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Qual Quant (2011) 45:10671089 DOI 10.

1007/s11135-011-9492-3

Tackling connections, structure, and meaning in networks: quantitative and qualitative methods in sociological network research
Jan Fuhse Sophie Mtzel

Published online: 6 April 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Abstract The paper systematizes the role of qualitative methods, statistical analyses, and formal network analysis in sociological network research, and argues for their systematic combination. Formal network analysis mainly aims at a description of network structures as well as at an explanation of the behavior of the network at the systemic level. Formal network analysis can also be used in order to explain individual behavior or the existence of individual connections from network structure. Statistical analyses of ego-centered networks are used to correlate individual attributes with the structure and composition of the individual embeddedness, thus providing a statistical explanation of network effects and determinants. Qualitative methods are important for exploring network structures, and for understanding the meaning connected to them. A historical overview shows that these three strands have long co-existed in sociological network research without engaging in combined research efforts. Combinations of these methods prove useful when considering the various aspects of networks (individual connections, structural patterns, and meaning). Keywords Social network analysis Culture Meaning Relational sociology Qualitative methods

1 Introduction In the development of network analysis, social networks have often been reduced to analytical constructs of quantitative, structural network methods. However, historically, social networks have been and are studied with multiple methods, combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Moreover, in the past 20 years, a rich and multi-faceted theory of
J. Fuhse (B ) University of Bielefeld, P.O. Box 10 01 31, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany e-mail: jan.fuhse@uni-bielefeld.de S. Mtzel Social Science Research Center Berlin, Reichpietschufer 50, 10785 Berlin, Germany e-mail: muetzel@wzb.eu

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social networks has emerged, which blends the traditional structural intuition with a strong emphasis on culture and meaning in networks (Breiger 2004, p. 518; Fuhse 2009; Mische 2003; Mtzel 2002, 2009; Pachucki and Breiger 2010; White 1992, 2008). Starting from this approach, we argue that quantitative and qualitative methods of network research tackle different dimensions of social structures. While it is useful to model the structure of relationships between actors with formal network analysis, and the embeddedness of actors and connections in statistical analyses of personal networks, qualitative research is indispensable for an understanding of the meaning inextricably intertwined with any structure of social networks.1 Networks are thus not seen as mere analytical constructs, but as real social structures with three dimensions: the structure of social relationships; the individual actors and their connections; and the meaning associated with networks and their connections. We show that these three dimensions are tackled by the three types of methods (formal network analysis, statistical analyses of personal networks, and qualitative methods). We argue that the combination of more than one of these methods and thus the analysis of more than one of the dimensions of networks proves particularly fruitful. In addition to the methodological issues raised, we also contribute to the ongoing discussions on a mixed methods approach in network research.2 We start from a historical overview of several strands of network research with particular emphasis on their treatment of connections, structure, and meaning, and on their usage of different quantitative and qualitative methods (2). The third section provides a systematic comparison of the three types of methods in sociological network research with regard to their research ambitions and the dimensions of social networks tackled by these methods. The last section discusses a few research examples that combine at least two of these methodological approaches. The conclusion calls for a systematic incorporation of meaning into the study of social networks, which can be achieved with a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

2 Historical overview Today, network studies most often use methods of formal network analysis and quantitative survey research. In the early days of British social anthropology, US American community studies, and Norbert Eliass gurational sociology however, qualitative approaches to networks used to be much more prominent. The aim of this section is, rstly, to show that the various strands of network research have always deployed both quantitative and qualitative methods, and, secondly, to distil theoretical concepts for a systematization of their usage in the following section. The early works of German formal sociology show little sophistication in their methods. In both Georg Simmels and Leopold von Wieses works, formal sociology remains a theoretical tool without methodological rigor. But we do nd discussions on the role of structure
1 The concept meaning here refers to the body of symbols, attitudes, values, schemata, logics, and scripts

as theorized by Weber (1972 [1922], p. 1ff), Schtz (1967 [1932]), and Luhmann (1990). Meaning can be located at the subjective level, in actors heads, or at the social level in communication process or attached to social structures (like relationships, groups or organizations), as will be argued in more detail in Sect. 3. The term culture is often used as a synonym to meaning, but it refers more precisely to shared meaning in a social context. 2 See the recent paper by Crossley (2010b) in Sociologica, and the comments by Elisa Bellotti, Deirdre Kirke, Christopher McCarty, and Jos Luis Molina. See also Hollstein and Straus (2006) for an overview on qualitative methods in network research.

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and meaning in webs of social relations. Simmel famously argued that social regularities are mainly due to the forms of social life, and not to their content (Simmel 1992 [1908], p. 17ff). Examples of this are the effects of group size (p. 89f) and the advantages of a broker position (tertium gaudens; Burt 1992, p. 30; Simmel 1992, p. 128ff). These social forms thus stand for structural characteristics of inter-personal formations. The individual motivations, feelings, or meaningsthe contentare less important than the forms in which they are embedded (1992, p. 17ff). Simmel thus argues for the primacy of form over content, of structure over meaningand much of network research has followed this structural intuition (Freeman 2004, p. 2ff). According to Max Weber, in contrast, all action is rooted in subjective meaning (1972 [1922], p. 1ff): social relationships, be it friendship, love, or the feeling of national community (p. 13f), are characterized by the subjective meaning that the actors attribute to them. For Weber, the meaning in and of a relationship determines the chance (probability) that the individuals involved act in certain ways. While action (on the basis of subjective meaning) is his most fundamental concept, his notion of social relationships encompasses a wide array of social structures. In line with his typological approach, Weber argues that social relationships can be grounded in the four ideal types of action motivationtraditional, affectual, value-rational, and instrumentally rational (p. 21ff). This motivation by ideal types should be responsible for some of the dynamics of social structures, thus leading to an explanation of social phenomena by way of the typological understanding of the subjective meaning of actors. Following Webers formulations, social networks should be seen as structures which embody specic, relatively stable bundles of individual motivations. A sect, for example, would result from, as well as determine value-rational motivations on the part of its members, while economic market structures would induce instrumentally rational action. Thus networks can explain individual action, but only with a complementary understanding of the subjective meaning tied to networks. Commonly, quantitative methods in sociology focus on the task of explaining by identifying causal connections at the statistical level; and qualitative methods are primarily used in order to discern meaning, leading to an interpretive understanding of the social phenomena at hand. These early foundational arguments in German formal sociology have been picked up by various strands of network research in diverse ways. In particular, we nd that Simmels structural intuition is put into diverse research practices as will be discussed in the following. One approach that is often underrated in network research can be found in Norbert Eliass gurational sociology. For Elias, social phenomena cannot be explained with reference to individual and isolated actors. Moreover, these are always in interdependence with each other in so called congurations. These congurations resemble what we now term networks in many aspects, and indeed Elias sometimes referred to them as networks after the term became widely used in the social sciences (1978). While Eliass congurations are primarily structural, they also show a strong cultural component. For example, structurally disconnected groups will reinforce this separation with the drawing of boundaries, and the formation of stereotypes and of separate cultures (Elias and Scotson 2000). Here, Elias and Scotson use qualitative interviews and ethnographic observations to document the split into an established and an outsider group in both structure and culture. Apart from that, Elias relied mainly on historiographic analysis, documenting changes in manner books or using detailed descriptions from biographies or even novels to account for his theoretical statements. While Elias used the concept of conguration, British social anthropology eventually invented the network concept. Lacking the sophisticated techniques of social network analysis (which were developed concurrently in the US, see below), social anthropologists such as Barnes (1954), Bott (1957), or Mayer and Mayer (1961) relied on qualitative methods to

