Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Journal of Social Structure

As above, so below, as within, so without;
Social Network Analysis [1] is an approach to studying organisations focusing on analysing the networks of relationships between people and/or groups as the most important aspect. Going back at least to the 1950's, it is characterised by adopting mathematical techniques especially from graph theory [2, 3]. It has applications in organisational psychology, sociology, and anthropology. An excellent overview of the field is given by Wasserman and Faust [1].

Social Network Analysis provides an avenue for analysing and comparing formal and informal information flows in an organisation, as well as comparing information flows with officially defined work processes. We are interested in applying Social Network Analysis to military organisations, and especially to military headquarters ranging from brigade to national strategic levels.

An important aspect of Social Network Analysis is the visualisation of communication and other relationships between people and/or groups, by means of diagrams. Visualisation of Social Networks has a long tradition, and an excellent historical survey is given by Freeman [4]. Visualisation of Social Networks is important because of the complexity of organisational structure, and the need for good visual representations of how an organisation functions.

A second aspect is the study of factors which influence relationships, for example the age, background, and training of the people involved. Studying the correlations between relationships is also important, since it offers insights into the reasons why relationships exists. These studies can be done using traditional statistical techniques such as correlation, analysis of variance, and factor analysis, but also require appropriate visualisation techniques.

The ultimate goal of Social Network Analysis is often to draw out implications of the relational data, in order to make recommendations to improve communication and workflow in an organisation. This is the major motivation for our Social Network Analysis programme. In previous work [5, 6, 7], we have applied Social Network Analysis to military organisations. In the course of this work, we have found conceptual distance to be the most useful construct in explaining relationships. This is partly because the human brain is skilled at thinking about and visually judging distances. In this paper we argue the benefits of using conceptual distance for analysing Social Networks, and demonstrate how to do so using a case study.
Table of Contents for the Journal in its entirety.