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A sociological or Social Network is a model in which social actors interact with each other. It describes a set of methods which helps in analysing different types of social structures and theories explaining different patterns in those structures. Social network and its study emerged from social psychology, sociology and later involved statistics.
Social networks have been defined by Dennis Marsden as a “structure of social relationships linking social actors”. Social networks are built through relationships among human beings. These relationships create connections among people and these connections help in mapping and creating people’s experiences with each other. According to sociologists these experiences impact not only the individual but also the entire system. Here the role of social structure becomes important with the social actors and their interactions among them. The network depicts the way people are organised as individuals or in the form of an organisation. It represents whether the bond is formal or informal.
Business people talking among themselves, an example of a social network.
History of the study of Social Networks
In sociology the origins of studying ‘social networks’ can be traced to the volume of research conducted to understand ‘social interactions’. Georg Simmel through his book named ‘Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations’ of 1955 used a structural approach to study social interactions. According to him associations give rise to individuals who in turn give rise to the society.
Prior to him, in 1951, Emily Durkheim suggested two kinds of social interactions through his book ‘Suicide’. The ‘integration’ and ‘regulation’ kind of social interactions can create four kinds of social structures.
Even though Durkheim’s study depicts the social network approach, Simmel provided two basic basic concepts of social networks. He suggested that premodern social networks were comforting, provided a sense of security and solidarity but never tolerated outsiders and lacked individual freedom and diversity. Whereas, ‘cosmopolitan’ social network of modern societies allowed people to create their own networks and join new networks. Individual personalities are built under the influence of various networks people are part of which makes them more tolerant but these greater networks require people to deal with great uncertainties.
A major study on social networks was conducted in 1930 in Psychology by Jacob L. Moreno, who studied social interaction in a girls’ school through sociometric techniques and a visual technique of mapping social ties called the ‘sociogram’.
With time the sociogram lost its ability to produce sufficient results and Moreno’s approach fell in 1940s due to the introduction of the ‘graph theory’. With the use of mathematics this theory studies large network data. Nevertheless a major breakthrough in studying social networks was the use of matrix algebra, block modelling and clustering techniques by Harrison White and his colleagues at the Harvard School.
A depiction of family, an important social group
Social Network Theory
There is no universal theory to examine social networks. As described above various social scientists have developed their own way of studying social networks. Hence, there are some basic principles or commonly found elements of social network study across disciplines and researchers which can be categorised into two−
Grand Theories of Network Research
First theoretical discussion on networks can be found in the work of George Simmel
He speaks of social circles: Primary and Rational Circles
Primary Circle represent the close relationship, it represents a social form into which an individual born such as family, friends
Rational Circle on the other hand based on the similar interest
These theories gave insights on how networks and societies can be considered.
Mid-Range Network Theories
These theories are more focused on relations and social networks. They help in development of hypotheses, interpretation and description of research results. They are −
Theory of Balance
Small Group Theory
Characteristics of Networks
Different studies identify different characteristics on the basis of the variables of their study but some of the common characteristics of social networks can be identified as below −
The building of stronger ties between two members of a network suggests homogeneity in their beliefs and goals.
Stability of a network and the directions in which a network can stretch are important elements.
Network index depends on the degree of how dense, connected, and centralised a network is.
Advantages and Shortcomings of Networks
Social Network is a double edged sword, if it has benefits then it also has some disadvantages as well. Some of the advantages are −
Instant reachability − with the help of social networks individuals or groups can easily reach out to each other.
Build Followers − As we have seen above, each group has a homogeneity, a common value, culture, etc which brings its participants together.
Increase social awareness − It helps in educating social values, developing norms or beliefs and creating awareness among individuals.
Some disadvantages include −
Rumours and misinformation − Social networks can be the hub of rumours and misinformations which can mislead people and create tensions with serious implications.
Time-Consuming Activity − Building social networks requires a lot of time and human effort.
Sociological Network or social network is a field of science emerging from psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It is a study of social relations where social actors like individuals, institutions, and organisations act together and interact with each other. The shape and size of social networks influence their utility. Such a small and close social network will have much stronger ties among its actors as compared to a large network. The looser and larger the network, the more likely actors will be introduced to the new ideas and values.
Q1. What do you understand by ‘social network analysis’?
Ans. Social Network Analysis is used to identify the various patterns such as local, global, etc. This is an important genre of sociology which is also applied in other social science fields.
Q2. What is a social network composed of?
Ans. A social network is composed of nodes and ties. Each individual or organisation that participates in the network is called a node. Whereas “ties” represents the type of connection between the nodes. Ties also represent the strength of the connection.
Q3. What does Durkheim say about social structures?
Ans. According to Durkheim, social structures play an important role in influencing an individual’s behaviour. Hence, it is necessary to map these social structures by studying societies, different social groups or institutions.
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