Archive for the ‘networks’ Category

america is not getting lonelier

A key empirical question in social network analysis is whether Americans have more or less friends over time. Famously, Robert Putnam argued that indeed, we were “bowling alone.” In contrast, critics contend that these are misinterpreted results. Some types of networks disappear, while other appear.

On the social network listserv, Claude Fischer provides the latest round in the debate. Fischer uses 2010 GSS data to claim that the decline in strong personal relationships reported by McPhereson et al. (2006 in the ASR) is due to survey question construction. I’ll quote Fischer’s entire announcement: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

September 3, 2012 at 2:55 am

The “Old” New Institutionalism versus the “New” New Institutionalism

I signed on to blog on Orgtheory a couple of months ago with the express purpose of writing about “A Theory of Fields” (Oxford Press, 2012), my new book with Doug McAdam. So here it goes.

Today I want to explain something about the shape of research in organizational theory for the past 35 years ago in order to situate “A Theory of Fields” in that research. The cornerstones of the “new institutionalism” in organizational theory are three works, the Meyer and Rowan paper (1977), the DiMaggio and Powell paper (1983), and the book edited by Powell and DiMaggio (1991).

I would like to take the provocative position that since about 1990, most scholars have given up on the original formulation of the new institutionalism even though they are ritually fixated on citing these canonical works. It is worth thinking why they found that formulation limited.

The Meyer/Rowan and DiMaggio/Powell position on organizations is that actors in organizations do not have interests and that their actions are “programmed” by scripts. Moreover, actors are unable to figure out what to do, so they either follow the leader (i.e. mimic those they perceive as successful), act according to norms often propagated by professionals, or else find themselves coerced by state authorities. The Meyer/Rowan and DiMaggio/Powell world was not only void of actors; it was also void of change. Once such an order got into place, it became taken for granted and difficult to dislodge. “People” in this world told themselves stories, used myth and ceremony, and they decoupled their stories from what they were doing. This meant that the consequences of their actions were not important.  DiMaggio recognized this problem in 1988 when he suggested that in order to explain change we needed another theory one that involved actors, interests, power, and what he called “institutional entrepreneurs”.

The core of organizational studies since the early 1990s has been to reintroduce interests, actors, power and the problem of change into the center of organizational studies. Indeed, the field of entrepreneurship in management studies is probably at the moment, the hottest part of organizational theory. If one looks at these papers, one still sees ritual citing of DiMaggio/Powell and Meyer/Rowan. But the core ideas of these papers could not be farther from those works. The focus on entrepreneurial studies is on how new fields are like social movements. They come into existence during crises. They invoke the concept of institutional entrepreneurs who build the space and create new cultural frames, interests and identities. In doing so, the entrepreneurs build political coalitions to dominate the new order. Indeed, the gist of the past 15 years of organizational research is entirely antithetical to the “old” new institutionalism.

I submit to you that the time is now right to reject the “old” new institutionalism” entirely, free our minds, and produce a “new” new institutionalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fligstein

August 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

hey, it’s scale free and … and …

A focus of network research since, say 1999 or so, has been to identify “laws” that generate large networks with certain properties.* For example, the small world network is built by rewiring a grid. Various processes generate power-law networks (i.e., the node distribution is described by a power law).

I can see two justifications for this type of research. The first is diffusion theory. The speed at which something diffuses in a network is definitely governed by the structure. The second is a sort of physical science justification, where you think of a network as a “system” and you show that some micro-process (e.g., preferential attachment) creates that network.

Is there any other behavioral implication of studying power laws/small worlds or other specific large scale properties? In other words, why should I care about scale free or small world networks aside from diffusion theory?

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

* Let’s leave aside recent criticism of power-law centric research for the sake of the post.

Written by fabiorojas

June 22, 2012 at 12:01 am

duncan watts moves from yahoo to (microsoft?)

The network news of the day:

Duncan Watts, the social science researcher who has been at Yahoo since 2007, has left the company.

Yahoo confirmed the departure. Watts has reportedly joined Microsoft’s research organization, but the software company declined to comment.

Comments? I’m excited to see what he does at his new job.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

April 30, 2012 at 4:28 am

Posted in fabio, networks

network science, a new journal

This seems like big news, a new multi-disciplinary journal on networks: Network Science.  First issue slated for Spring 2013.

(Hat tip: Rense Corten.)

Written by teppo

March 29, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Posted in networks

the abundance of living alone

Eric Klinenberg is a sociologist who also happens to be a very good writer. Who needs a Malcolm Gladwell to popularize sociology when we already have good writers, like Klinenberg, in the discipline? His book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago is an example of his ability to present empirical sociology in an engaging and lucid form.

Eric’s latest book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, expands on a theme of Heat Wave: that living alone is a growing trend, especially in urban areas, that has changed the nature of community and relationships.  In his former book Eric showed that the people most susceptible to the negative consequences of a major environmental disaster, like a heat wave, were those who lived alone and lacked a social safety net to assist them during the crisis. Although in Heat Wave he focused on the deleterious effects of “living and dying alone,” this book takes a broader perspective by first trying to understand why more people are making this life choice and then by examining its consequences on life quality.

