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 constraints.
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 are:
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.

Recent research:
a) Deal with dynamics of relational systems and shows how constrained strategies (for example relational investments) lead to their reproduction or evolution.
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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