modern corporate organization. Seeing these similarities enables the researcher to benefit from insights from many radically different fields of study; Albert-László Barabási, a physicist, pointed out that friendship networks share the property of extreme inequality of degree with many other types of networks, such as computer networks and air traffic networks—that is, a few people have many more friends than do others, and people with many friends are more likely to acquire new friends. The same mathematical network model describes this aspect of computer networks, air traffic networks, and friendship networks, and lessons learned from one of these areas of research can potentially be used in the others. In summary, SNA is a fundamentally relational or structural approach to social theory and a primarily graph-theoretical approach to analyzing data.

Article.  16490 words. 

Subjects: Communication Studies

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