One of the interesting insights of Going Solo is that living alone has become easier for people to do because there are so many ways in which people can create and flourish abundant social lives outside the home. Facebook, email, texting, and other social media provide numerous points of contact that shorten the social distance between friends and family. Someone who lived alone 30 years ago might have felt isolated because it was much more costly and difficult to maintain close contact with friends, but now personal communication with friends and family has become so easy to do that it can almost be overwhelming.

One woman we interviewed, an attorney in her early thirties who works in politics, tells me: ‘Of my nine-hour day, I’m spending seven hours responding to emails’ – mostly job related, but many from friends and family too. ‘I also have, like, three hundred fifty people in my cell phone,’ she explains. It buzzes often, she checks it constantly, and she always tries to respond quickly, even if she’s out with friends and the call or message is from work.

This behavior is not unusual. Although we often associate living alone with social isolation, for most adults the reverse is true. In many cases, those who live alone are socially overextended, and hyperactive use of digital media keeps them even busier. The young urban professionals we interviewed reported that they struggle more with avoiding the distraction of always available social activity, from evenings with friends to online chatter, than with being disconnected. ‘Singles in the U.S.: The New Nuclear Family’ confirms this. The large-scale study by the market research firm Packaged Facts reports that those who live alone are more likely than others to say that the Internet has changed the way they spend their free time, more likely to be online late at night, and more likely to say that using the Net has cut into their sleep. Not that they are homebodies. According to a Pew Foundation study of social isolation and technology, heavy users of the Internet and social media are actually more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks, visit public places where strangers may interact, and participate in volunteer organizations (pg. 64).

If people used to seek domestic life in order to avoid social isolation, social technology seems to have weakened some of that need. People, especially those who can afford to stay connected and have a busy social life, may find pairing up and having kids less appealing than ever.

This book is full of fascinating facts and anecdotes about why and how people manage to live alone. This would be a great book for undergraduate courses in urban/community sociology, social networks, social problems, or even an introductory course in sociology.

Written by brayden king

February 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm

creative groups

It’s been a while since we’ve knocked heads with our evil twin blog.  I can’t let this one pass. Peter Klein misrepresents the main point of this Jonah Lehrer New Yorker article, which dissects the myth that brainstorming leads to creativity and greater problem solving. Citing a quote by former orgtheory guest blogger Keith Sawyer – “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas” – Peter implies that groups would be more creative if they’d just let individuals work on their own. This fits nicely with a pure reductionist perspective but it’s not at all what the article is really trying to say.

This is the conclusion that Peter should have drawn from the essay: “[L]ike it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process.”  Lehrer goes on to cite research by my colleagues at Northwestern, Ben Jones and Brian Uzzi, which shows that both scientists and Broadway teams are more successful and creative when bringing together teams made up of diverse individuals. From an article in Science by Wuchty, Jones, and Uzzi:

By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, [Jones] has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields; the size of the average team has increased by about twenty per cent each decade. The most frequently cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius, like Einstein or Darwin. Today, regardless of whether researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics, science papers by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to so-called “home-run papers”—publications with at least a hundred citations. These were more than six times as likely to come from a team of scientists.

And summarizing Uzzi’s and Spiro’s AJS paper on Broadway shows:

Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q…..When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm. “Broadway had some of the biggest names ever,” Uzzi explains. “But the shows were too full of repeat relationships, and that stifled creativity.”

In short, Uzzi argues that teams that had intermediate levels of relationship density were more creative and more successful.

It’s not that groups aren’t effective generators of creativity. As these studies show, innovation tends to be produced via group processes. Knowledge production is increasingly a collective outcome. Rather than assume that people work best alone, we should think more carefully about what kinds of groups are optimally designed for producing creativity.  Diverse groups will be more creative than homogeneous groups. Groups that embrace conflict and critical thought will be less susceptible to groupthink than groups that avoid such conflict.  Groups made up of members who have little experience with outsiders will be less creative.  I agree with Peter that brainstorming is ineffectively taught in many classrooms, but rather than throw out the idea altogether, we should try to teach people how to design groups that are good at generating new ideas.

Written by brayden king

February 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

the network that runs the world

Written by teppo

October 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Posted in networks

linkedin network bleg

Someone out there must use LinkedIn and know how its networking tools work. If that’s you, I need your help. I’d like to use LinkedIn to show students how to analyze their social network. I know that LinkedIn has its own network mapping tool that lets you visualize your network, but I don’t know if there is a way to export the nodes so that you can do your own analysis of it. I’d really like a way to export the network in a text or excel file. Does anyone know of a way to do this?

Written by brayden king

October 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Posted in brayden, networks

psychology of organizational networks

In case readers haven’t seen this, Organization Science has a call for papers out for a special issue on the psychology of organizational networks.  Details can be found by clicking here (pdf).  Or click below the fold.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by teppo

October 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

twitter, social science and mood

[link via David Lazer]

Twitter is getting lots of interest from social scientists.  Here’s a piece from the current issue of Science about how “social scientists wade into the tweet stream” (the figure below is from this article).  And, an NPR piece on a forthcoming Science article by Macy and Golder on affect and mood and twitter.

