In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Network Analysis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General Textbooks
  • Methodological Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Methodological Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Associations
  • Conferences
  • Software
  • Theory
  • Data
  • Social Cohesion
  • Positions and Roles
  • Centrality
  • Social Capital
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Network Dynamics
  • Social Contagion
  • Qualitative and Mixed Methods Approaches
  • Network Visualization
  • Network Science

Communication Social Network Analysis
Peter J. Carrington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0100


Since its beginnings in the 1930s, social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a major paradigm for social theory and research in such areas as communication, organizations, markets, community, the family and marriage, small group dynamics, social support, social mobility, and animal behavior. It is used by researchers in such disciplines as sociology, social anthropology, social psychology, political science, history, communication science, economics, epidemiology, criminology, ethnology, ethology, physics, and information science. At the heart of SNA are three insights, or assumptions: that social relations are more important than individual attributes in understanding human society; that the structure of social relations is more important than their content; and that social relations can be represented by graphs of points and lines, which can then be analyzed visually, or using the concepts, theorems, and methods of graph theory. Like any mathematical approach to social research, SNA strips away the unique details of social situations to reveal, or model, the underlying structures. By doing so, it enables the researcher to identify similarities across widely disparate contexts. For example, Harrison White, one of the founders of SNA, wrote that “subinfeudation reminds one of industrial decentralization” (Monograph 2, Philadelphia, A. N. S. and American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia: The Academy, 1963, p. 77), a medieval system of land tenure and political allegiance that is structurally similar to modern corporate organization. Seeing these similarities enables the researcher to benefit from insights from many radically different fields of study; Albert-László Barabási, a physicist, pointed out that friendship networks share the property of extreme inequality of degree with many other types of networks, such as computer networks and air traffic networks—that is, a few people have many more friends than do others, and people with many friends are more likely to acquire new friends. The same mathematical network model describes this aspect of computer networks, air traffic networks, and friendship networks, and lessons learned from one of these areas of research can potentially be used in the others. In summary, SNA is a fundamentally relational or structural approach to social theory and a primarily graph-theoretical approach to analyzing data.

General Overviews

The only recent comprehensive overview of social network analysis (SNA) is the collection Scott and Carrington 2011; older collections can be found in the section Anthologies. Recent shorter overviews are in Caldarelli and Catanzaro 2012, Carrington 2014, Carrington and Scott 2011, and Marin and Wellman 2011. The books cited in the General Textbooks section also provide short introductory overviews of SNA. The International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) website (see also Associations) gives an overview of the field. Much of the research in SNA is methodological, and the Wasserman and Faust 1994 handbook gives a detailed exposition of this, although it necessarily omits the huge advances made since the early 1990s.

  • Caldarelli, Guido, and Michele Catanzaro. 2012. Networks: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199588077.001.0001

    This is a very short book indeed, written by a theoretical physicist and a science journalist (with a PhD in complex networks). Its approach reflects the recent Network Science approach that treats social networks as merely one type of network and emphasizes properties of networks rather than their social meaning. It better serves as a brief introduction to networks and network analysis in general, rather than an introduction to social network analysis in particular.

  • Carrington, Peter J. 2014. Social network research. In Mixed methods social networks research. Edited by Silvia Domínguez and Betina Hollstein, 35–64. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139227193

    A general introduction to social network analysis, including its history and main concepts, with illustrative references to examples of research. It argues that social network analysis is neither quantitative, nor qualitative, nor both; but rather, structural: that is, it models social structure using the nonquantitative mathematical objects called graphs or networks.

  • Carrington, Peter J., and John Scott. 2011. Introduction. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis. Edited by John Scott and Peter J. Carrington, 1–8. London: SAGE.

    Brief introduction to SNA, including history, concepts, and methods.

  • International Network for Social Network Analysis.

    This website provides much information about SNA research, researchers, publications, and events.

  • Marin, Alexandra, and Barry Wellman. 2011. Social network analysis: An introduction. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis. Edited by John Scott and Peter J. Carrington, 11–25. London: SAGE.

    Brief introduction to SNA, including history, principles, theories, and data.

  • Scott, John, and Peter J. Carrington, eds. 2011. The SAGE handbook of social network analysis. London: SAGE.

    Comprehensive overview of SNA with thirty-eight chapters, each summarizing the literature in one area of SNA. Covers theory, methods, and empirical research.

  • Wasserman, Stanley, and Katherine Faust. 1994. Social network analysis: Methods and applications. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511815478

    Classic and authoritative handbook of SNA research methods with numerous research examples up to the early 1990s.

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