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describe the network structures they were observing. Their research mainly drew on ethnographic observation of kinship or friendship networks. However, early social anthropology did not develop an interest in meaning and cultural forms embedded in networks. As opposed to cultural anthropology, Barnes, Bott, and others showed a systematic disregard of culture in order to focus on the objective relations underlying social phenomena. Not until around 1970 did J. Clyde Mitchell call for a systematic incorporation of the level of meaning (especially norms and the subjective meaning of social relationships) into social anthropological research (Mitchell 1969, p. 20ff; Mitchell 1973, p. 26ff). In the 1990s anthropologists again followed this lead and tried to bridge the divide between social and cultural anthropology (e.g. Hannerz 1992; Schweizer 1996). At the same time, anthropology picked up on the quantitative research techniques of formal network analysis and now combines qualitative and quantitative methods (e.g. Bernard 2006). Similarly to social anthropology and gurational sociology, symbolic interactionism mainly focuses on studying social formations qualitatively. In contrast to them, however, symbolic interactionism reasons that this qualitative approach is due to an emphasis on the level of meaning. In this vein, Mead (1967 [1934]) argues that individual action is rooted in the symbols we adopt from primary groups such as the family or the peer group. Symbols, like all forms of meaning, emerge and are diffused and reproduced in interaction, which primarily takes place in groups (Shibutani 1955). Symbolic interactionism and Chicago School remain tied to the group concept, until 1983, when Gary Alan Fine and Sherryl Kleinman argued for an incorporation of the network concept into symbolic interactionism. They proposed replacing the group with the network concept because the group concept suggests homogeneous and bounded social formations (Fine and Kleinman 1983, p. 98). In line with symbolic interactionisms interpretive stance, they re-conceptualize social networks as laden with meaning and so they focus their attention on what they call the phenomenological structure of a social network (p. 102). They argue that dyadic relationships as networks basic building blocks consist of the subjective meaning actors attribute to them (mirroring Webers earlier formulations). Since this meaning can change relationships, network structures are dynamic (p. 97ff). With these theoretical formulations, Fine and Kleinmans work opens up systematic opportunities to tackle both structure and meaning in network research. It thus points to the systematic role qualitative methods from the Chicago tradition could fulll in sociological network research. With their focus on the phenomenological structure of the network, Fine and Kleinman anticipate developments in US American network analysis around Harrison White in the 1990s (which will be discussed below). Their remarks have also recently led to a lively debate on compatibility and mutual benets of symbolic interactionism and social network analysis, e.g. on the formal testing of interactionist arguments (de Nooy 2009), complementation with ethnographic methods (Crossley 2010a), and the strict separation of both types of analyses (Salvini 2010).3 A very different approach to networks can be found in the community studies tradition. Building on the pioneering sociometric work of Jacob Moreno, William Lloyd Warner and his collaborators came to analyze social structures by focusing on ego-centered, personal networks in local settings. According to Warner, community studies aim at identifying the social organization of a community by looking at the interaction of individuals within a set of relations (Warner and Lunt 1941, p. 11). The early community studies of Warner and
3 We do not want to take sides in this ongoing debate, but rather argue in line with all three of them that both the structural and the meaning aspect of social networks should be studied (thereby combining qualitative and quantitative methods), including also the dynamic interacted nature of networks. Networks are as much the result of interaction processes, as they are inuencing them.

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his collaboratorsthe Yankee City studiesrelied on a large scale, standardized survey of 17,000 individuals instead of personal observations. Although complemented by qualitative material, the research method was mainly quantitative. As in most of the community studies that followed, surveys were designed to analyze the properties of personal or ego-centered networks and their correlations with individual attributes such as class, age, status, or ethnic descent (e.g. Lazarsfeld et al. 1968 [1944]; Laumann 1973; Pappi 1973; Verbrugge 1977). While network studies usually remain conned to the structure of relations among a limited set of individuals, the survey methods were used to arrive at a bigger picture of social structure in larger communities. The main purpose of these surveys was to identify the tendency (or statistical probability) for friendships or intimate relations to arise between people from particular categories. Thus, it is not the actual pattern of relations between individuals which is observed. Instead, the focus of these studies lies on relations between categories like gender, professional groups, status, age, religion, and ethnic descent. Barry Wellman also studies personal networks in communities, yet not in order to discover categorical differences (1979) but to identify levels of social integration (community vs. society in Tnnies sense). The statistical approach of deriving relational patterns from survey data on personal networks was later adopted in larger surveys no longer conned to singular communities, for example in Claude Fischers comparison of urban and rural friendship networks (1983), in Wellmans work on online communities (Wellman and Gulia 1999; Wellman et al. 1996) or in the US General Social Survey. Most of the social capital literature that picks up on Mark Granovetters strength of weak ties argument (1973) applies a similar focus on personal networks, often on the basis of survey data.4 In the diverse usages of the social capital concept, an actors embeddedness into more or less dense networks with more or less homogeneous ties is seen as enabling or constraining individual action (Lin 2001; Portes 1998). In that sense, networks are reduced to individual resources, rather than treated as meso-structures, which explain social phenomena from their supra-personal structuring. Generally, weak ties and heterogeneous networks are seen as leading to better access to information and thus to superior opportunities for action (Burt 1992). Homogeneous networks with high degrees of transitivity, in contrast, allow for high degrees of trust and cooperation (Coleman 1988), but may also feature the dark side of social capital when people are stuck in groups with little opportunities and motivations for upward mobility (Portes 1998). Aspects of meaning are by and large disregarded in the social capital concept in order to factor networks into statistical analyses of inequality in a straightforward way. In sum, survey research on personal networks has yielded important results and insights. Yet it remains tied to categories already known by the researcher and assumes that these are the categories that actually structure the relationships analyzed. Individual motivations (subjective meaning) and the negotiation of cultural forms (intersubjective meaning) are bracketed in these analyses. Moreover, they focus on individuals rather than network structures as the units of analysis, thus assuming that networks can be reduced to individual properties (such as access to structural holes, heterogeneous networks, or categorical homophily). What is known as social network analysis (SNA) fully develops the structural intuition. SNA constitutes both a series of formal procedures for the analysis of observable
4 Burts works on structural holes constitute important exceptions to this: He draws on large studies of networks of managers in rms in order to identify the actors bridging structural holes. He then, however, relates these individual positions to other personal attributes in regression analyses, thus combining formal network analysis with statistical analysis (1998).