Written by teppo

September 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm

the performativity of networks

Prompted in part by some conversations at the ASA meetings, in part by Gabriel’s discussion of the Social Structures author-meets-critics session, and in part by some gentle prodding from Cosma Shalizi, here’s a current draft of a paper of mine, The Performativity of Networks, that I’ve been sitting on for rather too long. Here’s the abstract:

The “performativity thesis” is the claim that parts of contemporary economics and finance, when carried out into the world by professionals and popularizers, reformat and reorganize the phenomena they purport to describe, in ways that bring the world into line with theory. Practical technologies, calculative devices and portable algorithms give actors tools to implement particular models of action. I argue that social network analysis is performative in the same sense as the cases studied in this literature. Social network analysis and finance theory are similar in key aspects of their development and effects. For the case of economics, evidence for weaker versions of the performativity thesis in quite good, and the strong formulation is circumstantially supported. Network theory easily meets the evidential threshold for the weaker versions; I offer empirical examples that support the strong (or “Barnesian”) formulation. Whether these parallels are a mark in favor of the thesis or a strike against it is an open question. I argue that the social network technologies and models now being “performed” build out systems of generalized reciprocity, connectivity, and commons-based production. This is in contrast both to an earlier network imagery that emphasized self-interest and entrepreneurial exploitation of structural opportunities, and to the model of action typically considered to be performed by economic technologies.

The usual disclaimers about work-in-progress apply.

Written by Kieran

August 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

couchsurfing friendships visualized

Via Rense – a visualization of couchsurfing friendships.


Here’s the explanation:

Blue ties represent friendships from outside the organization. Red ties represent friendships formed within the CouchSurfing organization. We have no information about grey ties. The width of tie is proportional with the indicated strength of the friendship: i.e., from “acquaintance” to “best friend.”  The movie was done in SoNiA, a highly-recommended free dynamic network visualization tool.

Written by teppo

August 19, 2011 at 3:53 am

Posted in networks

google+ circles i really need

From Happy Place. (HT: @bduckles)

Written by fabiorojas

July 19, 2011 at 2:29 am

Posted in fabio, networks

cognition as networks

With the increasing interest in the cognitive structures that underlie organizational and market activity, I think it is important to take a step back and think more carefully about the constructs and how they are used.  A quick glance at the literature reveals a long inventory of cognitive structures used in research – categories, frames, schemas, logics, scripts, recipes, etc …  Currently within organizational theory there is much emphasis on categories and how they constrain and enable market behavior.  While there certainly is good reason why categories should matter, we should ask ourselves if categories are the right unit of analysis.

Let me propose that a more tractable way of thinking about cognition is to treat categories as embedded within a broader network of other categories through a series of relationships – essentially what is called a schema.  Empirically, this means capturing the nouns/phrases as categories and the verbs as relations that connect them.  See Kathleen Carley and colleagues efforts to draw such cognitive maps.  In my own work, with Christopher Bingham, we have applied this technique to analyze how the insurance industry conceptualized the early business computer.  But, what do we gain by looking at the network as opposed to the individual categories?

One reason why considering the conceptual network is important is that cognitive mechanisms, such as analogies, leverage the relational structure and not the category structure.  Gentner and colleagues have characterized analogies as mapping a relational structure between something familiar and the new concept.  Something new is familiar because of the shared relational structure as opposed to sharing the same category. In fact, in our work with the computer, we observe two distinct analogies – one comparing the computer to existing office machinery and the other, to the human brain.   Just focusing on categories would miss this powerful mechanism to expand and develop new categories. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Steve Kahl

July 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm

satanic networks

Um, dudes, can you check your copy of Wasserman and Faust (1994) for me? Yeah, go to the subject index (p. 811) and check the first few entries for the letter “B.” Does your copy have “beast” listed in it? What page number is listed for that topic? Thanks, dudes.

Update: Omar used Holy Water and gloves made from the Shroud of Turin to find this link.

Written by fabiorojas

June 14, 2011 at 12:17 am

ucinet/networks bleg

I have bipartite network data. But some individuals claim to be linked to many, many organizations. So almost all orgs are connected to each other. How can I ask UCINET to make two orgs linked iff # of co-memberships > X, where X is some threshold?

Written by fabiorojas

May 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

six degrees of danish bacon

The current issue of New Left Review has an article by Franco Moretti applying a bit of network analysis to the interactions within some pieces of literature. Here is the interaction network in Hamlet, with a tie being defined by whether the characters speak to one another. (Notice that this means that, e.g., Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not have a tie, even though they’re in the same scenes.)

The Hamlet network

And here is Hamlet without Hamlet:

Hamlet without Hamlet

I think we can safely say that he is a key figure in the network. Though the Prince may be less crucial than he thinks, as Horatio seems to be pretty well positioned, too. Lots more in the article itself.

Written by Kieran

May 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Posted in books, networks

heaney on network causality

Aside from being my collaborator on social movement research, Michael Heaney is interested in research methods. He has published a new article on causality in social network analysis in the journal American Politics Research. This paper, co-authored with James Fowler, David Nickerson, John Padgett and Betsy Sinclair, addresses the problems with making causal claims with network data.

