Social Networks

What is social network analysis?

‘Social network analysis’ (SNA) can be considered simultaneously as a theoretical approach and as a specific methodology. The basic premise of network analysts is that the social embeddedness of actors within a web of specific relationships says something about their position in society. Thus, network researchers do not regard social systems as a collection of isolated actors with certain categorical characteristics. Rather, their attention is directed toward examining the relations of the actors in a social network, describing its pattern(s) as well as understanding the emergence of such specific network structures. These patterns of embeddedness in social relations do not emerge by chance, but should be regarded as structural patterns which are therefore intrinsically linked with the possibilities, as well as the constraints, of the social actions of the actors; thus, social networks influence the resources available to actors.

Our focus: Qualitative social network analysis, regarding issues of migration, mobility and ethnicity

While SNA has today in general a strong quantitative orientation, we mainly work and develop qualitative-interpretative approaches, using ego-centric networks, following a research tradition which evolved in the 1970s among urban social anthropologists (Manchester School), and which experienced a revival over the last few years. Our researchers are pioneering qualitative network analysis, particularly in the field of migration, mobility, and ethnicity. SNA is well suited in order to tackle the various critiques which have been formulated towards migration and mobility studies, particularly the critiques of methodological nationalism and groupism as well as the tendency to categorize groups a priori in terms of ethnicity: As SNA places the focus on the structure of social relations rather than on preliminary (ethnically, nationally) defined groups, the exploration of multilevel and crosscutting ties are explored, which in turn allows the “unbounding” of problematic concepts such as “ethnicity”, “groups” and ‘culture’.

We investigate topics as diversified as the following:

  • The structures and development of ‘mobility networks’ of early career researchers circulating transnationally between different universities with regard to gender and career progression.
  • The way family, ethnicity and gender is‘done’ in ‘marriage networks’ in the case of cross-border-marriages of non-European-migrants under conditions of restrictive migration regimes and ethnicization of migrant marriages in immigration countries
  •  The diversity which characterizes contemporary cities, as reflected in the social networks of the inhabitants, and the role played by ethnicity and other categories of difference in the network structures
  •  The structures and meanings of transnational networks among migrants as well as non-migrants and their links to the transnationalisation processes which are currently at stake in post-industrialized societies
  • ‘Mobility and support networks’ of mine workers circulating between different African countries, and the resources and meanings they incorporate
  • The structures of co-authorship research networks and the relationship between the positions in this network and citation-based research performance.