Notes on “Social Network Analysis” (Scott, 2013)

Saturday, 16th August, 2014

book details

Social Network Analysis (3rd ed.)
John Scott
2013 (1st ed. 1991)


Sociology, Marxism and Fascism

Lukacs 1962, in the section on German sociology, presented the sociology of Weber and Simmel as having been developed explicitly as a bulwark against Marxist explanations of society [todo: get quote]. Weber and Simmel were (convincingly, imho) portrayed as lightweight confabulators (especially Simmel).

So here I am reading a sociology textbook — not because I want to criticise sociology, but because I want to learn about social network analysis (sna). It is a very strange peak into a foreign discipline.

Weber and especially Simmel are referred to occasionally and with approval. Simmel is resented as more-or-less the father of sna (e.g., pp. 14, 23).

The antagonism with Marxism (in early sociology at least) is confirmed, with this antagonism continuing in early work in the US. e.g. p. 20:

… the biologist Lawrence Henderson … actively promoted the work of Pareto. Henderson held that this was the only appropriate basis for a truly scientific sociology and that it was, furthermore the only viable political bulwark against revolutionary Marxism.

… Pareto was also the great exponent of elite theory, and Mayo saw that a managerial elite that recognised this influence of group relations on ecomonic motivation could most successfully control worker behaviour.

I can’t remember if Lukacs covered Pareto, but Pareto would have fit nicely into Lukacs’ scheme. Pareto’s link with Italian fascism seems rather closer than, but of the same kind as, that between Simmel and German fascism.

Graph theory, computers

This is a sociology text, written for people without a mathematical or computing background. For example, graphs are described as consisting of points and lines. Graph theory we are told “was first formulated” in 1936 (p. 16). Spreadsheets are recommended as “basic data storage” (p. 52). Unrelated really, but I can’t help relating it, Russian Matryoshka dolls are described as “Russian Babooshka dolls” (p. 107).

Let’s just say these all marked the text as being from a different culture to the texts with which I’m more familiar.

Another more positive marker was that I found only one typo in the whole book (p. 122).


With those two sets of observations out of the way, the book is a very readable, well-written overview of the field. An early chapter gives a history of sna in sociology, and later chapters give overviews of various approaches and techniques. The author does not seem to favour any particular approach.

My overall impression is that the application of graph theory to the study of social networks is fairly ad hoc and that the best way to learn about it is to collect some data and Have A Go.

further reading

As well as various technical leads, the references below looked attractive:


Freeman, L. C. (2004) The development of Social Network Analysis: a study in the sociology of science, Empirical Press.

A bit meta-meta maybe, but the history chapter was v interesting. In particular, a group based around Manchester (e.g. John Barnes) focusing on conflict and change.

Scott, J. & Carrington, P. (eds) (2011) The Sage handbook of Social Network Analysis, Sage.

The author blowing his own trumpet perhaps, but this does look like a solid practical overview of the field.

[none of these seem to be available apart from behind paywalls. tsk]

Brent, E. E. (1985) Relational database structures and concept formation in the social sciences, Computers and the Social Sciences, 1.

Carroll, W. K. & Fenneman, M. (2002) Is there a transnational business community?, International Sociology, 17.

Smith, R. M. (1979) Kin and neighbours in a thirteenth century Suffolk community, Journal of Family History, 4.


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