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relations between at least two actors and their patterns as well as a theoretical perspective on these relations. The methodological tools for analyzing social networks have developed historically at the intersection of disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, mathematics, psychology, and physics (e.g. Freeman 2004; Knox et al. 2006; Scott 2000; Watts 2004). Relations which connect or separate actors are the units of analysis in SNAas opposed to statistical correlates between properties of discrete individual actors. Network analysis thus differs fundamentally from typical models of variable centered sociology (Abbott 1988) by assuming interdependence of its units of analysis. This opposition to mainstream empirical social research is captured in the structuralist credo (Wellman 1988, p. 31): Structured social relationships are a more powerful source of sociological explanation than personal attributes of system members. Social explanations are thus to start from social networks with diverse explananda (individual behavior, systems behavior) resulting from structural patterns. Meaning, the motivations of actors and the norms within the system are bracketed in this approach. Thus, it aims at a structuralist explanation without an understanding of the social phenomena. Typically, SNA researchers establish ways of systematically quantifying gathered data, before they are analyzed by a set of algebraic measures, which examine their structural characteristics (e.g. Wasserman and Faust 1994). The graphic representation of network relationsusually a map of lines and nodesthen offers a cognitively easy access to the underlying social structure (Freeman 2000). As Ronald Burt has argued, network analysts follow two analytical strategies in order to explain the effects of networks on social action (1980). The relational approach focuses on the direct and indirect connections of actors with othersi.e. how they connect. Social relations in this regard are understood as channels through which particular resources, such as information, friendship, goods, or money ow, depending on the type of embeddedness (Granovetter 1985). Different measures can then be used to establish, for instance, the level of density, centrality, or strength of relations, for a focal actor (ego-centered analysis), for cliques and overlapping subgroups, or for entire systems. The social capital studies mentioned above constitute examples of this relational approach, as do the studies on (various types of) centrality in a network. The positional approach focuses on the pattern of relations actors form on the basis of having similar ties with others. This strategy is based on the idea of structural equivalence of actors (Lorraine and White 1971). Structurally equivalent actors do not need to have direct ties between themselves or even belong to the same clique. What is of relevance is the pattern of relations which denes the position and the role structure of one actor relative to all others in the network. Thus, this approach does not explain social action on the basis of directly established social relations through which resources ow, but looks at the structure of all relations and similarities in structural position. The algorithmic implementation, called blockmodeling, partitions the network into blocks of structurally equivalent actors (Breiger et al. 1975; White et al. 1976). As the result of blockmodeling, an entire network is reduced in its complexity: the network is represented as a few blocks of network members according to maximal similarities in their ties to others, also indicating how the partioned groups relate to each other. Blockmodels are thus rst and foremost models of multirelational networks; they highlight relations of positions in the network, rather than information on individual actors and thus differ strongly from the approaches discussed so far. In their summary of the advantages and shortcomings of network research, Emirbayer and Goodwin (1994) provide a greatly acknowledged critique of structuralist social network analysis. They pick up on developments from empirical studies, on cognitive networks

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(e.g. Carley 1986; Krackhardt 1987), historical networks (e.g. Gould 1991; Padgett and Ansell 1993) and networks of cultural actors (e.g. DiMaggio 1987), which had begun to push the structuralist network tradition to include cultural aspects such as meanings, discourse, and identities in order to remedy its integrated shortcomings. Emirbayer and Goodwin show that both perspectives just outlined, i.e. the relational approach focusing on connectivity as well as the positional approach focusing on structural equivalences, prove to be structurally deterministic: they reify social relations and leave no room for cultural content and process. In their attempt to contest individualistic and functionalist sociologies, seminal works in social network analysis self-consciously bypassed the issue of cultural content and meanings of ties to focus on structural arguments only (e.g. White et al. 1976, p. 734). Network analysis, Emirbayer and Goodwin argue, should overcome such bracketing of culture since any relation entails several meanings (which are unfolding and changing over time) in particular cultural and intersubjective contexts and cannot be reied to one particular, atemporal dimension. Harrison Whites Identity and Control (1992, 2008) presents a concentrated effort to shift the understanding of networks as reied, non-cultural structures to networks being dynamic, sociocultural formations. Identity and Control pushes sociological theory beyond individualcentered and purely structuralist approaches towards a more dynamic and contextual model by considering how meaning arises in a relational context and, dually, how relations create meaning. For White, social networks are cultural structures of relations, in which stories connect identities dening them on the way. Thus, White argues that networks are inextricably intertwined with domains of forms of meaning, including narratives, expectations, and language (White 1995, p. 1038f; Mische and White 1998, p. 702ff). Subsequently, Identity and Control has become a central reference in the movement for a relational sociology (Emirbayer 1997), which regards relations between terms or units as preeminently dynamic in nature, as unfolding, ongoing processes rather than as static ties among inert substances (p. 289). Whites network theory constitutes a turn towards the incorporation of both meaning and basic interactional processes leading to the formation of networks and cultural forms into network research. White departs radically from the static orderliness of structuralist network thinking. He also refrains from turning relational properties into individual attributesas do social capital approaches or research on personal networks. In sum, relational sociology understands networks as composed of culturally constituted processes of communicative interactions (Mische 2003, p. 262), providing for an inseparable commingling of network relations and discursive processes. Culture and structure, language and relational ties are fused within a sociocultural setting. Another approach that takes meaning into account when studying social relations is that of actor-network-theory (ANT) (e.g. Latour 2005; Law and Hassard 1999). In this perspective, which developed in anthropological science and technology studies in France and the UK, networks are a heterogeneous chain of associations made up of multidimensional and evolving entanglements of human, non-human or collective actors (all are actants). Analytical focus is rst on the multifaceted interconnections of a local, ego-centric network of an actor, before moving to the next connected local bundle of entanglements in which meaning gets collectively established. Eventually these shifts and redefinitions between one micro-network of associations to the next over space and time add up to a larger narrative on transformations of ideas and practices. The meaning of a network is realized collectively and distributed in the network, which is formed by human and non-human actors alikeand not in peoples heads. ANT studies use qualitative methods and refrain from structural analysis of the SNA kindeven simple sociometry would unjustiably reify network relations, although recent

