We dive into the meat of the course this week by considering the history of the development of social network analysis. Although the analysis of a social network can become very complicated in its detail, at its core a social network offers perhaps the simplest possible vision of sociology, consisting of nothing more than nodes and ties connecting those nodes.
Everything having to do with social networks can be boiled down to descriptions of patterns in nodes and ties. Social network analysts have the audacity to claim that if you can describe these patterns, you can understand our social world.
This week, we consider nodes, ties and the historical origin of ideas about nodes and ties in psychology, sociology, anthropology and mathematics — all thanks to a man in 18th century Prussia who didn’t want to cross a bridge twice.
As you read this lecture, read a selection from Chapter 2 of Christina Prell’s text Social Network Analysis: History, Theory and Methodology alongside. We’ve made Prell’s reading available in the “Readings” folder of our secure course Blackboard site (look for a link on the left on Blackboard). You may find it helpful to read a bit of lecture, then read a bit of text, then jump back to the lecture to reorient yourself.
As you read our reading for this week (Chapter 2 from Christina Prell’s Social Network Analysis text, available in “Readings” on Blackboard), you may really be enjoying yourself, especially if you are a fan of intellectual history. On the other hand, on a few pages you might start to feel a nasty, tickling sense creeping up your spine: the sense that you can’t possibly understand what you’re reading. Here’s my two-word piece of advice:
Don’t panic! The truth is that the Prell reading is written to be read differently by people at many different stages of their education. Some parts of this week’s reading should be pretty easy to understand, but some parts are written at a level I don’t expect you to understand (although you just might understand them perfectly, too). Let me set your mind at ease. In Chapter 2 of Christina Prell’s text, pay attention to the broad strokes of the history of the development of social networks. Don’t worry too much about figuring out what technical terms like “n-clique” mean yet. We’ll return to some of these later on this semester. Some other terms you may run across are really most appropriate for graduate school.
This is a 300-level course, and that means that we’re working with some high-level reading. It’s important for you to dive into this stuff, because once you graduate you should be fairly comfortable with reading at this level — but as an undergraduate I know that technical reading can be uncomfortable. Remind yourself that this is the discomfort of stretching yourself and growing as a learner, but also give yourself a break from time to time! As we head through the course, there will occasionally be passages that drive you mad. Put down the book, step away, get a drink of water, pick up the book and try again. If you just can’t understand a passage, post a comment at the bottom of this lecture or send me an e-mail message asking about it, and I’ll be glad to help clarify.
I’d like to know directly from the source — you — about how your experience in the class so far is going. How comfortable are you with the textbook readings? With the online lectures? With the syllabus? What’s going well and not so well for you? Here’s your chance to let me know — fill out this anonymous poll:
Thanks for letting me know. I’m always glad to hear if things are going well, but I’m especially glad when someone lets me know about a problem, because then we can start thinking about how to resolve it.
Class Participation Exercise: The Two Questions that Generate a Social Network
To generate a social network, you need to answer just two questions:
- What kind of node is in your network? That is, what kind of communicator are you studying?
- What is the relation is your network describing? That is, what kind of ties will appear?
Although there are exceptions (which we’ll discuss later in this course), for purposes of simplicity it is usually best for the social network you create to contain just one kind of communication. If you’re interested in studying two different kinds of communication, it is probably best to create two distinct social networks so that you can clearly compare and contrast them to one another.
Take a moment to consider the variety of different answers you might provide to these two network-generating questions. There are so many ways to answer these questions, which means that there are so many possible networks to create!
It’s your turn to participate. We’re going to use an interactive gizmo called a “Padlet” for you to participate right in the middle of this lecture. Just click (or double-click, depending on the computer you’re using) on the Padlet, and you can type words, upload a picture or a word processing document, even share audio or video. Remember to use your class pseudonym, not your real name, and have fun.
In our first Padlet exercise for this course lecture, I’d like you to provide an example of a social network by answering the two basic questions about networks: What kind of node is in the network? What is the relation that defines the ties that appear? Answer these two questions for a hypothetical social network that you imagine. The participation challenge for this Padlet is for you to be creative and share answers to those questions. To make the challenge fun, you should post an answer that no one has shared in the Padlet yet. Yes, that means the earlier you post the easier the challenge will be! Be sure to sign your work using your class pseudonym so I know the work is yours and can give you credit.
The History of Social Networks… and Missed Alternatives?
As we learned last week, social networks are most commonly depicted as graphs and matrices. Watch this video for a brief consideration of the reasons we think of social networks in these ways and not in others. There are alternative possibilities, but if we believe historical anecdotes, the network graph circles-and-lines approach is due to the morning habits of a mathematician who lived nearly 400 years ago:
Academics have settled not on social boxes, not on social circles, and not on social waves, then, but on graphs of social networks — and if in the course of the 20th Century the idea of the “social network” settled in, in the short 21st Century social network analysis has really taken off.
Don’t Forget Homework
Don’t forget that the syllabus lists homework to be completed each week. As a matter of fact, this week your homework is the syllabus itself! Homework #1 is due by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Saturday, September 10:
- Read: Christina Prell: “A Brief History of Social Network Analysis” (see the “Readings” link” on the left-hand side of our course Blackboard page)
- Read the entire course syllabus.
- Read the entire UMA Student Academic Integrity Code.
- Send on any questions or concerns you may have regarding the syllabus and the Student Academic Integrity Code by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll respond as promptly as possible.
- Complete a quiz about the syllabus and academic integrity code by Sunday September 10 at 11:59 pm. The quiz is listed as “Quiz #1” in the “Homework Assignments” section of our course Blackboard page (look for the “Homework Assignments” link on the left-hand side of our Blackboard page — accessible on the web via http://bb.courses.maine.edu.
Do you have any questions about this lecture or the week’s readings? If so, post them in the comments box below!