Social Network Theory

Social Network Theory (SNT) focuses on the relationship between two or more actors. The main concepts, then, are the actors also called nodes, and their relationship, or tie.  SNT is unique in that it is considered both a theory and a method.

Network Analysis Image from my methods class

It is a theory since it helps explain how social structure, network position, and overall network composition impacts behaviors and outcomes. Since this theory is focused on relationships, the have been measures developed to capture the nature of the relationships, which is why this is also a method. For example distance measures the paths between actors, centrality describes how important an actor is, and equivalence focuses on actors that occupy similar positions within a network.

This theory is focused on interpersonal relations, networks of organizations, location in a network of relations as well as the structure of the network affect organizational behavior and outcomes (White, Boorman & Breiger 1976). Furthermore, this theory vies the he activities of individual actors as inseparable from the context of relationships that they are embedded within (Granovetter, 1985).

As it is evident, the unit of analysis for this theory is the connection between to actors (which can be defined as individuals, organizations, countries, etc.).

This theory requires the use of unique vocabulary:

  • Node: the unit of analysis
    • Centrality: overall measurement of a node importance in the network
    • Distance: number of hops between a node and a specified other
  • Dyadic concepts: aspects of the relationship between two units
    • Tie strength: ties can be valued
    • Weak ties: indirect connections between nodes that are brokered by a third node
  • Structural concepts: aspects of the relationship between unites across the network
    • Centralization: the extent to which ties are consolidated to a few key nodes
    • Subgroups/communities: the existence of identifiable sub-clusters within the larger network
    • Structural holes: gaps in the network structure that are bridged by a single factor
    • Structural equivalence: idea that structurally similar positions well create similar outcomes
  • Density: percentage of potential ties that actually exist
(Adapted from course notes)
(Flashcards and other resources here)


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