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work with large datasets shows some convergences (Mtzel 2009). In ANT, the term network is used as an evocative image, a conceptual heuristic, and a descriptive tool. The ANT approach offers descriptions as explanations (Latour 2005): ANT accounts present stories in which actants are traced as to how they accomplish the processes of establishing associations, i.e. constructing persons, groups, and the social by the attribution of meaning. Not surprisingly, with this analytical perspective ANT studies are particularly equipped to account for the emergence of new social actors (e.g. Latour 1988) or categories (e.g. Bowker and Star 1999) especially in the eld of technological and scientic innovation. To summarize, different strands of network research have applied three kinds of methods: the early works of Norbert Elias, symbolic interactionism, and social anthropology, and the ANT approach all rely almost exclusively on qualitative research techniques in order to explore social network formations, but also to tackle the level of meaning connected to social networks. The community studies tradition has mainly developed the statistical analysis of personal networks in survey studies, which was later picked up by large-scale surveys such as the GSS. Only classical network analysis has developed a strong focus on the formal analysis of full networks that we now see as representative for all of network research. The relational sociology of Harrison White and others has picked up on this, while also complementing it with qualitative research techniques at times. The aim of relational sociology is to simultaneously address structure and meaning in networks. We pick up on this by arguing that the combination of different methods that tackles the various dimensions of social networks (structure, connections, and meaning) offers a particularly fruitful route of research.

3 Systematizing quantitative and qualitative network research As we have seen, sociological network research incorporates three main methodological approaches: formal network analysis, statistical analysis of personal networks, and qualitative research techniques. By and large these three approaches have remained separate, without a systematic integration either on the theoretical or on the methodological level. This section aims at a rst systematic overview of these three approaches, and of their relations to each other. First, we briey discuss the various aspects or dimensions of social networks that these three approaches are supposed to tackle. We follow relational sociology in claiming that network research ideally simultaneously addresses the structure of networks, the formation or dissolution of particular connections, and the meaning attached to these structures and connections. Then we show that the three approaches are methodologically related to these three dimensions, with formal network analysis focusing on structure, statistical analysis of personal networks dealing with connections, and qualitative approaches tackling the meaning of networks. 3.1 Describing and explaining structure in formal network analysis What are the units of analysis of the various strands of network research? The mainstream of current network research is concerned with the analysis of whole networks in relatively bounded social contexts, for example, in rms or class-rooms. The aim is to detect regularities of patterns in the structure of relationships using network analytical algorithms such as centrality, clique analysis or blockmodel analysis (e.g. Carrington et al. 2005; Wasserman and Faust 1994). The underlying assumptions are (1) that social structures can be usefully

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reduced to structures of relations, and that these mathematical procedures yield meaningful descriptions of complex social reality; and (2) that the important causes for the behavior of the units (usually: individual or corporate actors) and of the system as a whole are to be found within the pattern of relations in the system (and not somewhere in its environment). In general, network analysis regards the structure of relations as the main cause for particular effects, e.g. the rise of the Medici in Renaissance Florence (Padgett and Ansell 1993), the exodus of particular monks from a monastery (White et al. 1976, p. 749ff), the professional success of managers in a large company (Burt 1992), or the distribution of prestige and other rewards in the literary market (Anheier et al. 1995). In the sense of the structuralist credo, network structure is seen as explaining events in the system.5 We pick up here on the famous distinction of Max Weber between explanation and understanding as the main tasks of sociology. Understanding refers to the reconstruction of the meaning incorporated in or connected to social structures. Explanation, in contrast, establishes a causal connection between two phenomena (cause and effect). Other important research ambitions include the probing exploration of specic properties of social phenomena, and their mere description without establishing any causal connections. In formal network analyses, both cause and effect are rst of all located at the meso-level of the social context. The cause is the structure of the network; its effects are manifold but concern the relations of the parts in the system. However, these effects can then be traced down to the level of the individual actor: the Medici family, for instance, benets from its focal position in the credit and marriage network of Florentine families (Padgett and Ansell 1993). Similarly, writers who occupy specic positions in the literary market can expect certain turnouts (Anheier et al. 1995). Rather than explaining the behavior of or rewards for individual actors, network analysis sometimes explains the formation or dissolution of particular ties at the micro-level, thus shifts the unit of analysis from one actor to the dyad. This is typically done by relating various measures of centrality, positions in blocks (from blockmodel analysis) or in cliques to individual and dyadic attributes. For example, the friendship between members of rival factions will probably undergo considerable strain at times of conict and potentially dissolve; a peripheral actor is expected to defer to a member of the core elite in a network. The network structure (factional separation and core-periphery) are seen as explaining that a particular tie (friendship or deferral) exists at a particular point of time. Many network algorithms thus yield R 2 values, indicating how much variance in the distribution of ties can be captured (explained) by the particular network model (for example a blockmodel). While this focus on the explanation of connections is an integral part of network analysis, the explanation of the behavior of or rewards for individual actors requires an additional step, for instance an action theory that accounts for why network position leads to individual behavior. One advantage of focusing on the micro level (of actors behavior or of the properties of ties) is that a proper statistical explanation is possible, with rigorous hypothesis testing with margins of error (significance). Here, the recent development of p*-models constitutes a major progress (Robins et al. 2007a, b; Wasserman and Robins 2005). P*-models compare actual network structures with random graphs. This allows the assessment to what extent the actual networks display certain structural tendencies compared to what is expected by chance (e.g. Lazega and Pattison 1999). These results, of course, are context specic. This attention
5 We follow recent discussions on mechanisms in claiming that explanations purely on the quantitative,

empirical level are incomplete. They require a parallel theoretical account that convincingly argues why a social phenomenon A should lead to another social phenomenon B (Hedstrm 205, p. 11ff). In contrast to Hedstrm, however, we do not assert that this theoretical account has to proceed in terms of individual actions. Whites theory, for example, does not resort to individuals as the driving forces of social processes.

