Trends in Social Network Analysis

Essay by snjalil1College, UndergraduateB+, August 2009

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The notion of a social network--a set or sets of relationships among individuals, groups, organizations, countries, or other kinds of social entities--is certainly not a new concept in sociology or, for that matter, in any of the other social sciences. Earlier applications of the idea that individuals or organizations were linked to one another through kinship, friendship, trade agreements, or other types of relations ranged from the broadly conceptual to the mathematically explicit. Such work, for example, explored the relational properties of individual actors within these networks noting that certain actors (i.e., individuals or organizations) tended to be centrally located (e.g., have many strong or intense relations), possibly denoting power, prestige, or control. At the other extreme, actors who are less well connected to others in a network, or who are isolated, may be deviant, antisocial, or socially marginal. This center-periphery notion, for example, has been used to study small-group performance, the diffusion of innovations, support mobilization, community elites, voting behavior, and the role of social support in enhancing mental and physical well-being.

Recently, there have been important methodological and theoretical developments in the area of social network analysis that complement some of the more classical ideas concerning "status," "role," "social identity," and "action," discussed by theorists such as Linton (1936), Merton (1957), Nadel (1957), and Parsons (1951). The following is an example of how these recent network theories are becoming applied in solving a theoretical dilemma in research on the diffusion of innovations.

Networks and the Diffusion of InnovationsOver the last fifty years a great deal of research has concentrated on innovation diffusion or the adoption of new technologies among, for example, farmers, fishermen, and corporations within an industry. This research has produced a vast array of hypotheses-often conflicting--concerning who will adopt a new technology and when. To a...