Chapter 2
The Development of Social Network Analysis


There are numerous very diverse strands in the development of present-day social network analysis. These strands have intersected and fused with one another at various times, only to diverge once more on to their separate paths. Nevertheless, a clear lineage for the mainstream of social network analysis can be constructed from this complex history. In this lineage there are three main lines: the sociometric analysts, who produced many technical advances by using the methods of graph theory; the Harvard researchers of the 1930s, who explored patterns of interpersonal relations and the formation of 'cliques'; and the Manchester anthropologists, who built on both of these strands to investigate the structure of 'community' relations in tribal and village societies (Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1 The lineage of social network analysis

8 Social network analysis

A group of emigr6s from Germany to the United States were working, during the 1930s, on topics in cognitive and social psychology. This work, influenced by Wolfgang K6hler's 'gestalt' theory, stimulated a considerable amount of research on the problems of sociometry and 'group dynamics'. Using laboratory methods or laboratory-like case studies, they looked at group structure and at the flow of information and ideas through groups. At the same time, anthropologists and sociologists at Harvard University were developing some of the ideas of the British social anthropologist Radcliffe-Brown in the direction of a concern with the interdependence of the structural elements in social systems. Their work produced a number of important factory and community studies, which emphasized the importance of informal, interpersonal relations in all social systems. In Britain, a parallel line of development from the work of Radcliffe-Brown emphasized the analysis of conflict and contradiction in social systems, and a whole school of social anthropologists, based principally at Manchester University, applied these ideas to the study of African tribal societies and, a little later, to rural and small town Britain. These writers built on the earlier traditions and made considerable advances in allying mathematics with substantive social theory. Not until well into the 1960s, however, did the final breakthrough to a well-developed methodology of social network analysis occur, and this event took place back at Harvard. Harrison White began to extend his investigations of the mathematical basis of social structure, forging together some of the key insights of his North American predecessors and creating a unique synthesis which was developed and enlarged by the students that he trained. In the hands of these students, as they moved through their careers to departments across the world, the arguments of White and the work of the British researchers were united into a complex but increasingly coherent framework of social network analysis.

In this chapter, I shall give a brief outline of the three main lines of social network analysis and of the leading innovations of the Harrison White group at Harvard. This review will highlight a number of the continuing topics of debate in social network analysis, and I will give some indication of how these are rooted in the central substantive concerns of sociology.

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