‘Social network’ makes people think of Facebook and similar forms of social media, but we believe there is still much to learn about offline, face-to-face connections, and these are the focus of this report. The theoretical basis for social networks is well established. For an excellent overview, see Marin and Wellman, Social Network Analysis: an Introduction, in Handbook of Social Network Analysis, Carrington P and Scott J (eds) 2010, Sage. Also see our page, What are networks?
The network perspective offers a distinctive explanatory tool because it reveals patterns of relationship and exclusion that would otherwise remain invisible. Patterns of connectivity can serve as a diagnostic, revealing opportunities to connect those who are disconnected, and ‘spreading’ constructive social norms through highly connected individuals whose behaviour is likely to be imitated by those in their network.
The possibility of representing social networks visually also affords a kind of mirror in which individuals can identify themselves and their patterns of social interaction. These ‘sociograms’ serve not only to improve objective understanding of how communities function, but also provide a tool to change the subjective perception of individuals as community members. This generates reflexivity that we believe may in itself lead to more pro-social behaviour, better awareness of the conditions in which their actions are taken, and result in a greater ability to shape them.