From Lecture Notes, Social Network Analysis, 1990
 
 

Some Outrageous Propositions


1. People (and other social entities) have a finite capacity to process information. This fact accounts for almost everything important about the structure of society.

2. All social characteristics are dependent on the connections between people, the connections between people and other social entities (e.g. groups, organizations, societies), and the connections between those entities. The connections which don't exis t are usually much more important than those which do. Theories which don't take this fact into account (e.g. economics, psychology) are kidding themselves.

3. What we see in society is the result of a process of natural selection of nonindependent units (e.g. behaviors, organisms, groups, organizations, cities, states, words, languages, cultural traits). To explain why things are the way that they are, we must look at the rate of creation and dissolution of these entities, and the mechanisms which determine those rates. Usually, entities which are centrally located in the connections among entities survive longer than peripheral ones.

4. Most of the stuff we "know" about society is not only not true, but is selected for its misleading qualities. The persistence of ideas often is more a result of the connection of those ideas to the distribution of material wealth than to any connectio n between those ideas and the empirical world. Ideas that get you more money are likely to crowd out ideas that explain society. Ideas that get you more money are likely to originate in parts of the social world which are rationalizing the social order rather than explaining it. Behaviors are rationalized, not rational. Rationality is local, not global.

5. Our ability to think clearly about society is directly related to our willingness to give up our most cherished beliefs, and inversely related to how much attention we pay to what people say, as opposed to what they do.

6. Sociology's long-term prospects are directly related to its chances of developing a distinctively sociological set of theories, and inversely related to the rate of borrowing from other disciplines.

7. Our basic methods (statistics, survey analysis) lead us persistently toward atomized thinking, rather than structural thinking. Other disciplines (economics, psychology) have a better foothold in the atomized terrain. Our natural locale is structura list, although these ideas have been nearly eradicated by the influx of atomizing methods. The only systematic body of non-atomized thought is the social network--structuralist literature.

8. What makes a smart person is that person's location in the structure of ideas. In general, the greater the centrality of ideas, the more important they are. The more important the ideas held by the person, the smarter the person. Usually, we attrib ute this structural position to some essential characteristic of the person, rather than acknowledging the structural nature of it.

9. Many of the smartest sociologists are moving in the direction of other disciplines, because these other disciplines allow them to think more clearly (among other reasons). Our discipline makes us stupid, rather than smart. This fact is caused by our not having a distinctive and well connected set of ideas. A consequence of the movement away from sociology by our smart people is a further decrease in our ability to talk to one another, which makes us more stupid. As our most important ideas become more and more integrated into other disciplines, we lose the centrality of our ideas, and thus our disciplinary identity.