Investigations of American politics have increasingly turned to analyses of political networksto understand public opinion, voting behavior, the diffusion of policy ideas, bill sponsorship in the legislature, interest group coalitions and influence, party factions, institutional development, and other empirical phenomena. While the association between political networks and political behavior is well established, clear causal inferences are often difficult to make. This article consists of five independent essays that address practical problems in making causal inferences from studies of political networks. They consider egocentric studies of national probability samples, sociocentric studies of political communities, measurement error in elite surveys, field experiments on networks, and triangulating on causal processes.

The full paper is here. Recommended.

Written by fabiorojas

April 25, 2011 at 4:53 am

hedonometrics: happiness and twitter

Here’s a novel paper by Peter Sheridan Dodd et al  – Temporal patterns of happiness and information in a global social network: Hedonometrics and twitter.


Individual happiness is a fundamental societal metric. Normally measured through self-report, happiness has often been indirectly characterized and overshadowed by more readily quantifiable economic indicators, such as gross domestic product. Here, we use a real-time, remote-sensing, non-invasive, text-based approach—a kind of hedonometer—to uncover collective dynamical patterns of happiness levels expressed by over 50 million users in the online, global social network Twitter. With a data set comprising nearly 2.8 billion expressions involving more than 28 billion words, we explore temporal variations in happiness, as well as information levels, over time scales of hours, days, and months. Among many observations, we find a steady global happiness level, evidence of universal weekly and daily patterns of happiness and information, and that happiness and information levels are generally uncorrelated. We also extract and analyse a collection of happiness and information trends based on keywords, showing them to be both sensible and informative, and in effect generating opinion polls without asking questions. Finally, we develop and employ a graphical method that reveals how individual words contribute to changes in average happiness between any two texts.

Written by teppo

February 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Posted in networks, teppo

unusual irb requests

I’m reposting this from Scatterplot:

And another question on behalf of someone else. My IRB thinks it is not possible for them to approve to network research using a methodology in which subjects are handed a list of names and asked which people on the list they know. The reason for this, per IRB, is that people have to sign a consent form before their names can be put on any such list. Thus the researchers are being told that everyone has to sign two consent forms, first for the compilation of the list, and second for doing the survey. This IRB regularly says that organizations cannot turn over lists of their employees or members to researchers for the purpose of initiating a request to be in a research project.  Is this a common objection? Does anyone have examples of research with a similar methodology getting approval from other IRBs? Would it make a difference if the list in question is public or semi-public, i.e. a paper neighborhood or school directory that is delivered to everyone in a neighborhood or school, or a web site that lists all of a group’s members? Please cross-post elsewhere if you know of another pool of people who might know the answer. (I’m thinking of orgtheory here, but there may be other groups.)

This seems like an abnormally aggressive position for an IRB. Any suggestions for OW? Has anyone else had a similar experience working with their IRB?

It seems like the real privacy issue is protecting the people on the list from knowing if ego picked him or her as a friend. It’s not as if ego doesn’t already know who works in his or her company. As long as you were able to protect the anonymity of subjects once the data were compiled in a data set, I’m not sure why this is a concern at all.

Written by brayden king

February 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, networks

soc networks readings

A Social Networks reading list that I put together with a colleague for a graduate seminar that we taught a couple of years ago might be of interest to some of you.

Written by Omar

January 16, 2011 at 4:59 pm

network is the new group

Recently, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) issued a request-for-proposal that invited researchers to develop theory to predict when and where social networks would emerge. They want to know how “networks” like Al Qaeda come to be. This caught my eye because I think the idea of networks emerging only makes sense if you are confusing networks with groups.

Networks are clearly popular. Every new club, association, organization and website today wants to be called a network. Network is the new group. What might have been called the “Lexington Preservation Society” in the past would very likely be called the “Lexington Preservation Network” if formed today. The popularity of the term probably does reflect a greater awareness of interpersonal relationships, but I don’t think there is a fundamental difference between these uses of “network” and the now replaced “group”.

Let’s test your network IQ. Suppose I told you I was studying a network with no ties: just a set of individuals. Does this violate your sense of network? If so, I think you are thinking of a group. Groups (certainly in contrast to classes) have a certain degree of internal cohesion. What if I said my network had lots of ties, but they were organized into three fragments or islands, such that all ties were within the fragments and none between. Would you say I have three networks instead of one? If so, I think you’re thinking of a group. Groups have some kind of boundary. They may be fuzzy, contested, or dynamic, but the notion of a boundary is fundamental to the notion of group.*

Networks, in contrast, have arbitrary boundaries and no expectations of cohesion. They are analytical devices. I call a network into existence simply by picking a population of nodes I would like to study and selecting a type of social tie that may connect these nodes. For example, I could choose to study friendships among the set of students living on one floor of a freshman dorm at a university. At the start of the semester, the network may be completely empty of ties: no one is friends with anyone else. A few weeks later, I may find that there are many pairs of students who are friends, and maybe even one or two short chains where A is friends with B who is friends with C. By the end of the semester, I might find that nearly everyone is at least indirectly connected to everyone else by some kind of path, and I may also find that some groups have emerged in which members have more ties with each other than to outsiders.

