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Your posts are getting a tad frustrating to read because you seem to be
arguing by making up "facts" and asserting them. There are excellent
papers by Barry Wellman, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White and many
others on network theory. I know for myself that when I teach about
social networks one of the first things we talk about it boundaries.
The boundaries between network and environment are more of a
proposition, with an indefinitely large set of possibilities. Like all
science we do not just go out and randomly collect data hoping to notice
a pattern, we form hypotheses and theories and use the data we collect
to test them. The relationship between the boundaries we find in
networks and other boundaries are evidence for the relations we have
For instance, there is a well know paper by Freeman (1992) where he
compared cognitive groupings with the communication patterns of people
to get some idea of if, how, and how well people identify these groups.
In that paper and others he refers to it has been found that people are
often good at that. A high school student knows who's a stoner, a jock,
a soc (s-oh-sh), and so on. Freeman proposes a way we complete
incomplete triads in this paper.
My point is that in this study the networks are not really what is
being studied, they are a way of talking about and understanding
something that people are doing anyway. We see these groups, we know
they are there. That the boundaries of the network and those of our
cognitive categories are so close adds evidence to the hypothesis that
there is a relation between them.
"Environment" is ambiguous. One of the most repeated ideas in network
literature is the idea of "embedding," the idea that networks are in
other networks. In other words, they "exists" in an environment.
Applying the open system/closed system terminology is setting up a straw
man. Many of us avoid the word "system" because its association with
One way to look at networks is as hypotheses. That way we do not waste
out time looking for the one true network or something silly like that.
We ARE scientists in the sense that without some empirical validation
of our hypotheses they are just so mental masturbation. That implies we
are looking for it to explain some broader theory just as Freeman's work
mentioned above tells us something about cognition and Granovetter's
work has showed us something about how we get knowledge and extensive
work on organizations has showed us much about how work gets done.
I had a long talk with a physicist last night (and a short one the day
before with Mark Granovetter) about string theory. The tradition of the
enlightenment rationalist thinkers is to try and find the grand unified
theory of everything. String theory is on its way out and it was just
that: an attempt to create a grand theory of physics and it turned out
there is no way to test it. One think I like about networks is that
they provide a way to simultaneously entertain multiple representations.
I don't care which one is "right," I care more about how they tell me
about the question I am asking. Negative results are fine (they show me
that I must be wrong). You can dismiss this as "mere" pragmatism, but I
am not looking for a theory of everything. I am just chipping away at
very complicated world.
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>> Chacun son gout!
>> The system operates in terms of (changing) relations, but the network
>> relations contains an architecture. This architecture can be expected
>> change at a pace slower than the first-order variation.
>> Contexts provide disturbances. The disturbances become relevant for the
>> architecture where the signal can be distinguished from the noise. One
>> operationalize in terms of different types of coupling. For example,
>> you write in a message can be understood by me, but whether you wrote
> it on
>> a PC or a Macintosh is as a context no longer relevant for our
>> (at this stage). Have a nice breakfast! :-)
> Disturbances is an interesting term. I say open system, you say closed
> systems with disturbances. What is the difference? I think the
> difference is profound.
> The 21st century will be the one of unintended
> consequences...disturbances. The morality of our science will hinge on
> who sets the boundaries--as it always has. The boundary between myth
> and history was once thin then fat and is now thin again. The boundary
> between network and context is everything. SNA wants it to be fat, but
> it is always and everywhere very thin...gossamer at best.
> SNA wants to be a highly bounded (discrete) methodology for considering
> the social...its error. "It" believes in structure and selective views
> of order. But you are right not to abandon "It" too quickly--I was
> chastised by Professor Wasserman, already! It is unlikely Eric
> Beinhocker will be taught in many economics classes in the next 20
> years. After the next 20, you will find few where he is not mentioned
> and then not read--rather like Adam Smith whose title he played with.
> Paradigms die slowly.
> Taste is in the eye of the beholder as the French and Romans knew and
> know. But we are not bound to a philosophy of SNA that is in the eye of
> the beholder. We can engage in attempts to justify why we selectively
> cull out networks from contexts and who gets to decide what is order and
> architecture and what is not. You are right to use the term
> operationalize because he who defines networks defines operations...not
> contexts. And operations always have a purpose.
> I think that is just right. Social networks are methods of ontology
> extension. They are open systems because they are methods...not
> structures. The processes of inclusion and exclusion matter most.
> Your s/n is my "meaning." Thanks for chatting mon semblable.
> Bon appetit!
> Ryan Lanham
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