***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org *****
I, personally, take a larger view of Social Network Analysis. When I
was first getting into it, Mark Grannovetter recommended I read a book
called "Identity and Control" by his thesis adviser, Harrison White.
One of the issues he addresses there, and he is very much in keeping
with James March, is the propensity for business people to create
stories about what they do that take them as facts. White does not
place value judgments on it and likes to point out that randomness is an
important part of social life. Just doing something creates the
conditions to create something else and move forward.
White is enormously influential: Barry Wellman, Paul DiMaggio, Mark
Granovetter, Ivan Chase, Ron Breiger, Michael Schwartz, Kathleen Carley,
Eric Liefer, and Scott Boorman are just a few of his students.
Ivan does detailed second by second studies of the interactions between
fishes or birds, one bird or fish at a time; at a recent SunBelt Ron
Brieger pointed to cognitive neuroscience and emotions as important to
the field; Eric Liefer studied chess masters, move by move to come up
with a theory of local action; Scott studies Mao and more recently
Doormen in Manhattan. Ron Burt has a consulting business teaching
managers how to exploit structure holes, and I don't think it requires a
network analysis of the company to find them. There people doing
network of cognitive relations through words.
The point is that the kind of stuff that network analysis folks are
into is not just doing network maps, but also we are using the metaphor
to describe things in psychology, organizations, politics and much more.
I have explicitly discussed the question of why businesses are not more
interested in networks in the more general sense of which I am speaking
with a number of the people I just listed. One explanation I often
hear is that businesspeople are often fooled by randomness and that it
is much easier for humans to accept anecdotal evidence than more complex
statistical and other arguments. Does it make any difference if a
businesses person is right or wrong? What does that even mean? If they
can convince others that the goal was achieved as a consequence of his
or her action, then that is the truth.
Some of us wonder, though, if greater understanding and less politics
might even improve business. I have, after all, started several
companies and work with a number of VCs. Many people consider me to be
part of the business world, not the academic. I know that I worry that
the consequences of the shoot from the hip mentality in business will
not be good ones in the long run.
Perhaps (and this is addressed to Moses as well) the division between
academia and business is a false one. At the very least, social network
studies themselves cover many interesting areas. I know that what
bothers me a bit about MySpace and such is that they are a subset of
thinking about social networks that have become dominate. I don't
really care, language changes, but it makes it difficult to talk about
some of this stuff because people go to meanings that represent only a
portion of the thinking in this area. It is way more interesting.
SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send
an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line
UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.