Note that conceptualizing the network in this abstract way has certain advantages. For one thing, it makes it easy to talk about network evolution. A network doesn’t emerge fully formed out of the Void — it evolves. But what is “it”? If you let me define the network in my arbitrary way, I can watch how “its” structure changes over time from having no ties to the end-of-semester structure (and, over the ensuing decades, perhaps back to having no ties). For another thing, it unconfounds the network from its structure. The number of ties now becomes a variable, so I can do things like test the hypothesis that a team’s performance increases with the number of trust ties. The degree of fragmentation is also a variable. As a result, a counter-intelligence agency can measure the extent to which it has succeeded in fragmenting a terrorist network.

The abstract approach does introduce some limitations. In this way of conceptualizing networks, it no longer makes sense to ask what the best way is to uncover a network. Should I measure interaction or affect, or something else? The answer is: you can measure anything you like – whatever you do measure defines a network. You can study the interaction network, the affective network or even the network of who doesn’t know whom. In the abstract approach, it also doesn’t make sense to ask, as the Dept of Defense has asked, when will a network emerge? The answer is: whenever an analyst conceives it. The network is always there. It is only the structure that changes over time. It is not a thing in the same way that a group is.


*Ok, I know that the fragments bit is actually more about cohesion than boundaries. So sue me.

Written by steve borgatti

December 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Posted in networks

steve borgatti, social networks guru

We’re excited to have Steve Borgatti, social networks guru, guest blogging here at  Steve Borgatti is Professor and Chellgren Endowed Chair at the University of Kentucky.  You can find additional information about Steve and his research on his web site.

Orgheads might be particularly interested in his forthcoming Organization Science piece on (pdf) “Network Theorizing” — the article addresses confusion associated with network theorizing, the nature of network theorizing, the generation of new network theory, etc.

We look forward to Steve’s posts!

Written by teppo

December 26, 2010 at 11:44 pm

book forum: social structures, part 3

Part 1, Part 2

Levi Martin crams a lot of stuff into his writing. Feels like a Summarize Proust Competition and I’m not doing too well…

Anyway, the last three chapters of the book turn to a new topic: social control. In the first half of the book, Levi Martin discussed social structures in terms of inequality. Social structures are created and modified as a result of inequality. Now, the issue is influence and coordination. How is it that simpler structures are built up into larger things like states and armies?

Levi Martin’s answer has to do with patronage and brokering. As I noted, a short blog post doesn’t do justice to the argument, but the idea is that communities often end up with patronage structures. The key is then to make the patrons brokers in a larger system. The rank and file get goodies and inequality is addressed. The patrons get the influence that they need to control people. And the monarch (or other leader) gets the ability to mobilize huge masses, when the occasion arises. This basic logic for aggregating smaller patronage groups into massive structures can be seen in commerce, politics, and religion.

If you know about the history of the firm or the European state, this story is plausible. One might argue, for example, that the period between late antiquity and the modern nation state is just one long effort at reforming a pile of patronage relationships from the Roman system to the sovereign nation states. This is also consistent with recent business history. Freedman’s re-reading of GM’s history backs this point up. The firm works when division heads are allowed to broker between the central office and the rest of the firm.

One interesting point to raise with this whole story is the role of discipline. The point of Weber, Foucault, Gorski, and others is that modern social structures require modern self-disciplining people. Levi Martin does allude to this point, but it plays a secondary role. The need for control, influence, equality, etc drives social structure. In this respect, there’s a lingering functionalism in the text, but it’s one I can live with.

A related point has to do with institutions. In Levi Martin’s text, my sense is that culture and institutional logics play a secondary role as well. But one of the most interesting things about modern life is the correlation of culture and social structure. The rise of large states and firms coincides with ideas of rationality, individualism, and democracy. Reading Social Structures, it would be hard for me figure out whether culture is a cause or effect of social structure.

Overall, I liked Social Structures and it gives us much food for thought. I’ll teach it in my upcoming graduate course on social organization.


Written by fabiorojas

November 2, 2010 at 12:43 am

mario small discusses research method

Mario Small with the Hoosier Protection Service

Last Friday, orghead Mario Small gave a talk at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, jointly sponsored by sociology. He gave a wonderful talk on his new research on social capital in organizational settings. I won’t go into that, you should read the book.

I will mention one valuable exchange. One of our post-doctoral visitors asked about his field site. Do the lessons from child care centers and tie formation carry over to other settings? Mario roughly said the following:

When thinking about field research, we often confuse the place of observation with the unit of analysis. In other words, we observed interactions, not child care centers. If we observe interactions in other places that also have similar characteristics, it is fair to ask if we observe the same outcomes. In other studies of similar interactions, there is some support for my main ideas.

Good point. Also check out Mario’s blog.

Written by fabiorojas

October 26, 2010 at 12:09 am

Posted in fabio, networks, sociology

weak network ties and movement mobilization

Malcolm Gladwell has decided to delve into the waters of social movement theory. In this essay he does a nice job discussing the implications of research on social movement mobilization and networks for the current wave of political activism that some attribute to online social media. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media could revolutionize the ability of activists to organize, some think. They argue that the recent activism in Iran exemplifies the new form of mobilization, as agitators take to the internet to mobilize support for their causes and to coordinate protests in the street. Gladwell is skeptical. Citing research by the likes of Doug McAdam, Aldon Morris, and Mark Granovetter, Gladwell argues that mobilization tends to occur through strong network ties, not through the weak ties of social networking websites. Weak ties are better at transmitting information than they are at getting people to sacrifice and commit to movement causes.  The riskier the action or the more commitment required, the more critical strong ties will be to mobilizing activists.

