Defining a Social Network

The old adage “no man is an island” and “nobody lives in a vacuum” are true. We live in a complex network of relationships and communities that shape our worldview, behavior and influence our daily behavior.  A social network is the socio-cultural group made up of individuals or institutions called “nodes.” These are connected by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as profession, title, kinship, common interest, dislike, etc. They can also be constructed around relationships of beliefs, knowledge or power. Social webs help illustrate the multivariate roles people play across a range of socio-cultural strata.

So why exactly does it matter?  Simply put, knowing a target’s social network is the gateway to ethnographic insight. Remember, in a social network:

  • Subjects and their actions are viewed as interdependent rather than independent or autonomous units
  • Relational ties (linkages) between subjects are channels for resource flow (either material or nonmaterial)
  • Network models focusing on individuals view the network structural environment as providing opportunities for or constraints on individual action
  • Network models conceptualize structure (social, economic, political and so forth)

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