Dear Don and Fellow Networkers

Had to re-read Granovetter's address at Sunbelt to confirm that in 1990 he claimed that all sociologists was network analysts and exist in some state of false consciousness (my deduction).  I cannot tell whether he dismisses network analysis at present but his faculty web-page reports he is engaged in three projects, one on the 'social construction of economic institutions' one on 'Silicon Valley social networks' and one on 'social and professional networks of individuals in the electricity industry'.  Hardly an abandonment of network concepts.  

A couple of short points to make.  

Harrison White and his graduate student Mark Granovetter have substantially advanced the field and our understanding on the relevance of social networks.  They themselves do not need to remain Whiteian or Granovetterian in their approach.  And neither do we.  A scientific field that does not progress becomes moribound in orthodoxies.  Challenging the canon is healthy. 

Then I would like to question the idea that there are these nasty functionalists that have evolved into structuralists.  It is true that 'social networks' means different things to different people.  Like Don I took some to task on my article in Political Studies last year for the way they employed 'political networks'.  And those that have seen the 'documentary' on 'six degrees' aired in the UK on the 5th of May I hope would have joined me in complaining to the BBC.  However, the goal is not to keep some physicist pondering the relationship between crickets on making a claim on 'scale free networks' but to maintain consistency and fair attribution in the field.   

I also think there is a lot of room within SNA for integrating agency.  Most SNA follows social science is ignoring advances in psychology.  I believe we have to eventually integrate agent motives in our models.  I currently find exciting attempts to integrate social structure, institutional structure, agency and events.  I consider the field vibrant and do not share Don's pessimism. As a multidisciplinary enterprise it will always suffer from problems of definition and direction.  But then again is not multi-disciplinarity what is most exciting about Sunbelt?   

My two cents worth


PS (plug).  Hope to have the chance to debate these points with some on the list at the 5th UKSNA conference in London in two weeks. 

Dr Dimitris C Christopoulos
Senior Lecturer
Department of Politics
Coldharbour Lane
Bristol  BS16  1QY

published papers:

working papers:

teaching notes:

-----Original Message-----
From: Social Networks Discussion Forum on behalf of Don Steiny
Sent: Sun 21/06/2009 04:16
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: keeping private chats private
*****  To join INSNA, visit  *****


    I am super sorry, I did not intend to post it to the whole list. My 
anti virus software has gone insane lately and keep grabbing my focus. I 
did not even realize I had done it until I got an email from Barry.

     You are right, I totally gave my own spin to it and I would NOT 
take those things as exact quotes.  I am personally sad at the direction 
that SNA has taken and have pretty much lost interest in the current 
state of it/   A lot of what lead me to this was careful study of those 
great thinkers and authors who I am blessed to know, but I was making a 
very brief summary which was meant just to the author of the question.

     I do not want to paint everyone with the same brush either and 
there is some great work going on, however the idea that networks are a 
consequence of the interaction of atomic actors is explicitly and 
publicly criticized in a number of places.  Simply discovering that a 
network is scale free or has various types of centrality seems to be 
tautological to me and there is too much of that, especially since the 
term "social network" has come to mean "software for interacting on the 
Internet."  It may be for the type of relational thinking that drove the 
interest in social networks in the 60's until the mid-80's the term 
"social network" may have lost its value.  I know that I avoid it now 
because of the misunderstandings that it creates.  My point, which was 
VERY badly made in a public forum is that "social network" has a number 
of different meanings.  Historically, the relational view was a reaction 
to the functionalism of Talcott Parsons at Harvard.  Functionalism is, 
basically, starting from the current situation, divining the  subsystems 
and  creating a plausible story about their relationships. There is no 
real way to decide if this is true or false.  Analyzing an organization 
as patterns of work flows, communication and so on misses some essential 
questions and it may be that the ability to describe them as networks is 
more obfuscating than enlightening.  A very good example of something 
that is similar can be seen in Donald MacKenzie's "An Engine, not a 
Camera" where he gives some well researched examples of how models can 
drive behavior in the guise of describing it.
    In the "Myth of Network Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology" 
Granovetter explicitly talks about trying to not be typecast a network 
guy, and White's Identity and Control both relegates networks to a piece 
of social formations and explicitly expands his meaning into a 
phenomenological view and does not consider them a only a measurement 
construct.  He defines "ties" as "stories" and, in general, has a very 
different view of networks than one would see in many places. So even 
though I have very badly paraphrased them, careful research into what 
they say shows that it is somewhat different than the bulk of what is 
going on in network analysis these days.  White's subtly and scope is 
astounding, so any paraphrase of anything he says will be merely a 
shadow (and I cannot help but injecting a humorous side note that some 
might say if anyone says anything comprehensible,  he or she is not 
reflecting White accurately).  Granovetter puts incredible care into 
everything he writes and teaches and is meticulous about presenting his 
arguments.  He does not shoot from the hip.

    My only intent (and this was not for the list in general, but I am 
stuck now) was to show that reasonable people have very different view 
on social network analysis and spark a degree of curiosity and cognitive 
dissonance that would encourage the person that asked the question to 
investigate further.  None of the great scholars I mentioned would ever 
say things in such a flippant way.  My apologies.

> *****  To join INSNA, visit  *****
> Dear Don,
> While you have good intentions:
> I don't think it is proper to requote Mark Granovetter's or Harrison
> White's private remarks to you on this list.
> If they had wanted to post onto this list, they would.
> And they may want to phrase differently.
> Posting my comment to the list as well as to Steiny, because I wouldn't
> want Don's posting of others' private comments to be re-posted.
> I do think we have to respect private-public boundaries.
> Cheers,
>  Barry Wellman
>  _______________________________________________________________________
>   S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC               NetLab Director
>   Department of Sociology                  725 Spadina Avenue, Room 388
>   University of Toronto   Toronto Canada M5S 2J4   twitter:barrywellman
>             fax:+1-416-978-3963
>   Updating history:
>  _______________________________________________________________________
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