You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry [through social media], because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.

Twitter didn’t create Iran’s Green Revolution. Face-to-face networks were likely the glue that kept the protestors together, especially as the potential costs of protesting increased. However, Twitter mattered in one really important way – it allowed Iranians to communicate messages about their movement to a global audience. This matters because movements create leverage by appealing to third-parties to support their cause and withhold resources from their targets. Like I argued in an earlier blog post about this topic:

Tweeting gives outsiders direct access to the voice of the protestors. Coupled with public protest and an inflammatory situation, tweeting is an audience-creating machine.

Twitter is a broker of many weak ties. It connects a variety of clusters in the global social network, making it possible to communicate rapidly and efficiently to a large number of people. This is why Twitter, and the weak ties it brings with it, is such a valuable asset to social movements. With that one caveat, I think Gladwell seems spot on in his essay.

Written by brayden king

October 6, 2010 at 7:44 pm

culture and the economy

A couple of months ago I was fortunate to get my hands on two new books that deal with the relationship between culture and the economy: Viviana Zelizer’s Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy and Douglas Holt’s and Douglas Cameron’s Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. Fans of Zelizer will appreciate the book as an opportunity to revisit some of her classic pieces, which she bookends with current commentary on how her work has evolved over time.  I found this commentary especially interesting. It shed a lot of light on the motivation for the original studies while also bringing coherence to the totality of her work. For newcomers to Zelizer, the book is a must-read. Zelizer is one of our most original and important theorists in economic sociology, as well as a fine researcher of rich empirical studies. The chapters on life insurance, pricing children, and earmarking monies are fascinating studies of how economic transactions take on special cultural significance. One of her most important insights is that social relations imbue transactions with special meaning that make them incommensurable.

The last chapters of the book synthesize her theoretical contributions by introducing the concept “circuits of commerce.” These circuits refer not just to networks of exchange (which could just as easily be described using network terminology) but also shared accounting systems and meanings that enable moral evaluation of the exchanges. Circuits of commerce carve out an area of social life and create boundaries that sustain identity and community interaction. It is through the creation of these circuits that economic exchange expresses culture. Zelizer believes it is impossible to separate the two (hence her rejection of the “hostile worlds” approach). Economic exchange doesn’t destroy culture, it actually produces/reproduces it. Culture is the dependent variable in economic exchange, not the reverse.

Holt’s and Cameron’s book has a different flavor. They’re writing as much to practioners (e.g. brand ma-nagers) as they are to academics. But their conceptual framework is grounded in cultural sociology. I’ve been a fan of Douglas Holt since reading this fascinating article in the Journal of Consumer Research about  branding attempts to co-opt consumer movements. The book follows a similar vein, arguing that brand innovation is often the result of producers figuring out how to take advantage of ideological streams caused by major social disruptions. So, for example, Ben & Jerry’s tapped into an “ideology that responded to [Americans’] collective desires for a commercial counterpoint to Reaganism” (80). By drawing on an opposing cultural toolkit, one more resonant with the ideals and values of hippie culture, they produced a strong brand identity that thrived on the margins, until it eventually became cool and diffused throughout the middle-class. But brands don’t just co-opt cultural movements to create innovations. They argue that brands actually create cultural innovation by pushing the ideological frontier to its extremes and giving consumers products through which to enact that ideology. One can now consume what one believes!

Holt’s and Cameron’s book is full of detailed case studies, some of which work better than others. My biggest disappointment with the book is its unwillingness to push theoretical boundaries. By trying to write to two audiences, practitioners and academics, the book falls short in realizing its theoretical potential. Still, there is much here to like about the production of culture. Given that organizational theorists are just beginning to pay attention to cultural sociology, I expect that someone in our field will take up this kind of argument soon.

Written by brayden king

September 25, 2010 at 6:55 pm

confessions of a social spatial navigator

Network analysts can roughly be divided into two camps: those who look at the “whole” network and those who concentrate on individuals and their “local” set of network connections.  One problem often raised about network analysis is that the two camps have relatively little to do with each other.

Indulging in my side interest in urban transportation planning, I came across a discussion of the different ways that people navigate physical space.  It got me thinking about parallels to the way people navigate social space and about how different people approach the question of social “navigation”.  It speaks to this bridging of the two network camps.

First, some terminology:

Humans have two methods of navigation.  Spatial navigators can construct maps in their heads as they experience a place, and also tend to be good at using maps as navigational aids.  Narrative navigators navigate by creating or following verbal directions.  For spatial navigators, the answer to the question where? is a position in mapped space.  For narrative navigators, the answer to where? is a story about how to get there.  Obviously, this is a spectrum; many of us are in the middle with partial capabilities in both directions.

The same concept, put differently:

[Giuseppe] Iaria and McGill University researcher Véronique Bohbot demonstrated in a study they published six years ago that our mapping strategies fall into two basic categories. One is a spatial strategy that involves learning the relationships between various landmarks—creating a map in your head, in other words, that shows where the flower shop is in relationship to the movie theater and to the Wendy’s. The other is a stimulus-response approach that encodes specific routes by memorizing a series of cues, as in: Get off the bus when you see the glass skyscraper, then walk toward the big park.

