Professor Katherine Faust, of the University of California-Irvine’s sociology department, was the first speaker in a series of lectures on the dynamics of social networks and their applications initiated by the new iCeNSA intercollegiate program.
“Individuals … directing communications or actions toward one another,” was Faust’s underlying premise for the classification of a network as being a social network.
Faust explained her theory through her analysis of networks among both humans and animals.
According to Faust, ties and groups are “at the crux of what it means to be social.”
These ties and groups were shown in a hypergraph, an elaborate graph that contained both nodes and bonds between nodes.
At one point, Faust pointed out the similarities in the social network hypergraphs of cows licking each other and of politicians co-sponsoring bills together.
They illustrated connections that arise among social beings, such as people, in the same setting. Each node had a property of degree measuring its involvement in the network.
Faust explained the different methods for analyzing a social network that spanned many different disciplines. The structure of the network is nearly synonymous with the relations than run between each actor involved in the grouping.
Empirical and graphic representations, along with computational models, are valid ways of both analyzing and representing social networks.
The property of “multiple individual interactions in the same place, at the same time” is defined as the property of social networks known as sociality, according to Faust. Networks wherein the individuals are “reacting to each other,” and are “very public and observable” have the property of sociality.
The consequences of sociality were illustrated with diagrams of the interactions of different animals. These consequences described social phenomena like linear hierarchies, bystanders, interventions and coalitions.
“The emergence of things like linear hierarchies depends upon the presence of third party bystanders,” Faust said.
Essentially, linear hierarchies wherein one individual was dominant over another were formed differently or did not emerge at all dependent upon the presence of a third-party observer.
Interest in social networks from other fields like computer science, physics and biology renew Faust’s question of just what is social about social networking.
However, the interaction of these new fields together yields interesting possibilities for future career paths.
Some incarnations already emerging from these co-operations are the ever popular Web sites, Facebook and MySpace, she said.