From Object to Flow: Network Analysis, Symbolic Interaction, and Social Media
Markham, A., & Lindgren, S. (in press). From object to flow: Network analysis, symbolic interactionism, and social media. Studies in Symbolic Interaction, a research bi-annual, December 2012. ISSN: Q163-2396
26 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2013
Date Written: May 1, 2012
Network analysis and a symbolic interaction approach seem incompatible, yet when the tools are separated from the disciplinary parameters for which they were developed (primarily Social Network Analysis, or SNA), a network sensibility offers a beguiling method for extending certain approaches, such as grounded theory, symbolic interactionism, or ethnography, and specifying other approaches, such as actor network theory or practice theory.
In this essay, we make a case for embracing and critically developing network sensibilities as a way to grapple with the complexity of contemporary social media interactions. Our discussion, mostly focused at the level of method, is intended to contribute to ongoing conversations stressing the need to build conceptual and methodological frameworks that resonate more closely with the complexity of networked, technologically-mediated social contexts.
To begin, we clarify the distinction between network analysis and network sensibility. We then discuss three key strengths of using network sensibilities to study the nuances of social media: (1) network practices can generate data and add complexity by producing multiple renderings of potential meaning emerging through social media; (2) the practice of creating and then juxtaposing different visualizations and potential explanations of the situation can help shift focus from objects to relations or flow; and (3) through the practice of constantly rebuilding and shifting visual mappings so different elements are centered, network analysis can become a catalyst for reflexive and ethical practice.
Keywords: symbolic interactionism, network theory, network analysis, actor network theory, internet research, social media research, qualitative methods, interpretive qualitative methods, remix methods
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