Goffman internet research methods methodology network culture social media

Symbolic Interaction, Network Analysis, and Social Media

Symbolic Interaction, Network Analysis, and Social Media

Annette Markham


Simon Lindgren and I have finally finished a draft of a new article. Forthcoming, after revisions, in Studies in Symbolic Interaction, volume 39 (anticipated 2012). Any comments welcome!  Here’s a PDF of the draft copy. Abstract Below:

In spite of the seeming incompatibility of network analysis and a symbolic interaction approach, we have both been drawn to some of the possibilities offered by a network sensibility. When the tools are separated from the disciplinary parameters for which they were developed (primarily Social Network Analysis, or SNA), a network sensibility offers a beguiling method for extending certain approaches, such as grounded theory, symbolic interactionism, or ethnography, and specifying other approaches, such as actor network theory or practice theory.
In this essay, we make a case for embracing and critically developing network sensibilities as a way to grapple with the complexity of contemporary social media interactions. Our discussion, mostly focused at the level of method, is intended to contribute to ongoing conversations stressing the need to build conceptual and methodological frameworks that resonate more closely with the complexity of networked, technologically-mediated social contexts.

To begin, we clarify the distinction between network analysis and network sensibility. We then discuss three key strengths of using network sensibilities to study the nuances of social media: (1) network practices can generate data and add complexity by producing multiple renderings of potential meaning emerging through social media; (2) the practice of creating and then juxtaposing different visualizations and potential explanations of the situation can help shift focus from objects to relations or flow; and (3) through the practice of constantly rebuilding and shifting visual mappings so different elements are centered, network analysis can become a catalyst for reflexive and ethical practice.

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