the new york new school school

It is a truism in the social study of science that innovations in knowledge production occur mostly through informal networks.  By the time you read it in the journals it is old news for the people at the knowledge frontier.  That’s why is so important for most of us who are still getting the hang of things, to learn how knowledge is really produced, or at least to learn the tack of guessing backwards from the finished product(s) to the way in which really good work is actually put together from scratch.

In American Sociology, this general rule is probably most applicable to network analysis.  The basic innovations (and innovators) of the so-called “Harvard-School” centered around Harrison White were certainly part of an informal network endowed with their own set of, never published, shadow texts in which the basic programmatic theses were written (For a nice discussion of this see Santoro 2008, and this post and this post).

More recently there has been a move towards a more historically nuanced and more culturally sensitive take on networks.  This intellectual movement, like the original network incursion, developed around an informal circle of young and more established scholars.  Once again Harrison White (now at Columbia) was in the middle of things (but this time he was joined by Charles Tilly).  Out of this “school” came such scholars as Mustafa Emirbayer, Ann Mische, David Gibson, Eiko Ikegami, Victoria Johnson and others.

In a fantastic chapter forthcoming in the Sage Handbook of Social Network Analysis, Ann Mische reconstructs this backroom history.  She also outlines some of the recent “turns” that that the study of the relationship between culture and networks has taken.

A highly recommended piece.  It goes very well if you pair it with Pachucki and Breiger (2010).


Written by Omar

April 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

4 Responses

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  1. This is as great as I’d hoped it would be.


    Jenn Lena

    April 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm

  2. Thanks Omar, Ann Mische’s chapter is great! I’ll have to check out the rest of the book.

    One thing I did wonder was whether anyone else found themselves thinking that Mische’s chapter might have benefited from (briefly) visualising some of the ties (e.g. co-authorship, dissertation advising) that form the “publics” she mentions?

    I saw a really interesting talk by Pip Pattison a while back that used co-authorship ties to examine how the INSNA community had evolved. This approach worked really well. It’s pretty cool seeing the social networks of social network analysts described with their own methods :)



    April 11, 2010 at 10:35 pm

  3. Hey, thanks Omar! This is really my own intellectual coming of age story — and it’s an interesting piece of history for people wanting to understand the “cultural turn” of White and Tilly in the 1990s, amidst the lively and challenging debates of that period. It was a great time to be a grad student.

    Sam — I did try to do a network visualization, not of co-authorship but of co-presence in different universities (trying to catch the larger network in which the NY school is embedded). But it got really complicated fast, not only by the different types of ties but also by the temporal dimension (i.e., people moving between the various centers that I list in the paragraph on pp. 8-9). The chapter was already way late (and way long) so I gave up. Besides, there’s the tricky question of where to bound the network (which is again why the chapter was long and late). I guess it’s the temporal, multiple, and fluid dimension of ties in publics that makes network visualization of such relations so challenging.


    Ann Mische

    April 12, 2010 at 1:48 am

  4. Thanks for the reply Ann. Your explanation makes sense. I suppose it’s an opportunity for future work. And thanks for writing the chapter, I really enjoyed it!



    April 12, 2010 at 2:44 am

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