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1076 Table 1 Overview of aims of different methods in sociological network research Qualitative methods Statistical analysis of personal networks Explanation at the individual/ dyadic level Statistical analysis of correlations between network composition and individual attributes in combination with SNA: description of network populations by attributes explanation of individual determinants and effects of network positions

J. Fuhse, S. Mtzel

Formal network analysis

Ambitions and research techniques used

Understanding of meaning in networks Subjective meaning: qualitative interviews; intersubjective meaning: conversation/document analysis, participatory observation Exploration and description Situational analysis, ethnography Pre-testing/critique of data collection methods Qualitative interviews

Explanation of individual behavior and connections from network position Centrality measures, positional analysis from cliques or blocks Exploration and description of network structure, explanation of systems behavior Blockmodel analysis, core/periphery and faction analyses

to context is a major advantage of network research (Abbott 1997, p. 1166f). At the same time, it poses a major problem if we want to generalize ndings across contexts. One way of combining context sensitivity with generalization is the use of multi-level analysis with particular social contexts (e.g. school classes) as the meso-level inuencing the individual level. Here it is possible to assess, for example, how much the individual tendency of high school students to form inter-ethnic friendships is inuenced by the ethnic composition of the student body of their schools (Baerveldt et al. 2007). Analyses at the systemic level of whole networks, in contrast, usually remain conned to the particular cases at hand. Although using quantitative research techniques, they are case studies and not generalizable (Bellotti 2010). Ideally, then, network analytical results should compare different networks, paying close attention to the comparability of measures and algorithms. For example, if blockmodel analyses leads to different results in two contrasting networks, this does not tell us much about how different the two networks really are. Given the fact that changing a small number of ties could lead to entirely different blockmodel partitioning, the significance of such results remains small. Often, then, formal network analyses lead to exploration and description of social contexts, rather than statistical explanations. Typical methods applying to this systemic level include blockmodels, analyses of factions, and the identication of core/periphery structures. A brief overview of the various approaches, their ambitions, and typical methods is given in Table 1. For reasons of simplicity, the table lumps together methods of data collection and data analysis under the heading of research techniques, rather than properly distinguishing between the two. To be sure, it is possible to collect data qualitatively, thus reconstructing the meaning in a network, then to codify it and analyze the resulting network data quantitatively (e.g. de Nooy 2002). Such research would combine two cells in the given table: the qualitative methods cell (with exploration and understanding of meaning as research ambitions) and the formal network analysis cell (aimed at an explanation of individual or systems behavior).

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3.2 Explaining connections and individual attributes in personal networks The statistical analysis of ego-centrically gathered personal networks, in contrast, is directly concerned with the individual or with particular connections. As it focuses on the embeddedness of individual actors, it cannot pay attention to the structure of a larger network. However, it can analyze structural elements such as triadic closure or density and can identify weak ties. Statistical analyses of ego-centric networks are unable to consider the effects of contextsone of the strengths of formal network analysisunless they can be reduced to individual attributes (e.g. place of residence or categories like age, class, and gender). This is precisely the strength of personal networks analyses: they allow relating individual attributes to the embeddedness of individuals in networks. This requires, however, that embeddedness is reduced to an individual attribute: rudimentary measures of the structure (density, weak ties etc.) and of the composition (by types of tie or by categories like gender, age, class) of personal networks are computed as variables signifying this embeddedness. These can be analyzed with regard to their correlations to other individual attributes. For example, Gwen Moore shows that personal discussion networks of women in the US tend to comprise more kin and more neighbors, but less friends and coworkers than those of men (1990, p. 729f). And Omar Lizardo demonstrates that the density of personal networks correlates with class background and with the diversity of cultural consumption (2006). Alternatively, individual ties are used as the cases of statistical analysis. The analysis then deals with the question of why particular ties show specic properties (like transitivity or homophily, e.g. Hallinan and Williams 1989; Louch 2000). If this is done, it is advisable to control for the impact of individual respondents on their connections, for example by entering them as the meso-level in a multi-level analysis (Lubbers et al. 2010). This allows for the simultaneous analysis of effects on connections and on the personal networks of individuals. Statistical analyses of personal networks lead to explanations in the statistical sense of the properties of connections. They can also be used to explain the effects of connections on individual attributes like income or subjective happiness. They allow for the testing of hypotheses concerning the interrelations of these variables. This is the main research ambition of the community studies and of the subsequent research on personal networks and social capital as briey discussed in the second section. These explanations at the individual level, however, have to bracket context. Statistical analyses of personal networks thus amount to considerable advantages in the research process (mainly in the rigorous testing of hypothesized network effects when controlling for effects of individual attributes). But they do so by reducing networks to attributes of actors, thereby losing much of the structural intuition guiding sociological network research (Freeman 2004, p. 3). Instead of using variables about personal networks, it is also possible to enter measures of network position derived from formal analysis of whole networks (see Sect. 3.1) into statistical analyses. For example, various measures of centrality, memberships in cliques or in blocks (in blockmodels) can then be related to the individual attributes of the actors, treating the network position either as the cause or as the effect of these attributes (e.g. Anheier et al. 1995). In these cases, network position is explained by individual attributes, or explains these causally. Less demanding, other formal network analyses often feature a description of their sample (or of the subgroups derived from their algorithms) by attributes like sex, age, and race, without claiming that these attributes explain network position or vice versa.

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3.3 Understanding of meaning in qualitative network research Both statistical analyses of personal networks and formal network analysis follow the structural intuition by treating networks as the aggregate of connections (personal networks) or as patterns of connections (network structure). The strategy of structural analysis developed as an interdisciplinary endeavor. Largely due to new computational models, it has gained new prominence and widespread acceptance in the social sciences. As a research strategy focusing on proximate causes, it may be useful to reduce networks to the mere structure of relations (Granovetter 2007), without asking for the underlying meaning, thereby reducing the complexity of social reality considerably (Holland and Leinhardt 1977, p. 387). However, as research in the past has already indicated, and as it has been criticized repeatedly (e.g. Brint 1992; Emirbayer and Goodwin 1994; Mitchell 1974), an analysis of structures and connections has to be complemented with a concern for meaning, for the linguistic forms, narratives, cultural practices, and expectations embodied in networks. Networks are not mere structures but actually cultural in nature, as the discussion of relational sociology in the second section has pointed out (see also Pachucki and Breiger 2010). Yet the problem is that cultural aspects are qualitative and particular, pushing researchers toward taxonomic specicity, whereas concrete social relations lend themselves to analysis by formal and highly abstract methods (DiMaggio 1992, p. 120). Another problem yet to be addressed (which symbolic interactionism, relational sociology, and actor-network theory have pointed to) is to conceptualize networks not as stable structures, but as continuously created, reproduced, and modied in social processes. These can be coined as action, interaction, transaction, or communication, but they have to be seen as both effecting and resulting from networks. Indeed, how the phenomenological and interacted reality of expectations, stories, and identities in networks is translated into measurement constructs is a big question in network research. We argue that qualitative research techniques including different types of qualitative interviews (problem-centered, narrative, biographical etc.), conversation analysis, document analysis, and participant observation provide a major route to these processual and cultural aspects, thus aiming primarily for an understanding (in the Weberian sense) of the meaning embodied in networks, and the processes of creating, sustaining, and modifying this meaning. Meaning can be theorized at the subjective level of individual motivations and perceptions (following Weber), or at the inter-subjective level where meaning is diffused and reproduced in communication (following Luhmann 1990, 1996, p. 59ff). The subjective level of meaning relates to a focus on individual actors and their agency and assumes that peoples thoughts are consequential for what they dohence it would be important to understand peoples motivations when pursuing particular relationships and dropping others and thereby actively constructing their networks. According to Fine and Kleinman, social relationships are very much shaped by the subjective meaning of the people involvedwhich qualities do they ascribe to the relation, how do they view the other, and what expectations do they have regarding the others actions (1983, p. 101ff). The level of subjective meaning is usually linked to a focus on individual action and aims at identifying individual motivations. This is usually done in qualitative or quantitative interviews. At the same time, meaning is not only to be found in actors heads, but also intersubjectively realized and negotiated in the process of communication (following Luhmanns concept of meaning). Thus we nd that dyadic relationships are constructed and constituted in storiesnarratives about the relationship that are told and not just thought (White 1992, pp. 166ff, 196ff; Somers 1994; Tilly 2002, pp. 8ff, 26ff). Relations build on the intersubjective construction of meaning through communication or transactions (Tilly 2005, p. 6f). In contrast to the rst view of meaning as subjective, the inter-subjective patterns

