CLASS SUMMARY WEEK 1 OCTOBER 2, 1996
The focus on social theories and "relational" approaches to theory
and data, understanding the sources of inspiration and stimulus or
seeds of social network studies, are starting points of this course.
A diversity of research methods (e.g., comparative historical,
ethnographic, questionnaires, census, economic and business
decisions), techniques of analysis, and scopes of study, is a
strength of social network approaches.
We will try to look at studies of social networks both in the broader
frameworks of sociological, anthropological and historical studies,
and those in allied fields, such as political science, economics, and
business or management. What is common to many of these approaches is
a concern with the patterns of social ties between diverse elements
of society, and the consequences for social transformation and
Some theorists and sociologists have denied the need for examining of
social ties and networks as an element of theory and conceptual
understanding of social processes. Networks may be simply derivative
of social roles and categories. Peter Blau argues that the extent to
which networks cross-cut different groups and social categories is
purely a function of the relative size of social aggregates and the
extent of their tendencies to coincide as opposed to cross-cut or
segregate one from another. If theories like Blau's were correct, we
might not need to study social networks: the study of social
categories would be sufficient.
Many social science researchers, so-called 'network researchers'
included, have argued that patterns of social ties do exist and do
have significant effects independent of the social categories of
actors. In order to test their ideas, they have formulated a number
of basic social science concepts -- centrality, role or position,
cohesion/solidarity, divisiveness, consistency, restricted versus
generalized exchange, et cetera -- in terms of formal
definitions that allow the phenomena identified with these
concepts to be defined in structural terms. Thus, the formal
concepts of network centrality, structural equivalence, network
holes, balance theories, and other formal concepts allow
investigations of a wide variety of phenomena to include questions
about social structure and structural effects. This opens the way
for comparative and interdisciplinary questions to be addressed, with
comparable concepts being researched in fields as diverse as
psychological experiments on social exchange, business or market
organization, and comparative historical studies, to name but a few.
Social networks as a distinctive interdisciplinary approach linking
different fields of interest has greatly expanded over the past
twenty years or so.
Due to the emphasis on finer-grained analyses and capabilities to
handle large amounts of empirical data,
Social network approaches also contain a critical theoretical edge in
challenging some of the "dominant" paradigms in social science. One
the one hand, they offer a broader approach, for example, than the
commitment to "methodological individualism" as an explanatory
framework in some of the social science disciplines. On the other
hand, it is not a contender among the so-called "master (historical)
narratives" since there is no substantive "network theory" of society
or attempt at grand unification. Network theory per se is of the
formal (non-predictive) variety aimed at conceptual clarification as
a prerequisite to comparative analysis.
The use of social network approaches, however, is especially
effective in looking at the dynamics of social transformation forces,
or the role or significance of different segments of societies in the
unfolding of these processes, without commitment to a normative grand
narrative. John Padgett's work (e.g., with Chris Ansell) on the rise
of the peculiar role of the Medici family in the separation of
functions of judge and boss is a prime example of the power of
network perspectives to illuminate a critical juncture in the
formation of the Renaissance state in Florence. Several quotes are
"Medicean political control was produced by means of network
disjunctures within the elite, which the Medici alone spanned."
"Medici's multivocal identity as sphinx harnessed the power available
in these network holes and resolved the contradiction between judge
and boss inherent in all organizations."
"Methodologically, we argue that to understand state formation one
must penetrate beneath the veneer of formal institutions, groups, and
goals down to the relational substrata of peoples' actual lives.
Ambiguity and heterogeneity, not planning and self-interest, are the
raw materials in which powerful states and persons are constructed."
Steven Berkowitz's study of exchanges among emergent Florentine
family business organizations provides similar network insights into
the development of modern economies, highlighting the emergence of
"high velocity trade" transactions within a social network fabric.
Similarly, Charles Tilly and Peter Bearman have tried to bring new
insights through studies of social movements, and their network
approaches dispute dominant mainstream representations of power,
status, mobility, stratification, etc. Such studies may help to
reveal more about the configurations of social realities that have
shaped modern societies.
The class in general seeks to ask these questions:
1. What is it that network perspectives and frameworks bring to the
studies of particular phenomena in the world?
2. How can these approaches benefit other scholars and those in
society at large?
3. What does the network paradigm espouse do that others do not?
In pursuit of the goals of science, i.e., systematic modes of study
and the ability to use testable ideas, and the need for dialogues
and sharing of techniques and data, those in the social sciences,
especially sociology and anthropology, have sought to develop
techniques and methods that allow clearer and more explicit, defined,
modes of inquiry. Social network analysis is one of these areas of
We also intend to ask:
1. How are network studies able to generate more sensitive, unique
measures that offer a substantial advantage over other techniques
and perspectives-to make substantive contributions to studies of
2. How can network studies help to capture and translate insights
about the dynamic, micro and macro, aspects of social structures?
3. How does it help to mediate or tie together micro and macro levels
of analysis ?
4. How is network studies significant to general and comparative
studies of social structures in different societies?
5. How can network approaches provide a source of a productive
dialogue between researchers in diverse realms of the social
6. How can we generate unique ways of depicting or rendering the
social world, so as to bring a fresh perspective to research
7. How is this perspective suited to pursue fine grained studies of
the inner workings of social structures?