Encyclopedia of Social Networks

Article excerpt

Encyclopedia of Social Networks. Ed. by George A. Barnett. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage Reference, 2011. 2 vols. $350 (ISBN: 978-1-4129-7911-5). E-book available, call for pricing.

Many people probably think that "social networking" merely concerns interactions (often ephemeral ones) through online technologies. Yet the Encyclopedia of Social Networks shows that such media are only the most recent means of a social phenomenon that has been engaging us for thousands of years. As editor George A. Barnett explains, a social network is "a system, composed of a set of social actors ... and a collection of social relations ... which specify how these actors are relationally tied" (viii). Such networks can and do exist independent of technology and comprise a rich field of scholarly enquiry.

This broad outlook stems from the editor who assembled an international team of authors from academia and research organizations. Barnett himself is chair of the Department of Communication at the University of California-Davis and is a frequently cited author in the area of international communication networks. Together, they produced about four hundred entries introducing readers to many important aspects of the topic.

Besides currently-popular networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the encyclopedia provides background information on many other types of social networks, including alumni networks, artist communities, dieting networks, fan networks, kinship, games communities, mothers communities, neighborhood organizations, religious communities, and more. This coverage will likely expand readers' understanding of the many social structures that operate in human lives, including their own.

Another unique aspect of this work is its emphasis on the history and cultural aspects of social networking, which extend all the way back to trade routes in Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, and the like. A handy "Chronology" (xxxiii-xxxix) emphasizes the point. …