In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Networks in and Between Organizations

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources and Journals
  • Online Organizational Networks

Management Social Networks in and Between Organizations
Peter Groenewegen, Julie E. Ferguson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0116


Social networks form a core topic in the study of organizational and interorganizational processes. Social network research often focuses on individual-level networks, analyzing and theorizing the relations and structures around single actors or organizations. Individual-level network studies are also considered a part of the interdisciplinary field known as social capital studies, which seek to explain why actors differ in terms of access to resources. Social network research also often focuses on the relations among a bounded group of individuals or organizations, who together form complete networks. In the interpretation of the network patterns that emerge when mapping social relations, both the presence and the absence of relationships are of significance in terms of explaining social phenomena. The basic units in network analysis comprise nodes (the distinct units engaging in a relation), and ties (the connection between nodes). Network research focuses on relations as its main focus of investigation, so the minimum unit of analysis is a dyad, or a set of two nodes engaging in a relation. The topic of organizational social networks builds on a diverse scholarly background, including mathematics, sociology, social psychology, economics, and organization sciences; besides these scholarly domains, the topic of social networks is also increasingly adopted as a theoretical framework in, among others, the humanities, computer sciences, health sciences, disaster studies, and beyond. However, overall, the topic can be categorized along three broadly defined areas of interest. The first is attention to the formation of network structures, and how organizational outcomes can be attributed to the structural effects of networks; the second, receiving increasing attention, is the dynamic evolution of network processes; third, structural analyses have attended to different organizational configurations, and how these impact on network effects (such as contagion, diffusion, homophily)—and vice versa.


Many textbooks are devoted to analyzing social network processes in a broad context, but they can also be aptly applied to the study of organizational processes. Many introductory textbooks address the historical background to social network analysis, often discerning micro-, meso-, and macro-level analyses, as in Kadushin 2012, and then zooming in on the methodological dimensions of graphs and matrices derived through social network analysis, such as Prell 2012. The latter also contains a useful summary of the historical background of social network theory (Prell 2012, chapter 3). Kilduff and Tsai 2003 is a widely used, organization-specific textbook, while Scott 2013, currently in its third edition, provides a useful general introduction. Borgatti, et al. 2013 is an analysis-oriented textbook, while the choices in network research are well covered by Robins 2015. Deriving from the neighboring areas of computer science and economics, Easley and Kleinberg 2010 provides a comprehensive and accesible text for techical details.

  • Borgatti, Stephen, Martin Everett, and Jeffrey Johnson. Analyzing Social Networks. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013.

    A methodologically oriented textbook that focuses on design issues, data collection, and key concepts. Its contents are closely related to the general structure of the software program UCINET for software analysis developed and maintained by Borgatti and colleagues.

  • Easley, David, and Jon Kleinberg. Networks, Crowds and Markets: Reasoning about a highly Connected World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511761942

    A comprehensive introduction to social network concepts, also covering game theory, strategic interaction, and network dynamics in markets and institutions.

  • Kadushin, Charles. Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts and Findings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Provides a useful conceptual basis for understanding social network theory at different levels of analysis, but also refers to other works for the methodological operationalization.

  • Kilduff, Martin, and Wenpin Tsai. Social Networks and Organizations. London: SAGE, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781849209915

    This accessible textbook can serve as a general theoretical and methodological introduction. It also addresses psychological aspects of social networks in organizations and network dynamics, and offers a critical research agenda for social network research.

  • Prell, Christina. Social Network Analysis: History, Theory and Methodology. London: SAGE, 2012.

    An introduction to the background and theoretical premises of network research, while also addressing the conceptual and methodological complexities at the different levels of network analysis. Chapter 3 includes the origins of social network research in social psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

  • Robins, Garry. Doing Social Network Research. London: SAGE, 2015.

    An introductory textbook focusing on methodological issues and oriented toward researchers familiar with social science research.

  • Scott, John. Social Network Analysis. 3d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013.

    Providing an overview of theories and methods, this textbook is widely used as a general introduction to social network research.

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