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Alberto, 

In my opinion, the (average) number of alters reported in personal network questionnaires should only be interpreted in relation to the name generators used to elicit the network, and other design aspects. If you had started with a different definition of what constitutes a personal relationship (and thus a different wording of the name generator), or if you had used 5 separate name generators instead of the one with the and/or wording, or if interviews were personal instead of online, respondents might have given a different number of nominations - especially if those interviewers had probed more (in some work with multiple generators, the "anyone else" question elicited a third part of the network!). So, comparison with other studies is problematic if they have a different design.  

In most cases, studies based on free recall underestimate the network size due to problems of recall, satisficing tendency, fatigue etc, but of course the extent to which that happens depends also on the definition of the network and the study design. There is a lot of specific literature about how people interpret for example the GSS name generator, single versus multiple name generators, effect of question order with multiple name generators, effect of interview mode, recall problems, how networks are stored in memory and this literature gives many useful guidelines for creating better name generators or building in controls. Or for understanding possible biases in existing ones. 
 
Just a few broad overviews about name generators that come to mind are:

Peter Marsden (2005). Recent Developments in Network Measurement. In Peter Carrington, John Scott and Stanley Wasserman (Eds). Models and Methods in Social Network Analysis. Cambridge University Press.

Alexandra Marin & Keith Hampton (2007). Simplifying the Personal Network Name Generator: Alternatives to Traditional Multiple and Single Name Generators. Field Methods, 19, 163-193. 

Claire Bidart & Johan Charbonneau (2011). How to generate personal networks: Issues and Tools for a Sociological Perspective. Field Methods, 23, 266-286.

Don´t know if this message helps :-). Best,

Miranda


Miranda Lubbers
Ramón y Cajal researcher
Dept of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Autonomous University of Barcelona
Faculty of Arts - Edifici B
08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona)
Spain


----- Original Message -----
From: Martin Everett <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 11:54 am
Subject: [SOCNET] Question on close personal friends

> *****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****
> 
> Hi all
> I was recently asked the following and said I was not sure but 
> would circulate. Please reply to Alberto Zanni [[log in to unmask]]
> Thanks for you help
> 
> Our name generator (part of an online survey with 2,000+ 
> respondents) produced an average of about 7 close contacts per 
> respondents (including people living with the respondents) and we 
> wonder whether there are any recent (or fairly recent) studies 
> reporting the average size of personal networks in the UK to 
> compare with. It appears that similar studies in other European 
> have produced much larger personal networks and for this reason 
> our survey has been criticised for not giving a precise account of 
> personal networks in the UK.
> 
> Our name generator question was: Please now consider the people 
> (above 14 years of age) who are part of your social circle. In 
> order to identify them, please consider those people who you have 
> regular contact with, and/or who are the most important to you, 
> and/or who you would want help to discuss personal matters, and/or 
> who you can trust, and/or those you really enjoy socialising with.
> 
> Martin Everett
> Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis
> School of Social Sciences
> Arthur Lewis Building
> University of Manchester
> Bridgeford Street
> Manchester M13 9PL
> 
> tel +44 (0)161 275 2515
> 
> 
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