Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Social networks and organizations: Understanding the research

My book report on Social Networks and Organizations, by Kilduff and Tsai. Part Two of a Series.

Chapter Two: Understanding Social Network Research. Kilduff and Tsai discuss the scientific ancestry of SNA and highlight the major distinctive concepts of the field. They state their case thus:
"At its best, network research has several distinctive features that differentiate it from traditional approaches in the social sciences:
  1. Network research focuses on relations and the patterns of relations rather than on attributes of actors;
  2. Network research is amenable to multiple levels of analysis, and can thus provide micro-macro linkages;
  3. Network research can integrate quantitative, qualitative, and graphical data, allowing more thorough and in-depth analysis.
None of these features is well established in traditional approaches in the social sciences."
The authors present Exhibit A: Bruce Kapferer's analysis of strategy and transaction in an African factory. Their use of this case study is notable for a few reasons:
  • It was published in 1972 and so defuses the trendy stigma of ONA
  • Kapferer's study begins with a preface by his mentor J. Clyde Mitchell, who says, "Kapferer himself has argued cogently that social networks do not by themselves constitute a 'theory'. ... He must go beyond these data for an adequate explanation of the events he is considering." This defuses the network zealotry mention by Kilduff and Tsai in their own book's introduction, and sets up their next chapter: "Is there social network theory?"
  • The actual story observed by Kapferer involves the emergence of organized labor in one particular African factory. As the story opens, the workers are too decentralized to influence management. By the end, the workforce is much more centralized and successfully organizes a strike against the factory owners. I can almost hear Kilduff and Tsai snickering at the thought of management consultants trying to use this case study to sell SNA to some CEO. Everything about the story is backwards from the way we commonly preach networks and collaboration today.
  • The analysis by Kapferer is both strikingly thorough and strikingly ignorant of related research that is easy to see with hindsight. I guess scientists are only human after all.

At the end of this chapter, Kilduff and Tsai recommend further reading, including:

Nohria, N. and Eccles, R.G. (eds). 1992. Networks and organizations: Structure, form and action. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. A broad cross-sectional collection of SNA work.

Scott, J. 2000. Social network analysis: A handbook. 2nd edn. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. The best SNA handbook available.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

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