Social network theory

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Social network theory



Alternate name(s)

Network theory, network analysis

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Node size, density, link strength

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Nodes, links

Concise description of theory

Social network theory views social relationships in terms of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual actors within the networks, and ties are the relationships between the actors. There can be many kinds of ties between the nodes. In its most simple form, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines.

The power of social network theory stems from its difference from traditional sociological studies, which assume that it is the attributes of individual actors -- whether they are friendly or unfriendly, smart or dumb, etc. -- that matter. Social network theory produces an alternate view, where the attributes of individuals are less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the network. This approach has turned out to be useful for explaining many real-world phenomena, but leaves less room for individual agency, the ability for individuals to influence their success, so much of it rests within the structure of their network.

Social networks have also been used to examine how companies interact with each other, characterizing the many informal connections that link executives together, as well as associations and connections between individual employees at different companies. These networks provide ways for companies to gather information, deter competition, and even collude in setting prices or policies.

Source: Wikipedia

Social network theory, however, is not to be confused with Social networking. The correct source for independent and dependent constructs is: Wikipedia

Diagram/schematic of theory


Source: Biehl. M., Kim, H. and Wade, M., “Relations Among the Business Management Disciplines: A Citation Analysis using the Financial Times Journals”, OMEGA, 34, pp. 359-371, 2006.

Originating author(s)

Stanley Milgram: small worlds problem, six degrees of separation

Mark Granovetter: the strength of weak ties

John Barnes, J. Clyde Mitchell: first to study social networks in the field

Seminal articles

Barnes, J. (1954). Class and Committees in a Norwegian Island Parish. Human Relations, 7, 39-58.

Burkhardt, M.E. (1994). Social interaction effects following a technological change: a longitudinal investigation. Academy of Management Journal, 37, 869-898.

Burt, R.S. (1992). Structural holes: the social structure of competition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Feeley, T.H., & Barnett, G.A. (1996). Predicting employee turnover from communication networks. Human Communication Research, 23, 370-387.

Freeman, L. C. (1979). Centrality in Social Networks: Conceptual clarification. Social Networks,1, 215-239.

Freeman, L.C., White, D.R., & Romney, A.K. (1992). Research methods in social network analysis. New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Publishers.

Granovetter, Mark;(1973)"The strength of weak ties"; The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, No. 6., May 1973, pp 1360-1380

M.S. Granovetter., "The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited," Social Structure and Network Analysis (P.V. Marsden and N. Lin, Eds.). Sage, Beverly Hills CA, 1982, pp. 105-130.

Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of information exchange. Library and Information Science Research, 18, 323-342.

Ibarra, H., & Andrews, S. B. (1993). Power, social influence, and sense making: Effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38, 277-303.

Meyer, G.W. (1994). Social information processing and social networks: A test of social influence mechanisms. Human Relations, 47, 1013-1048.

Milgram, S. (1967) "The Small World Problem," Psychology Today, (May), pp. 60-67.

Monge, P.R., & Contractor, N.S. (2003). Theories of communication networks. New York: Oxford University Press.

Moody, J., & White, D.R. (2003). "Social Cohesion and Embeddedness," American Sociological Review, 68, 103-127.

Pollock, T.G., Whitbred, R.C., & Contractor, N. (2000). Social information processing and job characteristics: A simultaneous test of two theories with implications for job satisfaction. Human Communication Research, 26, 292-330.

Rice, R.E., & Richards, W.D. (1985). An overview of network analysis methods and programs. In: B. Dervin & M.J. Voight (Eds.), Progress in communication sciences (pp. 105-165). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co.

Scott, J. (2000). Social Network Analysis: A handbook. Second edition. London: Sage.

Wasserman, S., and Faust, K. (1994). Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watts, D. Small Worlds, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999.

Watts, D., Strogatz, S. H. "Collective Dynamics of Small-World Networks," Nature (393), 1998, pp. 440-442.

Originating area

Social psychology, Social anthropology, Mathematical sociology, Psychometrics,

Level of analysis

Individual, group, network

IS articles that use the theory

Baym, N.K. 1995. The emergence of community in computer-mediated communication. In Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. S.G. Jones, pp. 138-163. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Biehl. M., Kim, H. and Wade, M., “Relations Among the Business Management Disciplines: A Citation Analysis using the Financial Times Journals”, OMEGA, 34, pp. 359-371, 2006.

Burkhardt, M.E. & Brass, D.J. (1990). Changing patterns and patterns of change - The effects of a change in technology on social network structure and power. ASQ, 35(1), 104-127.

Chidambaram, L., & Bostrom, R. P. (1997a). Group development (I): A review & synthesis of developmental models. Group Decision & Negotiation, 6, 159-187.

Chidambaram, L., & Bostrom, R.P. (1997b). Group development (II): Implications for GSS research and practice. Group Decision & Negotiation, 6, 231-254.

Constant, D., Sproull, L., and Keisler, S. (1996). The kindness of strangers: The usefulness of weak ties for technical advice, Organization Science, 119-135.

G. DeSanctis and M.S. Poole, "Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive structuration theory," Organization Science 5(2), 1982, pp. 121-147.

M. Feldman, "Electronic mail and weak ties in organizations," Office: Technology and People, 3, 1987, pp. 83-101.

L. Freeman, "The impact of computer based communication on the social structure of an emerging scientific specialty," Social Networks 6, 1984, pp. 201-221.

L. Garton, C. Haythornthwaite, and B. Wellman,, "Studying online social networks," Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 3(1), 1997,

C. Haythornthwaite, "Online personal networks," New Media and Society, 2(2), 2000, pp. 195-226.

C. Haythornthwaite, "Exploring multiplexity: Social network structures in a computer-supported distance learning class," The Information Society, forthcoming.

C. Haythornthwaite, M.M. Kazmer, J. Robins, and S. Shoemaker, "Community development among distance learners," Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2000.

Greg Madey, Vincent Freeh, Renee Tynan “The Open Source Software Development Phenomenon: An Analysis Based On Social Network Theory”, AMCIS, 2002

L. Sproull, and S. Kiesler, "Reducing social context cues: Electronic mail in organizational computing," Management Science 32(11), 1986, pp. 1492-1512.

Sudweeks, F., M.L. Mclaughlin, and S. Rafaeli (Eds.), Network and Netplay. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1998.

Wade, M., Kim, H. and Biehl, M., "Information Systems is NOT a Reference Discipline (And What We Can Do About It)", Journal of AIS, Vol. 7 No. 5, pp. 247-268, May 2006.

Wade, M., Kim, H. and Biehl, M., "If the Tree of IS Knowledge Falls in a Forest, Will Anyone Hear?: A Commentary on Grover et al.", Journal of AIS, Vol. 7 No. 5, pp. 326-335, May 2006.

J.B. Walther, "Relational aspects of computer-mediated communication," Organization Science, 6(2), 1995, pp. 186-203.

B. Wellman, J. Salaff, D. Dimitrova, L. Garton, M. Gulia, and C. Haythornthwaite "Computer networks as social networks," Annual Review of Sociology 22, 1996, pp. 213-238.

Links from this theory to other theories

Actor network theory, General systems theory, Organizational knowledge creation

External links, Description of Social Network Services, Research paper on recent research in SNT, Description of SNT, Book chapter on SNT

Original Contributor(s)

Mike Wade

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