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"But many, many stories were told; from what could be gathered, all fifty of the mine's inhabitants had reacted on each other, two by two, as in combinatorial analysis, that is to say, everyone with all the others, and especially every man with all the women, old maids or married, and every woman with all the men. All I had to do was select two names at random, better if of different sex, and ask a third person: "What happened with those two?" and lo and behold, a splendid story was unfolded for me, since everyone knew the story of everyone else. It is not clear why these events, often quite complicated and always intimate, were told so offhandedly, particularly to me of all people, who on the contrary could tell nothing to anyone, not even my real name. But it appears that this is my fate (and I'm definitely not complaining about it): I am one of those people to whom many things are told." [Levi, Primo (1985) The Periodic Table, translated by Raymond Rosenthal, London: Michael Joseph, p. 68.]

Dear All,

Sorry for following this thread somewhat after everyone else but it set me thinking again about the issue. I have looked at some references (below) which sound as if they deal with qualitative network analysis but actually what they seem to do is carry out quantitative network analysis in a more qualitative way. By this I mean that they either catch people "informally" but still do the same surveys (in the bar rather than in the lab) or they use more "free form" methods to collect the same data i. e. respondent draws a map of network ties rather than answers questions.

So then, the question is, why doesn't this "exhaust" what we (ought to?) mean by qualitative network analysis? I can think of at least three reasons but there may be more. The first is deconstructing the notion of a "relation". We are all pretty happy that asking certain kinds of questions ties in well with certain kinds of relations and that these questions do not confuse relations of different kinds. But are there relational distinctions that are hard to make clearly using closed form questions or kinds of relation that are very hard to capture in this way because of standard problems of recall, interpretation and so on. For example, suppose the relation involves the offering and soliciting of favours. That may tie in well with the question "Who do you feel you could ask a favour of?" On the other hand, it may not because a) you might feel you could and actually discover you couldn't, b) favours may be rather hard to recall after they have happened: Ask yourself who you last borrowed a book from and c) favours themselves probably cover a pretty wide range of levels of intimacy. I'll happily tell a stranger the time but only lend my handkerchief to a handful of close family. Getting people to talk qualitatively about their relations may - as the standard advantage of qualitative research - allow one to inductively establish meaningful relational categories rather than deductively attribute them.

The second reason what one might call Machiavellian network use. Typically, studies seem to look at ego networks (including the view by ego about how his/her alters are related) or whole networks but in principle, we could combine these and study each actors view of the whole set of network ties and see how these "stack up". For many relations (perhaps all) we should take the view of ego about the nature of ties as sovereign but perhaps there are cases where we should not. (For example, we sometimes feel our friends know us - and perhaps our relationships - better than we know ourselves.) Machiavellian network use involves statements of the kind: "I know that Bob hates Mary so if I want to know about Mary's new boyfriend without Mary finding out, I can safely ask Bob but I can't take what he says as gospel." Of course, we will disagree about how typical such reasoning is, but it seems to me that whole subjective networks may be both important and hard to elicit qualitatively.

The final reason is that we may either be obliged or or find ourselves able to say things about networks from pre-existing or non-standard forms of data. We could, for example, produce networks for characters in Friends based on watching TV or from police surveillance data or historical records of committee meetings. In these cases, the question is how do we systematically build networks from what we have got, given that it is not what we would ideally need to do "standard" SNA. For example, police video footage shows two men meeting on a street corner. Do they satisfy the "knows" relation or are they disguised or using false names? Can we justify the claim that they have any stronger relation - hand-clasps, hugs, smiles of recognition - based initially on pure observation and then perhaps on triangulating data from phone taps, confessions and so on? All of this could reasonably be considered "qualitative" inference of the kind that ethnographers often make and are called upon to justify.