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of meaning can be analyzed by looking at actual communication processes, for example, exchanges of Florentine patronage letters (McLean 1998, 2007), editorial exchanges between newspapers (Mtzel 2002), turn-taking among managers in business meetings (Gibson 2003, 2005), or interaction in teenage baseball teams (Fine 1979). While interviews reactively aim at reconstructing the subjective level of meaning, the inter-subjective level of meaning can best be tapped with non-reactive methods: the analysis of documents (as in the work of McLean and Mtzel) or participatory observation (as in the work of Gibson and Fine). As these examples show, the analysis of the communicative processes creating, sustaining, and modifying networks (and the meaning embodied in them) can proceed qualitatively (Fine and McLean), but it can also include the codication and subsequent quantitative analysis of turn-takings (Gibson) or the negotiation of identities and positions (Mtzel). As always, qualitative methods are more geared towards detecting meaning, whereas quantitative methods aim at network structure (and its construction in communicative processes). The inter-subjective level of meaning is part of a perspective which views transactional processes and social relations as the basic components of social life, as in Harrison Whites network theory (White 1992, 2008; White et al. 2007).6 In order to point to its shared and socially reproduced nature, this perspective refers to meaning as stories (Tilly 2002, pp. 8ff, 26ff) and culture (Mische 2003; Yeung 2005). Stories construct relational congurations they relate actors to each other in narratives about their interaction. All communicative processes involve this kind of story-telling which leads to a joint construction of social reality. Apart from stories, the culture of a network comprises the identities of the actors involved, individual as well as corporative and collective (McCall and Simmons 1978). Other aspects of meaning in networks include attitudes, values, categories, and cultural blueprints or models for social relationships (e.g. Erickson 1988; McLean 1998; Rytina and Morgan 1982; White 1993; Yeung 2005). All of these forms of meaning are to be found at both levels: the subjective and the inter-subjective. They form part of the meaning structure of social networks (Fuhse 2009), and its understanding is the rst important goal of qualitative network research. To be sure, qualitative research does not aim at an explanation of processes in or resulting from networks based on hypothesis testing in the statistical sense. Qualitative research may enrich and sharpen quantitative analyses in mixed method designs, and qualitative data can be used to follow initial hypotheses about a social phenomenon. But qualitative methods in network research are primarily used to gain an understanding of the meaning networks have for the actors, as well as of the inter-subjective meaning diffused, shared, and modied in networks.7 Apart from understanding as its rst goal, qualitative network research can also aim at two other important tasks:
6 In this regard, Whites (and our) approach resembles symbolic interactionism which starts from interaction as the basic process creating meaning (and social structures). However, while authors like Mead and Blumer resort to the subjective level of meaning as somehow being involved and creating social life, Tilly (2002, 2005) and White (White et al. 2007) bracket the subjective level, pointing to the supra-personal nature of social processes. 7 To base the testing of hypotheses on qualitative data is tricky because network researchers cannot trust the descriptions the actors involved provide of the social structure they are embedded in: For example, Barnes famously introduced the network concept to show that the Norwegian shermen in Bremnes may perceive and describe their social structure in terms of three classes even though they are actually enmeshed in a homogeneous network without any class divisions (1954). Roger Gould demonstrated that the self-stylized class protest in the Paris Commune was actually rooted in the local networks of new Paris suburbs that were quite heterogeneous with regard to class (1995). In both cases, the self-descriptions of the actors are a far cry from the actual underlying networks, even if an understanding of these self-descriptions makes for valuable research ndings in itself.

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The second goal consists of the exploration and description of social networks with regard to their structure, composition, and the meaning associated with them. These are of particular importance for a rst approximation of networks in situations that have not been studied as networks before, and where network data are not easily collected. For example, social anthropology relies heavily on the qualitative description of networks in so-called situational analysis, through lengthy ethnographic immersion of the researcher into the social context studied (that sometimes eludes the use of more formal research techniques like interviews etc.). Historical sociology often derives from documents and exemplary data (e.g. composition of small groups seen as representative for a wider movement) a fairly accurate picture of the overall structure of networks in a particular context without being able to study them quantitatively (e.g. Ikegami 2005; Mann 1986; Tilly 1995). Historical sociologys networks are removed in time and therefore do not lend themselves to the collection of network data (unless available in documents). A parallel problem emerges in marginal networks, particularly in criminal networks like gangs, terrorist groups, or the maa. Here, researchers may be able to interview a few participants (like prosecuted members) or external experts, or they can draw on interrogation and court protocolsbut they are hardly able to interview the full network of members or even a representative sample. In all these cases, the formal analysis of full networks or the statistical analysis of personal networks is not possible. Therefore, the research accounts have to focus on producing a convincing narrative, combining a thorough theoretical argument with forceful exemplary ndings from the qualitative (and quantitative) material. The third goal of qualitative research techniques consists of pre-testing or criticizing quantitative methods of data collection. As all other quantitative social scientists, we need to develop thorough techniques for collecting network data (Marsden 2005). Data for statistical analysis of personal networks are usually collected by way of network generator questions, like the famous Burt name generator that asks for the people ego talked with about important matters over the last 6 months (Burt 1984). For formal network analyses, data are typically gathered asking respondents about their relationships to xed lists of alters (like all the children in their school class). In both cases an understanding of what the respondents mean with their answers is needed. In particular, we have to ask ourselves whether respondents attribute the same meaning to the same question, or whether there is systematic variation (by age, gender, network context etc.) in the way these questions are answered. For example, respondents may have different things in mind when responding to the Burt name generator question (Bearman and Parigi 2004), when saying that a relationship is a loving one (Yeung 2005), or when referring to people as friends (Fischer 1982). The important task here is to elicit categories that will prompt to answer to these questions in a similar way. Of course they should not give the same answers; but at least they should have the same question in mind.

