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Social Network Analysis as a Research Method: A Cutting-Edge Technique That Visually Demonstrates Relationships

Network Data Format

Relational data has two basic components:

     - Nodes (also called vertices) can represent people, organizations, documents, computers, and so on.
     - Ties (also links, relations, edges) can be based on friendship, collaboration, information sharing, resource exchange, etc.

Adjacency and Affiliation

There are two major types of networks that you may need to use in community research: adjacency and affiliation networks. Adjacency networks consist of a single type of nodes and the links between them (example: friendship networks). Affiliation (or two-mode) networks have two types of nodes, often called actors and events. The events, as their name indicates, can be social occasions - but they may also be clubs, teams, companies, schools, topics, preferences, and so on. In affiliation networks there are no direct ties between actors. They are indirectly linked through their affiliation with the same events (they go to the same school, work for the same company, frequent the same pub, drink the same brand of beer, etc.)

Network ties

Networks can be directed or undirected. Links in undirected networks are by definition reciprocal: if Tom has a family relationship with Jill, then Jill will also have one with Tom. Links in directed networks are not necessarily reciprocated:  I go to my physician for health consultations, yet the good doctor will not ask my advice on health issues.


Network positions

There are a number of important roles that nodes can have within a network:

  • Star- An actor who is highly central (has many connections)
  • Liaison - An actor who has links to two or more groups that would otherwise not be linked, but is not a member of either group.
  • Bridge - An actor - or edge - linking two or more groups (strict definitions may require that no other link between the two groups exists)
  • Gatekeeper - An actor who is in position to mediate or control the flow between two parts of the network
  • Isolate - An actor who has no links to other actors



The Network as a Matrix

There are multiple ways to present and store network data. One of them that you will need to be familiar with is the matrix form. Adjacency networks are presented as square tables with each row and column corresponding to a single network node.  Look at the example below: there are four nodes in this small network, and it is represented by a square 4-by-4 matrix. You will notice that row X of column Y equals 1 if there is a link from node X to node Y (and it is 0 if there is no link).

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