Group of Analysis of Social Networks, Spaces and Structures
The structural paradigm in sociology
allows to go beyond the classical opposition between holism and
individualism. It integrates in a specified and precise way the
relational constraints limiting individual and collective action.
First it examines the way in which
specific contexts of action influence cognitions (representations,
knowledge, norms, preferences); available resources and their distribution
more or less solidary; the controls (positive and negative sanctions).
It specifies in a theoretical and empirical
way the contexts of action based on:
a) Relational systems, each characterized by a particular model
of organization of links between actors (characterized by a "structure"
as a conceptual model of this organization).
b) The interdependence between different relational systems exerting
c) Procedures of positioning actor in this structure (belonging
to a cohesive or equivalent sub-structure or by measures of centrality).
Then it can interpret more or less strategic practices according
to the positions that actors occupy in the system of relationships
examined (due to influences on the cognitions or resources or controls).
The model of actor used most often
is that of limited strategic rationality. It is considered that
the positions occupied in the relational systems:
a) Offer more or less possible or open alternatives of action among
which actors can choose.
b) Influence the abilities of actors to conceive these alternatives,
to value them or politize them.
The two most often used models of action
a) Exchange of resources: how actors exchange resources thanks to
specific ties to realize their preferences (cf. Social capital).
b) Action on regulation: how actors try to modify the conditions
and the rules of exchange.
a) Deal with dynamics of relational systems and shows how constrained
strategies (for example relational investments) lead to their reproduction
b) Tend to advance in the discovery of the articulation between
different levels: how do local exchanges reproduce or transform
the global organization of a given system?; how two or more interacting
systems modify the characteristics of a macro-social organization.
The preferred methodology is that of
social network analysis:
a) That has specific procedures of research that allow for the observation
of whole networks or personal networks from the information on contents
and forms of relationships between each pair of actors of the considered
social system (or in the case of a personal network only the relations
with their partners)
b) That has particular procedures of data analysis allowing to discover
the structural characteristics of relational systems and the identification
of the positions occupied by actors.
Alexis Ferrand and Emmanuel Lazega.
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