Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

By Christine Hine | Go to book overview

12
The Network Approach to Web Hyperlink
Research and its Utility for Science
Communication

Han Woo Park and Mike Thelwall

Network approaches to research have rapidly developed since the late 1970s, principally in anthropology (Wolfe 1978), sociology (Galaskiewicz and Wasserman 1993), science studies (De Solla Price 1986) and communication science (Monge and Contractor 2000). In this chapter we focus on one set of network analysis techniques, those from social network analysis. In this field a set of social ties among entities of a social system is conceptualized as a network. Network techniques have been developed to examine concrete social relations among specific social actors as well as the effects of network structures on the way in which social systems operate. As a theoretical framework, the goal of one network approach is to identify patterns of relations that exist among social entities (Wellman and Berkowitz 1989; Richards and Barnett 1993; Wasserman and Faust 1994). Further, social network theory explains which factors influence the form and content of network structures. Also, the roles of different types of ties (that is strong and weak ties) and communication channels (ranging from traditional mass media to new interactive technologies) are valid research objects. In particular, the network approach uses a set of analytical techniques and tools (for example, density, centrality, cluster analysis, block modelling, and multidimensional scaling) derived from mathematical graph theory and, recently, statistical physics. These analysis methods provide a means to move beyond just thinking of ties, connections or networks as a metaphor (Rogers 1987). The network research approach has become not only a methodology but also a theoretical perspective. Network analysis is not a narrow set of tools but a broad intellectual approach (Wellman and Berkowitz 1989).

To illustrate the potential of network analysis, we describe its application to the study of science communication. More and more individual scientific researchers and research groups are seeking to communicate with each other via the web, making their research information such as specific results, research data, tools,

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