Saturday, August 27, 2005

History of Social Networks Analysis

Here's a review of The Development of Social Network Analysis, which looks like an entertaining history.
Freeman defines social network analysis as having four key features: a structural intuition, systematic collection of relational data, graphic images, and mathematical or computational models. (I would add a fifth feature that is ancillary yet crucial: a study of the flows through the network.) The first four features alone tend to produce a static network, though in Freeman's own work flows are often important. When flows are added, networks become channels through which ideas, values, friendship, esteem, money, sales, disease, or almost anything can travel. The same network structure may pass flows of different kinds, or different structures may better facilitate different flows. The impact of social network analysis and its utility depends in large measure on which flows are studied. The way the different flows capture the popular and academic imagination determine, in part, the place of network analysis.

There were plenty of kooky characters in this history, like in any academic field: Moreno had dark side: "self-centered, self-serving ... admitted hearing voices, he sometimes thought he was God, and he was convinced that others were always stealing his ideas" (p. 31). Though to gain a full appreciation of his bizarre side, there is nothing like reading Who Shall Survive, available in the original 1934 edition for about $175 (what to give your favorite network scholar) or the even more bizarre 1953 edition that -- oddly -- costs about the same. "For the most part Moreno seemed to be unfocused but, when he was involved with a woman who could serve as a muse, he succeeded in concentrating and was able to write" (p. 34).

Ew. On the other hand, it's probably a fun read.

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