Does it matter whom you know, how many people you know and in turn, whom and how many contacts your contacts have? Common knowledge seems to support this, but why and in what ways do our connections with other people matter? The scientific examination of social and political ties among individuals and organizations is social network analysis or SNA. Networks are heuristics that do not exist a priori; the researcher, guided by the research question at hand, delineates the network boundaries. In other words, networks are way of understanding social system by foregrounding the relationships among their entities (Borgatti, Everett, and Johnson, 2013). The salience of network research in disaster response, recovery, and adaptation has recently gained attention in the literature (Jones and Faas, 2017). As Jones and Faas (2017) note, a network approach can contribute to our understanding of how people and groups experience extreme events. But also, how organizations and individuals form networks in response to uncertainty and calamity.
The predominant forms of structural analysis however tend to ignore action, agency, and intersubjective meaning. Since networks are configurations of social relationships they are inherently interwoven with meaning. The social relationships as the basic building blocks of networks are conceived of as dynamic structures of reciprocal (but not necessarily symmetric) expectations between alter and ego. Through their transactions, alter and ego construct an idiosyncratic “relationship culture” comprising symbols, narratives, and relational identities. The coupling of social relationships to networks, too, is heavily laden with meaning. The symbolic construction of persons is one instance of this coupling. Another instance is the application of social categories (like race or gender), which both map and structure social networks. This “meaning structure of social networks” is relevant to study, e.g. among collaborating disaster management organizations, in order to strengthen all phases of disaster management.
The aim of this session is to present social network analysis (SNA) as theory and method. By coupling SNA with culture, we will provide avenues for future research in the field of disaster and resilience.