When Theory Meets Methods: The Naissance of Computer Assisted Corporate Interlock Research
FENNEMA, M. and HEEMSKERK, E. M. (2017), When Theory Meets Methods: The Naissance of Computer Assisted Corporate Interlock Research. Global Networks
Posted: 23 Aug 2016 Last revised: 8 Nov 2017
Date Written: February 16, 2017
This paper studies the emergence of computer aided network analysis as an example of ‘Mertonian’ multiple discovery. Computer assisted quantitative network analysis emerged around 1970 and was first applied on corporate interlock networks by small groups of researchers in different universities that were independent from each other looking for the right concepts and computer programs to implement graph theory in social analysis. We show how mathematical graph theory provided a toolbox for systematic network analysis and that simultaneously in the Netherlands and the United States this toolbox found an application in the study of corporate power. A historical narrative covers the three main centers where large-scale corporate network analysis emerged: Amsterdam, California and Stony Brook. For each center, we provide a sketch of the people involved, the tools they used, and the motivations that brought them to this topic. Our analysis makes clear that the emergence of computer aided network analysis cannot be understood without taking into account the personal and often political motivations of those who engaged in the first board interlock studies. Insurgent students of political science and sociology pushed for a research agenda on corporate power and found support from scholars who were keen to develop innovative network analysis methods. Hence corporate network analysis became a legitimate field of research.
Keywords: Interlocking directorates, network analysis, history of science, scientific discovery
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