4 Combining methods in network research As the discussion so far has shown, the three main methodological approaches pursue different aims and enter the research process at different phases. It is quite natural, then, that the three approaches should be combined in order to arrive at a fuller picture of social networks, and to provide for an integrated and reexive research process. For example, the exploration of networks with ethnographic methods (situational analysis) is useful as a rst step. It should lead to research hypotheses that can be tackled either by linking individual attributes and connections in personal networks, or by looking at the structure of full

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networks (ideally comparing various networks). But it can also lead to propositions about the meaning attached to these networks, to be studied with qualitative research techniques such as problem-centered or narrative-biographical interviews. Since networks feature structure and meaning as two dimensions that are inextricably intertwined, approaches combining understanding with explanation are particularly promising. Here, we only want to refer to a small number of exemplary studies pointing in this direction that has emerged as one of the most fruitful and innovative strands in the social sciences over the past years. 4.1 Combining personal networks and formal network analysis We already briey pointed out two important ways in which statistical analysis of personal networks can be combined with formal network analysis (Sect. 3.2). First, the samples of actors in full networks are described by looking at their composition in terms of individual attributes like sex, age, class, and race. This procedure is as common as it is theoretically simple: we want to know who the people in the study are (of course we will not really nd out by looking at a small set of attributes), if only to point out to what kinds of populations our ndings might apply. Things get more complicated when we identify different positions or subgroups by way of formal network algorithms, and then describe these with regard to individual attributes. Then some kind of causal connection between attributes and network position is implied or suggested. For example, Anheier et al. (1995) identify seven blocks of structurally equivalent actors (from cultural elite to light culture and periphery) in a sample of 139 writers, and then compare these blocks in their distribution of economic capital (income), social capital (membership in professional associations), cultural capital (education), and symbolic capital (types of texts produced). Anheier et al. do not state whether network position explains these individual attributes, or whether these attributes explain the network position. Following a Bourdieuan theoretical framework, they establish a correspondence between network location and, for example, membership in professional organizations without claiming that one leads to the other. In any case, the combination of formal network analysis with statistical analysis of individual attributes allows for the detection of systematic correlations and possibly even to an explanation of causes or effects of network position on the individual level. In their famous study of the credit and marriage networks among Florentine patricians, Padgett and Ansell (1993) similarly relate the position in network blocks to the gross wealth and the neighborhood residence of the families. Here the implication is that network position is more important than economic wealth in explaining the rise of the Medicithus network position and individual attributes are compared with regard to their impact on individual success. The rise of the Medici is more than individual attainment, though: it concerns the reconguration of the whole network and should be regarded as an emergent property of the entire network. An algorithm that systematically aims at identifying causal connections between attributes and network formation is SIENA (Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analysis). SIENA is a tool to test for causal effects between various individual and dyadic characteristics in longitudinal network data. In this way, it becomes possible, for example, to assess whether the distribution of music tastes and alcohol consumption in a network are primarily an effect of friendship ties (friends assimilate to their friends tastes and social practices) or whether similarity in practices and tastes leads to friendship formation (homophily; Steglich et al.

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2006). Here the ambition is clearly to explain social phenomena, but these are only located at the individual level (of attributes and connections) rather than at the systemic level. Other important examples for the combination of statistical analyses with formal network algorithms include Burts work on the effects of social capital varying by gender (1998), research by Baerveldt et al. on ethnic homophily in high schools (2007), and Martins work on the correlation between status positions and the attribution of sexiness in commune networks (2005). The latter is particularly interesting because it not only relates individual attributes (like gender and age), but also relational attribution (of sexiness) by others to positions in networks, thus aiming at a phenomenology of the inter-subjective (Martin 2003, p. 38) of self- and other-ascriptions. All of these studies, however, have to remain at the individual level, and can only aim at explanations of properties of individuals or their connections. An explanation at the systems level, in contrast, has to emerge from a comparison of multiple social contexts (which is partly possible by way of multi-level analyses). 4.2 Personal networks and qualitative methods Research that combines statistical analyses of personal networks with qualitative methods focuses on the level of the individual actors. It looks both at the structural embeddedness of actors and at the meaning the actors derive from and attach to their connections to others. Thus it comes closest to Webers original intention, combining a structural explanation of individual actions with an understanding of the subjective meaning leading to these actions. The main ambitions are to look for systematic connections between individual cognition and embeddedness, but also to criticize and develop interview techniques for the collection of quantitative network data. Exemplary research tackling the rst of these ambitions comes from the research group around Laura Bernardi on networks and the decision to have children and from Elisa Bellotti on friendship structures and strategies of young single people in Northern Italy. Bernardi and her coauthors focus on the impact of personal relationships to friends, family, and others on the decision of young couples in two German cities to have or not to have children (Keim et al. 2009). They thus look specifically for the subjective meaning that comes from inuence processes in networks, and relate it to the structure and composition of personal networks. Similarly, Bellotti links quantitative data on personal networks of young Italian singles to a qualitative study of the subjective meaning attached to these networks (Bellotti 2008, p. 323ff). Very much in line with Webers approach, Bellotti constructs four ideal types of structures of personal networks and links these with typical individual strategies and motives. Both Bernardi and Bellotti view personal networks and subjective meaning as inter-dependent: while networks produce specic individual orientations, these in turn have an impact on how actors construct their intimate relationships. Other research pointing in this direction includes Ann Misches research on the organizational afliations and leadership styles of Brazilian youth activists (2008, pp. 38ff, 186ff). Brian Uzzis work on structural embeddedness as a logic of exchange that shapes motives and expectations and promotes coordinated adaptation (1996) also combines an inquiry into personal networks, qualitative methods and subjective cognition. First, Uzzi conducted ethnographic eldwork and problem-oriented interviews at New York City apparel rms, inquiring into the subjective meanings and function of interrm ties. On the basis of these interviews, he found two types of relationships (Uzzi 1996, 1997), which guided further statistical analyses of the behavioral and cognitive properties of these two established types of ties, analyzing quantitative data on network exchanges.