All the best,



References (partly from a previous call to socnet on this topic)

Bollig, M. (2000) 'Staging Social Structures: Ritual and Social Organisation in an Egalitarian Society: The Pastoral Pokot of Northern Kenya', Ethnos, 65(3), xx, pp. 341-365.

Chattoe, Edmund and Hamill, Heather (2005) 'It's Not Who You Know - It's What You Know About People You Don't Know That Counts: Extending the Analysis of Crime Groups as Social Networks', British Journal of Criminology, 45(6), November, pp. 860-876.

Dominguez, xx and Watkins, xx  (2003) 'Creating Networks for Survival and Mobility: Social Capital among African-American and Latin American Low-Income Mothers', Social Problems, 50(1), xx, pp. 111-135.

Frank, Ken A. (1998) 'The Social Context of Schooling: Quantitative Methods', Review of Research in Education, 23, pp. 171-216.

Lazega, Emmanuel (1997) 'Network Analysis and Qualitative Research: A Method of Contextualisation', in Miller, Gale and Dingwall, Robert (eds.) Context and Method in Qualitative Research (London: Sage Publications), pp. 119-138.

Lonkila, Markku (1999) 'Social Networks in Post-Soviet Russia: Continuity and Change in the Everyday Life of St. Petersburg Teachers', <>.

Lonkila, Markku and Harmo, Timo (1999) 'Toward Computer-Assisted Qualitative Network Analysis', Connections, 22(1), xx, pp. 52-61.

Natarajan, M. (2000) 'Understanding the Structure of a Drug Trafficking Organization: A Conversational Analysis', in Natarajan, M. and Hough, M. (eds.) Illegal Drug Markets: From Research to Policy, Crime Preventions Studies Volume 11 (Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press), pp. xx-xx.

Schweizer, T. and White, D. R. (1998) Kinship, Networks and Exchange (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Trotter, Robert T. II (1999) 'Friends, Relatives and Relevant Others: Conducting Ethnographic Network Studies', in Schensul, Jean J., LeCompte, Margaret D., Trotter, Robert T. II, Cromley, Ellen K. and Singer, Merrill Mapping Social Networks, Spatial Data and Hidden Populations, Ethnographers Toolkit Volume 4 (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press), pp. 1-50.

Trotter, Robert T. II (2000) 'Ethnography and Network Analysis: The Study of Social Context in Cultures and Societies', in Albrecht, Gary L., Fitzpatrick, Ray and Scrimshaw, Susan C. (eds.) The Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine (London: Sage Publications), pp. 210-229.

White, Doug and Johansen, Ulla C. (2005) Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems: Process Models of a Turkish Nomad Clan (xx, xx: Lexington Books).

Ziker, J. and Schnegg, M. (2005) 'Food Sharing at Meals: Kinship, Reciprocity and Clustering in the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Northern Russia', Human Nature, 16(2), xx, pp. 178-211.

There are also some references in German that I couldn't read:

Hollstein, Betina (2001): Grenzen sozialer Integration. Zur Konzeption informeller Bezieh ungen und Netzwerke. (Forschung Soziologie; Bd. 140), Opladen: Leske+Budrich.

Hollstein, Betina (2002): Soziale Netzwerke nach der Verwitwung. Eine Rekon struktion der Veränderungen informeller Beziehungen. (Forschung Soziologie; Bd. 141), Opladen: Leske+Budrich.

Schnegg, M. (2005). Das Fiesta Netzwerk: Soziale Organisation in einer mexikanischen Gemeinde, 1679-2001. Münster, Lit.

Straus, Florian (2002): Netzwerkanalysen. Gemeindepsychologische Perspektiven für Forschung und Praxis, Wiesbaden, Dt. Univ.-Verl.

Straus, Florian/Höfer, Renate (1998): Die Netzwerkperspektive in der Praxis,  in: Röhrle, Bernd / Sommer, Gert / Nestmann, Frank (Hrsg.): Netzwerkinterventionen, Tübingen, dgvt-Verlag, 76-95.

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