Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings

By Charles Kadushin | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

“NETWORKING” SEEMS TO be on everyone lips. No one simply goes to a party anymore. They go to network. For many people, the World Wide Web exists for the main purpose of making connections. Networking seems familiar yet mysterious, accessible yet arcane. Social networks, however, have been at the core of human society since we were hunters and gatherers. People were tied together through their relations with one another and their dependence on one another. Tribes, totems, and hierarchies may have come later. Kinship and family relations are social networks. Neighborhoods, villages, and cities are crisscrossed with networks of obligations and relationships. Beyond kinship relations, people in modern societies are dependent upon one another for such things as picking up the mail when one is away, help with fixing the lawn mower, or recommendations for good restaurants. Nonetheless, it is said that urban Americans are becoming more and more socially isolated. The metaphor of “bowling alone,” rather than in clubs, leagues, or with friends, describes this picture of isolation and disengagement (Putnam 2000). But rather than disappearing, neighborhood and village-based groups celebrated as the heart of nineteenth-century America have become transformed from social relations and networks based on place or kinship into communities oriented around geographically dispersed social networks.1 The telephone and automobile started this revolution and were, not surprisingly, popular in rural areas where there were great distances between households. We have been “networkers” for millennia.

Networks are not the same thing as “networking,” or actively using a network to make connections to further one’s personal goals. A network is simply a set of relations between objects which could be people, organizations, nations, items found in a

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