Nicole Pangborn

The whole of the bond. The case for ethnographic social network analysis

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One of the primary goals of social network analysis is to illuminate how the configuration of social ties impacts individual experience. In the service of that goal, many modern network analyses must necessarily simplify what a social tie actually is, often representing human relationships as connections between nodes at a single point in time. In such simplifications, analysts effectively flatten the dynamism and emotion contained within a social bond’s substance, and might miss key information about how such dynamism can affect the structure of the network itself. In this short paper, I make the case for more complementary ethnographic examinations of social ties in social network analysis, as it is impossible to «see directly the whole of the bond» between two people at any one moment in time (Goffman, 1971). Through the work of symbolic interactionists Erving Goffman, Thomas Scheff and Robert Emerson, I uncover some examples of more rigorous ways to describe social connections, and I discuss their potential usage in social network analysis more generally.


  • social network analysis
  • ethnography
  • symbolic interaction


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