Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bridging the gap between structuralist and individualist approaches to social networks

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

Chapter Four: Bridging the gap between structuralist and individualist approaches to social networks. Kilduff and Tsai shine an unflinching and highly amusing light on this seemingly religious rivalry--another good case study for Bion and Shirky.

This chapter, in my opinion, is the single best chapter of the book and all by itself justifies the book's $45 purchase price.

Kilduff and Tsai show us the soap opera of real science. In this episode, individualists have thrown down the gauntlet and decried "the tendency in network analysis towards 'overelaboration of technique and data and an accumulation of trivial results.' (Boissevain)"

In response, "Network researchers tend to be united in their adherence to ... the anti-categorical imperative. This imperative, 'rejects all attempts to explain human behavior ... in terms of categorical attributes of actors.' (Emirbayer)"

Kilduff and Tsai go on, "The typical start to any social network article often involves a ritualistic swipe at those who have previously focused on the attributes of individuals."

After showing us the soap opera, the authors conclude: "There is a pressing need for non-dogmatic research that explores issues concerning how individual differences in cognition and personality relate to the origins and formations of social networks."

Recommend further reading:

Kilduff, M. and Krackhardt, D. 1994. Bringing the individual back in: A structural analysis of the internal market for reputation in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 37:87-108.

Krackhardt, D. and Kilduff, M. 1999. Whether close or far: Social distance effects on perceived balance in friendship networks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76:770-82.

Kumbasar, E.A., Romney, K. and Batchelder, W.H. 1994. Systematic biases in social perception. American Journal of Sociology, 100:477-505.

Mayhew, B.H. 1980. Structuralism versus individualism. Part 1: Shadow boxing in the dark. Social Forces, 59:335-75.

Mehra, A., Kilduff, M. and Brass, D.J. 2001. The social networks of high and low self-monitors: Implications for workplace performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35:121-46.

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