This chapter discusses characteristics of social network data, with an emphasis on how to collect such data sets. We categorize network data in a variety of ways, and illustrate these categories with examples. We also describe the data sets that we use throughout the book. As noted in Chapter 1, the most important difference between social network data and standard social and behavioral science data is that network data include measurements on the relationships between social entities. Most of the standard data collection procedures known to every social scientist are appropriate for collecting network data (if properly applied), but there are a few techniques that are specific to the investigation of social networks. We highlight these similarities and differences in this chapter.
Introduction: What Are Network Data?
Social network data consist of at least one structural variable measured on a set of actors. The substantive concerns and theories motivating a specific network study usually determine which variables to measure, and often which techniques are most appropriate for their measurement. For example, if one is studying economic transactions between countries, one cannot (easily) rely on observational techniques; one would probably use archival records to obtain information on such transactions. On the other hand, friendships among people are most likely studied using questionnaires or interviews, rather than using archival or historical records. In addition, the nature of the study determines whether the entire set of actors can be surveyed or whether a sample of the actors must be taken.
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