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These maps are very interesting but they also uncover numerous
epistemological problems that might be too often glossed over in SNA.
For example, when a collective is used, who does that collective
actually represent? Nation states might be reducible to some metric,
but at so many other levels--commerce, citizenry, flows of donations and
charitable services, etc. the forces might move very differently--and
meaningfully so. Which is the real "EU" in such a case?
So too might the metrics or forces measured move very differently inside
the units or organizations (e.g. the United States government versus US
commerce, charity, or NGO actions). Which is the "real" entity? Of
course the actor depends on what one is looking at, so it is not as easy
to say "Israel's problem is X" unless one means to valorize or reify
(etc.) the nation state in a particular analysis. In short, there is a
terrible risk of oversimplification in SNA because it sweeps aside too
much in order to make an illustrative knowledge representation.
It seems to me that knowledge representation is indeed a very
interesting problem for SNA, but looking at something like Bruno
Latour's Actor-Network-Theory leaves me despairing as to whether these
sorts of linkages are not creating more heat than light without much
stronger qualitative descriptions or new graphical tools.
I certainly don't discourage these sorts of efforts and find them of
interest, but I think more time needs to be spent on epistemology of
knowledge representation if SNA is to continue on a path toward being
Ryan L. Lanham
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