Structure and Meaning: Situational Organizational Network Analysis

Authors: Johannes Glückler*, Heidelberg University, Robert Panitz, Heidelberg University
Topics: Economic Geography, Qualitative Methods, Quantitative Methods
Keywords: Networks, social network analysis, methodology, research methods, economic geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Jefferson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper reflects on the methodological potential and limits of network analysis. It frames the challenges of relational analysis around important evaluation criteria of social research, ranging from authenticity and meaning to rigor and scale. We appraise the rich explanatory potential of network theory, and review recent network research to examine problems, such as monadic networks, relational atomism, and structural determinism. A key challenge is found in the contingency of meaning and effects within the same network structures and positions. We address the tension between ‘meaning and structure’ (Pachucki and Breiger 2010) by discussing responses to the extreme poles of universalist network science on the one hand and case-sensitive network stories on the other. To illustrate our claim for combined methodological approaches, we elaborate on alternative ways of relational research. We first portray multi-method network research that uses substantial knowledge of the context, e.g. geography, industry, culture, and institutions, to prespecify more justified models of network structure and network effects. Such contextualized research levers both meaning and structure. A second and more applied approach is inspired by action research and recognizes its transformative impact on organizations. The research technique SONA – situative organizational network analysis – is presented as an appropriate method to analyze and support change in social and organizational networks in compliance with research ethics.

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