Fundamentals of Social Networks

Fundamentals of Social Networks

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5158-4.ch001

Abstract

A social network is comprised of a finite set of actors, who are social entities. These entities can be discrete individuals, corporate, or collective social units. They are related to each other through some relations, establishing some linkage among them. Social networks have grown in popularity as they enable researchers to study not only social actors but their social relationships. Moreover, many important aspects of societal networks and their study lead to the study of behavioural science. The scientific study of network data can reveal important behaviour of the elements involved and social trends. It also provides insight for suitable changes in the social structure and roles of individuals in it. Important aspects of societal life are organised as networks. The importance of networks in society has put social network analysis at the forefront of social and behavioural science research. The presence of relational information is a critical and defining feature of a social network. This chapter explores social networks.
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Social Network Analysis

Scientific study of social network data can reveal many important behaviours of the elements involved and social trends and provides insight for suitable changes in the social structure and roles of individuals in it. There are many evidences which indicate the precious value of social network analysis in shedding light on social behaviour, health and well- being of the general public. Social network analysis provides a formal, conceptual means for thinking about the social world. Freeman has argued that the methods of social network analysis provide formal statements about social properties and processes. Social network analysis thus allows a flexible set of concepts and methods with broad interdisciplinary appeal. It provides a formal, conceptual means for thinking about the social world. It is based on an assumption of the importance of relationships among interacting units. Of critical importance for the development of methods for social network analysis is the fact that the unit of analysis in network analysis is not the individual but an entity consisting of a collection of individuals, each of whom in turn is tied to a few, some or many others, and so on. It attempts to solve analytical problems that are nonstandard. The data are analyzed using social network methods and are quite different from the data typically encountered in social methods encountered in social and behavioural sciences. However, social network analysis is explicitly interested in the interrelatedness of social units. The dependencies among the units are measured with structural variables. Theories that incorporate network ideas are distinguished by propositions about the relations among social units. Such theories argue that units are not acting independently from one another but rather influence each other. Focusing on such structural variables opens up a different range of possibilities for and constraints on data analysis and model building. Instead of analyzing individual behaviours, attitudes and beliefs, social network analysis focuses its attention on social entities or actors in interaction with one another and on how these interactions constitute a framework or structure that can be studied and analysed in its own right (Wasserman & Faust, 1994).

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