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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
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
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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