Development and Deployment of Social Network Analysis: a Sociological Overview
Social Policy Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas Lisbon, Portugal
How does social network analysis (SNA) matter to the sociological theory? This paper examines the emergence of SNA, its contribution to the development of sociological theory, and reflections to sociological methods. Lead by the sociological founding fathers such as Durkheim, Comte or Georg Zimmel, the late nineteen century was considered the pre-history of this emergent perspective. Although the relational perspective emerged with the first sociologists, only in the seventies it was recognized as a research field. This paper analyses the key seminal sociological contributions to SNA paradigm in three different periods. First, the pre-history. Second, the beginning with Moreno and sociometry; Manchester with European anthropologists; Harvard and Harrison C. White network. Third: the analysis of the emergent research field and its different paradigm features. At the same time some leading scholars, such as Wellman and Freeman with the goal of network analysis taking off created the journal, newsletter and conferences on this new field. More recently in the late 1990s but grounded in the 60s research, a group of physicists developed the paradigm of the 'small world problem' and examined the structural properties of social groups. The advantages of the graphic visualizations and computer software packages expanded SNA to different audiences and publics. What are the main key features to this emergent paradigm? How does SNA matter to sociology of science? How does Europe contribute to this state of the art? How has SNA been grounded in sociology? In a critical analysis, this paper provides a comprehensive overview of these research questions and examines substantive areas in which social network analysis has been applied such as: business, epidemiology, terrorism, urban studies, social policy or physics.