Three Kinds of Network

09 January 2017 | A network is simply a set of relations between objects which could be people, organizations, nations, items found in a Google search, brain cells, or electrical transformers. (Charles Kadushin, 2012)

There are three kinds of networks: ego-centric, sociocentric, and open-system networks.

Ego-centric networks are those networks that are connected with a single node or individual, for example, my good friends or all the companies that do business with Widgets, Inc. (the favorite name of organizations studied in business schools). However, a list is not necessarily a network. In popular discourse, especially when social support is discussed, any list is called a “network.”It is a network in a basic sense because even if no one on the list is connected with one another, each individual is at least all connected with the person being supported. The support may include help with a job search, comfort during an illness, or a loan of money or a lawn mower. A person with a large number of good friends whom he or she can count on is commonly said to have a large “network.”This network cannot be discussed in social network terms, however, unless we know whether and how these people are connected with one another. It is obviously one thing to have a supportive network in which most people know one another and a very different matter if the people are unknown to one another.

Socio-centric networks are networks in a “box.” Connections between children in a classroom or between executives or workers in an organization are closed system networks and the ones most often studied in terms of the fine points of network structure.

Open system networks are networks in which the boundaries are not necessarily clear, for they are not in a box—for example, the elite of the United States, connections between corporations, the chain of influencers of a particular decision, or the adopters of new practices. In some ways, these are the most interesting networks.

One may be interested in social networks because:

  1. Social networks are problem-solving tools in understanding why people went to psychiatrists and how elites were organized.
  2. Social networks are key methodological and theoretical insights that could help to unpack social phenomena.

Social networks are resilient and constantly adapting. Large “mass societies” remain bound by personal ties. Take out a key point, and the network becomes ineffective.

Two of the major propositions of social networks are homophily—people with like characteristics tend to be connected; and influence—connected people tend to have an effect on one another.


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