Mixed-method approaches to social network analysis

Edwards , Gemma (2010) Mixed-method approaches to social network analysis. Discussion Paper. NCRM.

PDF (Methods review paper on Social Network Analysis) - Accepted Version


Social Network Analysis (SNA) has received growing attention in methodological debates in the social sciences. Recent mathematical developments and user-friendly computer programmes for visualising and measuring networks have led to significant advances in quantitative SNA. Amidst these developments, however, there have been calls for the revival of qualitative approaches to social networks, not necessarily to supplant quantitative methods, but to complement them. Quantitative approaches map and measure networks by simplifying social relations into numerical data, where ties are either absent or present. They therefore bracket out questions of crucial importance to understanding the kinds of human interaction networks studied by social scientists. Qualitative approaches, on the other hand, enable analysts to consider issues relating to the construction, reproduction, variability and dynamics of complex social ties. This paper considers the arguments for adopting a mixed-method approach to network analysis, firstly as they arise out of the existing research literature, and secondly, as they have been highlighted in explicit theoretical debates about combining quantitative and qualitative data and analysis. By unpacking the different ways in which researchers have combined quantitative and qualitative methods in network projects it also seeks to provide some guidance for others on ‘how to’ mix methods in SNA. In particular, it reviews literature in which quantitative SNA has been combined with interviews, ethnography and historical archival research and considers the benefits of these strategies. On a theoretical note, the paper considers suggestions that mixing quantitative and qualitative approaches can enable researchers to explore the structure (or form) of networks from an ‘outsider’s’ view, and the content and processes of networks from an ‘insider’s’ view. It also refers to recent discussions which suggest that SNA offers a particular opportunity for mixing methods because networks are both structure and process at the same time, and therefore evade simple categorisation as either quantitative or qualitative phenomena.

Item Type:Working Paper (Discussion Paper)
Subjects:1. Frameworks for Research and Research Designs > 1.22 Mixed Methods
2. Data Collection > 2.12 Data Collection (other)
6. Mixed Methods Data Handling and Data Analysis > 6.1 Social Network Analysis
ID Code:842
Deposited By: NCRM users
Deposited On:01 Feb 2010 10:36
Last Modified:12 Oct 2010 17:42

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