NORRAG's transformation, in 1992, into a network of the associative type provides an excellent opportunity to define with more precision the notion of network. The concept is fashionable today but, like all trends, in fields as varied as interpersonal psychology, sociology, geography, history, engineering, urban management, mathematics, and even more, network is in fact an old notion.
In French the equivalent of network, réseau, originates from the Latin retis, "net." The réseuil (nowadays: résille, "hairnet") referred, as from the Renaissance, to a net women used to keep their hair up. During the seventeenth century the word réseau was a technical and popular term used by weavers and wickerworkers to qualify the warp and woof of textile or vegetable fibers. The notion developed during the eighteenth century in a military context for engineering and fortifications. It is during the nineteenth century that doctors started talking about the réseau sanguin, "blood stream," and that topographers used the notion of network referring to space triangulation.1 Today, network has become a concept used not only in technical fields (territory, communications), but also organizational fields (network firms) and social fields (relation networks, information circuits). This discussion pays attention only to the social dimension of networks--"networks are nothing if they are not social networks" ( Mulgan, 1991, p. 6)--without neglecting of course that relations cannot be established without technical supports.
Analyzing society in terms of networks is a recent trend, about forty years old if we do not include J. L. Moreno's sociometric approach in 1934. Barnes ( 1969) followed by Bott ( 1971) are the first to have proposed to overrule the structuralist- functionalist tendency. "Rather than starting off with a classification--a priori--of the observable world into a series of discontinued classifications, they start off with a set of relations from which they branch off figurations and social structure typologies. They therefore put forward propositions starting off from the whole to
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Publication information: Book title: Crossing Lines:Research and Policy Networks for Developing Country Education. Contributors: Noel F. McGinn - Editor. Publisher: Praeger Publishers. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 57.
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