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Social Networks

A Social network is a theoretical construct useful in the social sciences to study relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, or even entire societies (social units, see differentiation). The term is used to describe a social structure determined by such interactions. The ties (sometimes called edges, links, or connections) in the structure are called “nodes”. The nodes through which any given social unit connects represents the convergence of the various social contacts of that unit. Many kinds of relationships may form the “network” between such nodes, but interpersonal “bridges” are a defining characteristic of social networks. Social network approaches are useful for modeling and explaining many social phenomena. The theoretical approach is, necessarily, relational. An axiom of the social network approach to understanding social interaction is that social phenomena should be primarily conceived and investigated through the properties of relations between and within units, instead of the properties of these units themselves. Thus, one common criticism of social network theory is that individual agency is essentially ignored, although this is not the case in practice (see agent-based modeling). Precisely because many different types of relations, singular or in combination, form into a network configuration, network analytics are useful to a broad range of research enterprises. In social science, these fields of study include, but are not limited to anthropology, biology, communication studies, economics, geography, information science, organizational studies, social psychology, sociology, and sociolinguistics. Scholars in these and other areas have used the idea of “social network” loosely for almost a century to connote complex sets of relationships between members of social units across all scales of analysis, from the local to the global as well as the scale-free.

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