Lets put this in terms of social structural navigation.  Say you have a hipster friend who wants to go on a date with a Polish kid who the friend has been eying for a while, but doesn’t see a route in.   Plenty of people think about social structure in the same way that roughly half of the population thinks about physical space; that is in narrative terms: “So, hipster from Williamsburg, you want to figure out how to ask that Polish kid out on a date?  Well, Pauline used to own the store with Mitch, but they split up and he started his own store.  I think that kid works for Mitch and I am going to dinner with Pauline so I can see if she’d ask Mitch to make an introduction.”

Myself, however, I’m a spatial navigator when it comes to physical geography.  When I ask my phone for directions, it initially pops up with a series of “turn left here, go right there” instructions which I ignore completely as I head straight for the map.  I then assess the whole map and adjust the route the computer gives me in light of information I might have, for instance, that I know there’s a really great cupcake shop on a slightly altered route.  In fact, I do this in a lot of areas involving instructions: for instance, I tend to improvise based on recipes I look up rather than following exactly what the cook-book says.

And, not surprisingly, I do it too when it comes to social space.  Rather than specific individuals and their connections, I tend to think in terms of cliques and the key people within those cliques.  Carrying on the example from before:  “Mitch and Pauline don’t talk any more.  No love lost in that breakup.  But, I’ve noticed that Mitch has a few Polish kids who are here for the summer working for him.  I don’t know if this kid is one of them, but I see a bunch of them downing vodka shots at the Pig Wednesday night.  That’s when you and the rest of the hipsters are normally drinking G&Ts at the Governor Bradford.  I can’t guarantee it, but you might want to consider boogieing across the street.  I bet he’ll be there.”

Both approaches will get you to the destination, but the cognitive map that gets you there is different.

This distinction has the potential to be very useful both for how we teach network concepts and also for pointing toward research directions attempting to bridge individual and network levels of analysis.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

August 24, 2010 at 7:31 pm

next year’s political networks conference

My collaborator, Michael Heaney, is helping to organize a networks conference & training session next summer. Here are the details:

“4th Annual Political Networks Conference and Training, June 14-18, 2011

Please SAVE THE DATE on your calendar for the 4th Annual Political Networks Conference and Training to be held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, June 14-18, 2011.

The Conference and Training will be held at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and will be organized roughly as follows:

TRAINING June 14-16

June 14: Conceptual Introduction to Network Analysis (Beginner level) June 15: Computer Applications in Network Analysis (R, Siena) June 16: Specialized Topics in Network Analysis


June 16, 5pm: Keynote Address and reception June 17: First day of panels, plenary address, poster session June 18: Second day of panels, plenary session, business meting

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

July 21, 2010 at 12:16 am

causation in networks

Over at Scatter, Andrew asked about a classic issue in network theory. Is influence really asserted through the tie, or is it really just correlated personal characteristics? Does Brayden influence me because we know each other, or because we tend to think the same things because we are both cool dudes?*

Brendan Nyhan sent me a link a few weeks ago addressing this issue. Here’s the summary of a working paper by Cosma Shalizi and Andrew C. Thomas:

  1. Influence or social contagion: Because they are friends, Joey’s example inspires Irene to jump. Or, more subtly: seeing Joey jump re-calibrate’s Irene’s tolerance for risky behavior, which makes jumping seem like a better idea.
  2. Biological contagion: Joey is infected with a parasite which suppresses the fear of heights and/or falling, and, because they are friends, Joey passes it on to Irene.
  3. Manifest homophily: Joey and Irene are friends because they both like to jump off bridges (hopefully with bungee cords attached).
  4. Latent homophily: Joey and Irene are friends because they are both hopeless adrenaline junkies, and met through a roller-coaster club; their common addiction leads both of them to take up bridge-jumping.
  5. External causation: Sometimes, jumping off a bridge is the only sane thing to do:

Check it out.

* It’s just an example, Brayden. Calm down

Written by fabiorojas

July 13, 2010 at 9:23 pm

god cries orange tears

Written by fabiorojas

July 12, 2010 at 3:36 am

embrace immigrants, don’t divide and conquer

Robert Putnam and Jeb Bush have an editorial in the Washington Post today arguing for more coherent — and embracing — approach to immigration.  They draw on a theme I also touch on in my book.

A century ago, religious, civic and business groups and government provided classes in English and citizenship. Historian Thomas P. Vadasz found that in Bethlehem, Pa., a thriving town of about 20,000, roughly two-thirds of whom were immigrants, the biggest employer, Bethlehem Steel, and the local YMCA offered free English instruction to thousands of immigrants in the early 20th century, even paying them to take classes. Today, immigrants face long waiting lists for English classes, even ones they pay for.

I figure if Fabio can plug his book, then I can too.  In Chapter 4 of Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown, I talk about the differences between how immigrant workers were treated in Bethlehem and Youngstown.  In both places, local elites saw the arrival of new immigrants as a threat.  But they defined the threat differently.  In Bethlehem, the threat was seen as the break down of community.  And so business and civic leaders took action to create bridges to immigrant groups (largely through religious outreach: that is, through organizations like the Young Men’s Christian Association).  This had the effect of forging ties both between the elites and the working classes and among the various ethnic immigrant communities that made up the working class.

