Ulla Johansen and Douglas R. White, 2002
Collaborative Long-Term Ethnography And Longitudinal Social Analysis of a Nomadic Clan In Southeastern Turkey.
Chapter 4, pp. 81-99, in
Chronicling Cultures: Long-Term Field Research in Anthropology, edited by
Robert van Kemper and Anya Royce. AltaMira Press.
2002 Douglas R. White and Michael Houseman The Navigability of Strong Ties: Small Worlds, Tie Strength and Network Topology, in Networks and Complexity Special Issue, Complexity 8(1):72-81. SFI Preprint eScholarship Reprint
Abstract of the Book. Network visualization and representation of ethnographic and network data on the structure and dynamics of a nomad clan is used to explore prior theory on social structure, illustrated through the focus on pastoralists and our ethnographic study in particular. We also consider at a very general level the importance of behavioral data as against alternate perspectives and approaches, including that of Bourdieu. The value of this approach to anthropology - in using network visualization and representation - is in the ability to conceptualize and analyze detailed relational systems in terms of social processes and emergent structures that continually reconstitute the social and cultural models of a given society.
Understanding the inherent richness of anthropological data is vastly enhanced by embedding elements that might otherwise simply be treated in the aggregate into a network framework in which it is the linkages between elements that can contribute to our ability to gain new insights. The clan-like kinship systems of the Near East and Central Asia, for example, pose a fundamental problem for anthropological theories. Exchange or alliance theories fail to articulate to groups that do not simply marry out in alliances with other groups, but create a mix of marriage choices as between a preference for taking close relatives in marriage (e.g., FaBrDa) at one pole and out-marriages of varying degrees of remoteness at the other. This forms a social field in which social cohesion can operate at various levels. Many such societies, as we have seen in Afghanistan, are capable to rapid remobilizations of social "structure" by shifting the level at which cohesive elements are regrouped, reassimilating as allies those who were previously enemies, and utilizing what Westerners would like to call 'factionalism' as a flexible instrument for conflict resolution at various levels. The vocabularies of social identity in such societies also have this shifting quality as between local group, larger clan, and broader social identities.
The theory of practice, such as developed by Bourdieu, was designed to overcome the dilemma of static anthropological models of structure, or theories of social exchange that presupposed the units of analysis. In doing so, however, praxis theories tended to join with the larger linguistic and textual turn in anthropology, to define the field of social flexibility in terms of the multivocal and strategic play of symbols and identities. The period of brief enthusiasm for network analysis, in the 1960s, also passed from vogue quickly with the fascination of symbolic analysis. The early forms of network theory were conceived of by practitioners not as a new theoretical approach but as a toolkit for capturing fluidity of small-scale interactions occurring on the margins of the more fixed institutional structures (studied by structure-functionalism). Theories of 'relative structure,' such as developed by Evans-Pritchard to explicate the dynamics of the segmentary lineage (later built upon by Sahlins) were a partial attempt to solve the kind of problem that structural interpretations presented for dynamical phenomena, but these attempts could not escape the limitations of their initial assumptions and their concretizing of the 'object' of study as if only segmentary lineages posed this kind of problem.
In this book, we describe and develop a more general network-based theory of the dynamics of social interaction and its effects on social cohesion, grounding our study and exemplifying our methods in a study of a nomadic clan of small-animal and camel pastoralists in southeastern Turkey. The book carries three articulated goals. One is to present a general theoretical model of how the representation and analysis of network dynamics can extend "the theory of practice," in this case, marriage practices as linked to economic and political organization, as a more general approach to understanding sociocultural dynamics, one that is compatible with a synthesis of other approaches as well. The theoretical framework provides a representation for variability in network dynamics in which actors are seen to face, to respond to, and to help to shape a variety of choices that are also bounded and compressed into coherent bundles of alternatives by the ongoing contexts of concurrent social activities of other actors. Behaviors as well as cognition and cultural symbols, in this approach, can be seen to interact in a much broader variety of ways than can be apprehenced in compressed ethnographic accounts that do not situate ongoing actions and symbolic play within the variegated contexts of networks of interactions. A second goal, more didactic, is to provide sufficient explication of our methods in the use of the network approach to permit other researchers to enter into similar kinds of analysis in other societies and situations. The capabilities of network analysis have indeed advanced along with theoretic frameworks since the 1960s. A third goal is to explicate the social dynamics occurring from the ethnogenesis of the nomad clan to the present, not only internally, but with respect to the larger world, one to which many nomads are connected by the out-migration that occurs in every generation, and by the many diverse and changing links that they have on the many levels above that of the local group.