So, before diving into the larger aims of the book on gathering network data, this chapter will therefore begin by outlining several of the theoretical perspectives that animate social networks research, to emphasize why network data are important. This will also entail a discussion of some of the most common types of ties these theories suggest we are likely to gather data about. Chapter 2 will elaborate the primary strategies for sampling and measuring social networks, and describe how these combine into what is known as the boundary specification problem. In Chapter 3, I will describe a number of available platforms for implementing social network data collection, with a focus on how these differentially prioritize some of the elements laid out in Chapter 2. Chapter 4 will describe several ethical considerations that are unique to the nature of social networks research. Finally, Chapter 5 will address data quality in social networks research, by highlighting how it is typically assessed, some common patterns of especially high/poor quality data, and a few strategies for improving the quality and coverage of social network data. This will be followed by a few brief pointers to areas of opportunity for future development in social network data collection.
I think this an opportune time to also mention a few things that I will not aim to accomplish with this book. This is a book on the methods of data collection, not on social network analysis nor network theories.
First, this is not a book on Social Network Analysis. There are literally dozens of good books available on this topic, and I don’t feel the need to compete with them, nor to replicate their work. If analytic approaches to network data is what you’re after, I’d point you to one of those books (for examples, see Appendix A). The aims of this book are complementary to these others. In fact, I make a few assumptions in this book that you are familiar with many basic terms in social network analysis, to avoid unnecessarily breaking up this text with those definitions.1 However, for those of you who are new to the field, or just want to be sure we’re working from the same assumptions,2 I will provide a glossary in Appendix A) that provides definitions for many key terms (appearing in bold where they first occur in the main text).
Second, the theoretical perspectives I draw from in the remainder of this chapter will necessarily be covered in relatively thin detail. My aim is to show the implications of that work for the aims of this book–namely how to gather network data. I strongly encourage readers who would like more guidance in developing the theoretical aims of their work to seek out the resources cited here for further elaboration.