Network Theory and Analysis

how relationships influence behavior

History and Orientation

The idea of social networks and the notions of sociometry and sociograms appeared over 50 years ago. Barnes (1954) is credited with coining the notion of social networks, an outflow of his study of a Norwegian island parish in the early 1950s.


Core Assumptions and Statements

Core: Network analysis (social network theory) is the study of how the social structure of relationships around a person, group, or organization affects beliefs or behaviors. Causal pressures are inherent in social structure. Network analysis is a set of methods for detecting and measuring the magnitude of the pressures. The axiom of every network approach is that reality should be primarily conceived and investigated from the view of the properties of relations between and within units instead of the properties of these units themselves. It is a relational approach. In social and communication science these units are social units: individuals, groups/ organizations and societies.

Statements: Rogers characterizes a communication network as consisting of “interconnected individuals who are linked by patterned communication flows” (1986). A communication network analysis studies “the interpersonal linkages created by the shearing of information in the interpersonal communication structure” (1986), that is, the network.


Network analysis within organizations


In general, network analysis focuses on the relationships between people, instead of on characteristics of people. These relationships may comprise the feelings people have for each other, the exchange of information, or more tangible exchanges such as goods and money. By mapping these relationships, network analysis helps to uncover the emergent and informal communication patterns present in an organization, which may then be compared to the formal communication structures. These emergent patterns can be used to explain several organizational phenomena. For instance the place employees have in the communication network (as described by their relationships), influences their exposure to and control over information (Burt, 1992; Haythornthwaite, 1996). Since the patterns of relationships bring employees into contact with the attitudes and behaviors of other organizational members, these relationships may also help to explain why employees develop certain attitudes toward organizational events or job-related matters (theories that deal with these matters are called ‘contagion theories’, cf. Ibarra & Andrews, 1993; Burkhardt, 1994; Meyer, 1994; Feeley & Barnett, 1996; Pollock, Whitbred & Contractor, 2000). Recently there is a growing interest into why communication networks emerge and the effects of communication networks (Monge & Contractor, 2003). Also, there is a substantial amount of literature available on how networkdata gathered within organizations, can be analyzed (cf. Rice & Richards, 1985; Freeman, White & Romney, 1992; Wasserman & Faust, 1994; Scott, 2000).


Network analysis techniques focus on the communication structure of an organi­zation, which can be operationalized into various aspects. Structural features that can be distinguished and analyzed through the use of network analysis techniques are for example the (formal and informal) communication patterns in an organization or the identification of groups within an organization (cliques or functional groups). Also communication-related roles of employees can be determined (e.g., stars, gatekeepers, and isolates). Special attention may be given to specific aspects of communication patterns: communication channels and media used by employees, the relationship between information types and the resulting communication net­works, and the amount and possi­bilities of bottom-up communication. Additional characteristics that could, in principle, be investigated using network analysis techniques are the communication load as perceived by employees, the communication styles used, and the effectiveness of the information flows.

Conceptual Model (of a network society)


Networks connecting individuals, groups, organizations and societies.

Source: Van Dijk 2001/2003


Favorite Methods

Interviews, surveys.


Scope and Application

Thinking in terms of networks and the method of network analysis have gained ground in many disciplines, including social psychology, anthropology, political science, and mathematics, as well as communications. Network analysis generates information about the following types of network roles: the membership role, the liaison role, the star role, the isolate role, the boundary-spanning role, the bridge role, and the non-participant role. Network analysis is done in organizations, society, groups etc. The network model encourages communication planners and researchers to use new cause/effect variables in their analysis. For example, properties of the very communication network, such as connectedness, integration, diversity, and openness (Rogers and Kincaid, 1981).



Rogers and Kincaid studied in Korea how women in a small village organized themselves to improve the general living conditions for themselves and their families.



Key publications on network analysis

Mouge, P. & Contractor, N. (2003). Theories of Communication Networks. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.

Berkowitz, S.D. (1988). Afterword: Toward a formal structural sociology. In: Wellman, B. &

Berkowitz, S.D. (Eds.). Social Structures, A network approach (477-497). London: Jai Press.

Knoke, D. & Kublinski, J.H. (1982). Network Analysis. Beverley Hills: Sage Publications

Dijk, J.A.G.M. van (2001). Netwerken als Zenuwstelsel van onze Maatschappij.
Oratie 1-11-2001. Enschede: Universiteit Twente.

Dijk, J.A.G.M. van (2001). Netwerken als Zenuwstelsel van onze Maatschappij. Tijdschrift voor Communicatiewetenschap, 30), 37-54.

Dijk, J.A.G.M.. van (2003). Outline of a Multilevel Theory of the Network Society, In press.

Rogers, E.M. & Kincaid, D.L. (1981). Communication Networks: Toward a New Paradigm for Research. New York: Free Press.

Barnes, J. (1954). Class and Committees in a Norwegian Island Parish. Human Relations, 7, 39-58.

Rogers, E. M. (1986). Communication Technology: The New Media in Society. New York: Free Press.

Key publications on network analysis within organizations

· Burt, R.S. (1992). Structural holes: the social structure of competition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

· Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of information exchange. Library and Infor­mation Science Research, 18, 323-342.

· Ibarra, H., & Andrews, S. B. (1993). Power, social influence, and sense making: Effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38, 277-303.

· Burkhardt, M.E. (1994). Social interaction effects following a technological change: a longitudinal investigation. Academy of Management Journal, 37, 869-898.

· Meyer, G.W. (1994). Social information processing and social networks: A test of social influence mechanisms. Human Relations, 47, 1013-1048.

· Feeley, T.H., & Barnett, G.A. (1996). Predicting employee turnover from communication networks. Human Communication Research, 23, 370-387.

· Pollock, T.G., Whitbred, R.C., & Contractor, N. (2000). Social information processing and job characteristics: A simultaneous test of two theories with implications for job satisfaction. Human Communication Research, 26, 292-330.

· Monge, P.R., & Contractor, N.S. (2003). Theories of communication networks. New York: Oxford University Press.

· Rice, R.E., & Richards, W.D. (1985). An overview of network analysis methods and programs. In: B. Dervin & M.J. Voight (Eds.), Progress in communication sciences (pp. 105-165). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co.

· Freeman, L.C., White, D.R., & Romney, A.K. (1992). Research methods in social network analysis. New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Publishers.

· Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (1994). Social network analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

· Scott, J. (2000). Social Network Analysis: A handbook. Second edition. London: Sage.

See also Interpersonal Communication and Relations, Organizational Communication, Communication and Information Technology.