As promised, I finished reading “The development of social network analysis“. The book, written by Linton C. Freeman follows the development of the field from pre-Moreno times and the introduction of structural thought into social studies up to the late 90s. According to the book cover it is based on the Keynote Lecture that Freeman gave in April 2000 at the twentieth annual meeting of the INSNA.
The study of social structure has come of age
This is the last sentence of the book. Before reaching it, Freeman takes us on a journey that roughly begins with the works of Auguste Comte who apparently planted the first seeds of structural thought. Since then the field of structural thought has been restarted a number of times, and for a variety of reasons, among them being megalomania, shift of interest, interdepartmental politics and job security, main scene politics (like the Jenner committee that essentially ended a whole group).
A whole chapter is devoted to the life of Jacob Levy Moreno, who many think of as the father of the field, although it is later shown that there were earlier studies with similar aims and results and that the systematic approach and development of his ideas is most probably owed to the work of Helen Jennings and Paul Lazarsfeld.
All the pioneers and heroes of SNA parade through the book, the flow of names and their interrelations is so vast that half way through the book I regretted not taking notes of the names and their relations in order to produce something like the TCS genealogy coupled with some visualization. Luckily, in page 131 such a pruned graph is presented by the author.
Professor Freeman characterizes social network analysis as an approach that involves four defining properties:
- It involves the intuition that links among social actors are important.
- It is based on the collection and analysis of data that record social relations that link actors.
- It draws heavily on graphic imagery to reveal and display the patterning of those links.
- It develops mathematical and computational models to describe and explain those patterns.
All the efforts of structural thought (almost all of them lacking combination of all four characteristics) are presented, most of them being in USA with a few in Europe, up until the great restart of the discipline by Harrison White and his team at Harvard. The central role that Barry Wellman played in unifying all the approaches to the structural thought, through organizing meetings with key persons, forming the INSNA and the Connections newsletter is covered. Plus the EIES system (of interest to those who seek fragments of Internet history) is also covered at some extent, showing the role that technology can play in forming both a discipline and (human) networks.
Continue reading “The development of social network analysis”