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SOCNET  January 2006

SOCNET January 2006

Subject:

CSS & "A Million Little Pieces"

From:

Michael Reed <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Michael Reed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 22 Jan 2006 07:54:37 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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*****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

I'm a cultural anthropologist who is new to new SNA; hence, I've turned to 
Krackhardt's High-Tech Managers data (including the 1987 article, "Cognitive 
Social Structures")--recommended by Wasserman and Faust (1994)--as a way to 
learn about a "simple," one-mode, 3-relation set of SNA data. (I'm about to 
conduct similar data collection with a group of 40 women entrepreneurs.)

As I was reading the 1987 article (expecting, modestly, to learn some basic 
SNA skills), I was struck by the actual focus of Krackhardt's research, 
i.e., the contention that "...what people say...bears no useful resemblance 
to their behavior" (Bernard et al., 1982). The article bears down on 
BEHAVIOR ("what actually happened") vs. COGNITION/PERCEPTION ("people's 
perceptions, often in retrospect, of what actually happened").

I am intrigued by Figure 3 in the article, which shows Person 15's "slice" 
(how he/she sees relations between pairs of the 21 managers), vs. Figures 1 
& 2 (the "locally aggregated" and "consensus" structures). It is clear that 
Person 15's perceptions are wildly different from the more "objective" 
measures. I personally would be concerned if my own perceptions of "reality" 
varied that much from "actual reality"! I would be tempted to say cynically 
that Person 15 is "living in a bubble"! (but that's no doubt unfair). For 
example, in my daily life, I frequently try to do "reality checks" to make 
certain that my thoughts and perceptions jibe, more or less, with those of 
other people.

Finally, I just happened to read the Krackhardt article right after reading 
Mary Karr's op-ed piece, "His So-Called Life," in the Jan. 15 NYTimes. Here 
she weighs in on the recent uproar about James Frey ("A Million Little 
Pieces") and the question: Should a memoir be held to higher "factual" 
standards than a piece of fiction? As someone who wrote a daily research 
journal in Africa and who is now in the midst of trying to finish a novel, I 
am very interested in whether or not it is even possible for a memoirist to 
accurately document on paper "the way life and behavior ACTUALLY occurred at 
some past time." (As a novelist, I am most concerned with what I would call 
"emotional truth," although getting the "facts" straight is important, too.)

I know my own memory to often be extremely "inaccurate"; I don't know if 
this inaccuracy is a function of my advancing age (54) or simply of the fact 
that I didn't pay as much attention to memory when I was younger and thus 
didn't see how problematic it is. Sometimes I'm nearly resigned to believing 
that all human memory is basically a "creative reconstruction" (done in the 
present according to present needs and wants) of the past. That's why 
historians turn to written, archival sources for help (not that they are 
without bias or error--we can never escape the fact that fallible humans are 
involved).

Still, I do believe that something like actual, "objective" human behaviors 
happen in the world. The question is, How accurately can we humans measure 
or remember or understand those behaviors, i.e., "what really happened"? 
Krackhardt ends his article by stating, "But the task of future research 
should not be to show that behaviors are more important than cognitions, nor 
that cognitions are more important than behaviors. Rather, our task will be 
to show the consequence of each--behavior and cognitions."

As someone who believes that there IS an important difference between a 
memoir and a piece of fiction, I would have to say that, in some sense, the 
behaviors must take precedence (although I admit that "behavior" is itself a 
cognitive creation; we never escape from our mental jail): we need to make 
certain that our cognition about the past doesn't willfully (or even 
unintentionally) distort past behaviors.

Michael C. Reed, Ph.D.
Independent Consultant & Cultural Anthropologist
Kalamazoo, Mich., USA
[log in to unmask]   Tel. 269-342-4025  Cell phone 269-808-8983

_____________________________________________________________________
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