Elites in Youngstown interpreted the threat, not in terms of community, but in terms of elite’s interests.  And so their approach took a different form as well:

The connections among founding families forged through their economic, civic and neighborhood ties led elites in Youngstown to circle the wagons against the new arrivals.  The strategy that emerged to deal with the threat was essentially divide and conquer.  By controlling settlement patterns through their control over real estate, [Youngstown’s] founding families fragmented the city’s new immigrant working class into separate ethnic enclaves, a strategy later reinforced by the law-and-order and obviously racially and ethnically divisive approach favored by the Ku Klux Klan.  Ethnic differences among early northern European settlers subsided as salient sources of identity; class interests were forefront in the minds and actions of various groups in [Youngstown region].

It seems to me that we continue to face this choice and Bush and Putnam are (explicitly) advocating for the approach that prevailed in Bethlehem.  History is on their side, as the differences between these two communities turned out to be very important in the long term.  The cross-cutting ties that Vadasz discussed laid the ground work for far more cooperative relationships with labor unions and, indeed, much more control on the part of business owners over Bethlehem’s unions.  The divide and conquer approach in Youngstown sewed mistrust both among workers and, certainly, between workers and company managers.  In the short term, the differences were stark: the Little Steel Strike of 1937 turned violent in Youngstown with dozens of pickets killed.  The strike largely missed Bethlehem and, in general, labor relations and social order were far calmer there.  More importantly, in the long run, the integrative approach that prevailed in Bethlehem made that community far better prepared for the demands of a global economy than Youngstown has proven to be.

(P.S., the BBC has been doing a series on the revival of the US Rust Belt, including a segment on Youngstown).

Written by seansafford

July 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm

a primer on ‘networking’

I have spent the last couple of years using social networks as the basis of both my research and my teaching.  I can geek out about academic terms like network centrality and cliques.  I can tell you about multiplexity and eigenvectors (well, that last one, maybe only sorta).  But then I come across comments like this one from Sam Biddle, re-posted by Andrew Sullivan this morning:

I am not entirely sure what networking is, and I’m not sure anyone else is either. I am somewhat sure that I am not doing it. I’ve been given the gist of it before. I know that it’s all about meeting the right people, and making new contacts, and following up and other italicized things.

Actually, meeting the right people and making new contacts is a fairly ineffective approach to “networking”.  First, you can get much of the information you need through people you already know (or, at least through the people who you know, know).  Second, just meeting the right people isn’t enough.  You have to close the deal.   I study and teach this, and I tell the students in my MBA classes this is the wrong idea.  But, how would a hapless philosophy major know that?  He simply wants to know what the heck is “networking” and how do I do it better? And, we—as a field—have not done a great job of distilling the key ideas and getting them out there.

So here, in very stylized form, is the state of the academic art on “networking”.  (A note to orgheads: there are no “citations” to these ideas, but I’ve provided embedded links to some of the most important ideas.  I hope folks will use the comments section to fill in the (probably copious) holes I’ve left out or errors of interpretation I’ve committed.)

First, I’m going to assume that by networking you mean using social contacts to get something you want, whether that thing is a job, an idea, an investment, etc.  If so, then there are two pieces to the problem of effectively “networking”: search and trust.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

July 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm

geek regeneration

I use the term “geek” lovingly. I consider myself one. I’ve done plenty of geeky things during my life, although I don’t want to admit all any of them here (other than the obvious one). The geek term encompasses a wide variety of behavior. There are many ways to be a geek – you can be a Trekkie, a fantasy baseball nerd, a D&D geek, a blogger, etc. What’s astounding to me is how geek cliques are able to regenerate themselves without any apparent hierarchical help. Today I was reminded of this when I was walking to my building and I stumbled across (literally, they were sitting in the pathway) a group of teens excitedly engaged in some role playing game. They looked exactly like the D&D geeks I remember from my teenage years. Nothing changed. It was as if a band of time traveling geeks from 1990 were experiencing a layover in 2010.

How does this happen? How do geek cultures reproduce themselves from generation to generation? The question really boils down to a more general question about the emergence and reproduction of local cultures. Other kinds of cliques can be explained by institutional support, e.g., high school jocks owe their existence to state subsidies that pay for high school athletic programs, but geek cultures reproduce themselves without the same structural benefits. It’s not just the reappearance of a technology that interests me. It would make sense that kids keep rediscovering role playing games as long as the technology is freely available. But it’s not just the game that gets passed on – there is also a set of cultural knowledge and skills that gets transmitted from one geek cohort to another. What interests me is the transmission of the same culture from one geek clique to another.  Sometimes the transmission seems to skip across geographical divides. The flip side of cultural reproduction is cultural erosion. Why do some geek cultures just disappear all at once, perhaps reappearing several cohorts later (hello rubics cube puzzlers)?

Surely some orghead out there must know of some research that investigates these questions. Someone point a geek admirer in the right direction.

For more orgtheory posts on role playing games, check out Fabio’s dedications to the pastime.

Written by brayden king

July 1, 2010 at 12:46 am

Posted in brayden, culture, networks