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The Development of Social Network Analysis:…

The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of…

by Linton C. Freeman

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Freeman does a nice job in researching and discussing the origins of social network analysis (SNA) or the use of structure within sociology. Some would argue that social network analysis is what sociology is all about. This book is not a discussion of the content of SNA, but rather how is the field becoming a science in it own right.

The author does a nice job of creating a definition of the field of SNA and then evaluating each academic center in how many of the elements of SNA the center achieved. Some suggestions as to the early root definitions are: “the study of the patterning of interaction and the patterned social interaction based on systematic observation. Freeman defines SNA as having to comprise the following four components:

1. Social network analysis is motivated by a structural intuition based on ties linking social actors,
2. It is grounded in systematic empirical data,
3. It draws heavily on graphic imagery, and
4. It relies on the use of mathematical and/or computational models. P. 3

A nice addition to the book would be a set of graphs which build through the book as new researchers and new centers of research are introduced that would illustrate these four components. It is only in the very last chapter that we see a single map generated from forty questionnaires that describes who the current luminaries in the field believe contributed the most to the development of the field of SNA. However, it is pointed out often in the book how multi-disciplinary the field is and thus how difficult it has been for the researchers to find each other.

One of the more interesting pointers to a body of work is the short discussion of Homans’ “threefold classification€?. “Homans proposed that interaction frequency, sentiment, and joint activity (first called ‘function’) are all interrelated.â€? P. 57

While there was a difficulty in getting organized, Freeman suggests that the thread of mathematical precision within publications has kept the field from degenerating into academic squabbling. “The relative precision of these mathematical treatments gave social networks an advantage. Because of that precision, the network field did not generate the same kinds of quibbles and misunderstandings over terms and concepts that lead to conflict in other fields that are wedded to a natural language.â€? P. 136

For those interested in developing a new field of study or coalescing a field of study, Freeman identifies the “social networkâ€? activities that led to the organizing of the field of SNA. These activities were:

1. Some academics moved from place to place and in so doing, bridged diverse collections of social network scholars
2. Some produced computer programs that standardized the analysis of social network data
3. Some organized conferences designed explicitly to bring previously separate groups together
4. One created an organization designed explicitly to link social network researchers worldwide
5. One started a journal aimed at centering the literature of the field
6. One arranged to use an early kind of internet to connect people doing social network research
7. Working together, some established a series of regular annual meetings
8. UCI, the University of California at Irvine, played a special role in unifying the social network community

While not as content rich as books like Carrington et al’s Models and Methods in Social Network Analysis or as engaging as Duncan Watts Six Degrees of Separation, I always find it interesting to see the pattern of the people and ideas that lead to a new discipline. ( )
  swaltersky | Jan 20, 2006 |
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