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The second intention of combinig personal networks statistics and qualitative methods can be exemplied by the study of Bearman and Parigi (2004). Their work aims at nding out what people think of when they answer the common network generator question: Looking back over the last 6 months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you? After answering, the respondents were asked (in an open question) what kind of topics they had thought about when answering the questionwhat counts as important matters in the minds of the respondents. The goal was to nd out what subjective meaning respondents associated with the rather vague name generator question, and whether there was systematic variation in the way respondents answered the question. For this, the answers to the second, open question were coded into nine domains of topics from general news and political issues to relationships and religion, thus quantifying the qualitative results. Most importantly, Bearman and Parigis analysis shows a number of gender effects: married women (try to) talk about relationships with their husbands while their husbands talk about relationships with their friends. Similarly, married men report (monologue?) conversations about ideological issues with their wives, the latter whom report talking about ideological issues with their acquaintances. (2004, p. 544) Given the fact that husbands and wives should statistically report the same topics of conversations in their conversations, Bearman and Parigi conclude that gender differences observed in studies of personal networks may be an artefact of the different understandings of the network generator question, and of different respondent behavior (2004, pp. 547, 553). Like the more quantitative studies of Fischer (1982) and Yeung (2005), Bearman and Parigis work forms part of a research tradition that looks for systematic distortions in the way people respond to personal network questions in surveys. Qualitative methods are particularly useful for this because they can discern diverse interpretations from different groups of respondents. 4.3 Formal network analysis and qualitative methods Research that combines formal network analysis with qualitative methods studies the structure of relations in whole networks. It provides descriptions of complex social situations, points to particular positions individual or groups of actors hold and offers structural causes for the actions of individuals and the network as a whole. While some studies focus on the exploration of social contexts and the subjective meaning these contexts have for participating actors, others explain emergent properties of the network as a whole based on shared meaning and distributed cognition of its actors. Such combinations thus provide a structural explanation of individual or systemic actions with an understanding of the network meaning leading to these actions. The main ambition of this combination is to look for systematic connections between the pattern of relations and the shared cognition of the actors. From its inception, formal social network analysis has included the use of qualitative methods in the process of data gathering. Indeed, network analytic measures are well-equipped for the (algebraic) quantication of qualitative data (Breiger 2004). Seminal examples include Sampsons ethnographic study of the relations in a New England monastery (1968), or Faulkners study of the patterning of business relations between movie directors and composers in Hollywod using formal algorithms on data collected in ethnographic eld work (1983). An example for the exploration of network structure and the subjective meaning such structure has for participating actors provides Bakers work (1984). In his study of traders in a stock exchange market, he shows that the assumedly anonymous stock market is socially structured and that the structure has an effect on market prices. After identifying two

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distinctive crowds within one stock exchange by using qualitative data from interviews and participant observation, Baker formally analyzes the network structure of actual exchanges between the traders. In a third step, he interviews members of the two groups about their cognition and interpretation for such structure. His study thus combines a formal network analysis with the subjective, cognitive interpretation of the studied actors. He is able to explain action of the network overall and the subjective meaning of its individual actors.8 Works that have been pushing explanations of the entire network using formal network analysis, qualitative research techniques and a focus on inter-subjective meaning can in particular be found in the eld of economic sociology. Joel Podolnys work shows how meaning and structure conate when actors signal status positions and receive certain status positions based on the ascription of others (Podolny 2005). For example, the system of wine appellation creates meaning for its constituents (i.e. wineries) by forming a network of associations on the basis of similarity and difference. The wineries then search for cultural cues, through observation, critics evaluation or media reports, as to how to position themselves in the market of competitors (Benjamin and Podolny 1999). This is in line with Whites model for production markets (1981, 2002) in which market actors relate to each other through signals and through the stories they tell about themselves and each other. It is through the telling of stories, as discussed above, that meaning emerges. Empirical studies of this mechanism, using qualitative research techniques (content analyses of written documents and interview data) and formal network analyses, include Kennedys work on the early computer workstation market (2005) and Mtzels work on a newspaper market (2002).9

5 Conclusion This paper has outlined how different quantitative and qualitative techniques have been fruitfully combined to analyze different aspects of networks, in particular network structure and the meaning connected to it. We have shown that historically, both quantitative and qualitative analyses have been important in sociological network research, and that the role of qualitative research primarily relates to aspects of meaning in networksactors orientations and motivations, the symbols, schemes, and scripts circulated in communicative processes. We follow relational sociology of Harrison White and others in claiming that (1) networks are real social structures and not just measurement constructs (White 2008, p. 36). (2) As real social structures, they are inextricably intertwined with meaning, that is: symbols, narratives, identities, expectations, and categories (Fuhse 2009; Mtzel 2009). Networks are a constructed reality in the sense of the Thomas theorem: If men dene situations as real they are real in their consequences (Merton 1948, p. 193). Thus networks do not consist of mere structural patterns, but of the subjective and interactive definitions of these structural patterns. (3) While it may be useful to reduce networks to formal algebraic representations of patterns of relationships, the simultaneous attention to meaning can lead to additional insights, complement or even correct some of the important research ndings of sociological network research.
8 The challenge for these types of studies is to collect interview data on all members of the network. This is

easier done in small, bounded settings, and gets much more difcult in larger settings. See Kirke (2010) for a discussion on that. 9 Another group of studies applies formal network analysis to study relations between linguistic or social categories derived from written documents (e.g. Martin 2000; Mohr 1994). This approach of measuring meaning structures (Mohr 1998) studies cultural categories such as practices or concepts instead of social actorstheir analytical approach looks for the structure of meaning already.

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Consequently, we call for network research (4) to recognize the importance of looking at networks from different angles, applying different research techniques in order to arrive at a fuller and more accurate picture of complex and multi-faceted social structure, and specifically (5) to embrace qualitative research techniques as an important complement to its quantitative and structuralist stance. Since the three different research methods tackle different dimensions of networks, and pursue different aims (description, understanding, explanation) at different levels (individual, systemic), (6) research designs that combine two (or even three) types of method proves particularly fruitful. Examples of such research have been briey discussed in Sect. 4. While meaning can be found and studied both on the subjective level (in peoples heads) and on the inter-subjective level of communication between actors, we claim that (7) too much research focuses solely on the subjective level, as mainly tapped in qualitative and quantitative interviews. Instead, sociology should pay more attention to the inter-subjective level and look at the cultural forms (symbols, categories etc.) diffused and reproduced in processes of communication. In recent years, a few studies have paid closer attention to the level of communicated meaning (e.g. McLean 1998; Mtzel 2002; Gibson 2005). We speculate that research, using both quantitative and qualitative techniques, dealing with questions of how networks get enacted and constructed, how identities of actors are dened and negotiated, and of how network formations change in the course of communication might be one of the most challenging and fruitful areas of sociological network research in the future.
Acknowledgements We would like to thank the participants in a workshop on mixed methods in sociological network research in Berlin in January 2009 and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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