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Networks in Political Science: Back to the Future

  • David Lazer (a1)
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What are the relational dimensions of politics? Does the way that people and organizations are connected to each other matter? Are our opinions affected by the people with whom we talk? Are legislators affected by lobbyists? Is the capacity of social movements to mobilize affected by the structure of societal networks? Powerful evidence in the literature answers each of these questions in the affirmative. However, compared to other paradigmatic foci, political science has invested tiny amounts of capacity in the study of the relevance of networks to political phenomena. Far more attention has been paid to the psychology of how people process information individually as opposed to collectively, and to the role that institutions play in structuring politics as opposed to the relational undergirdings of politics. A review of the flagship journals in political science reveals a dearth of articles on networks. Few, if any, doctoral programs include courses for which the primary focus is network-related ideas, and even the notion of a relational dependence in data is rarely mentioned in discussions of the assumptions embedded in the statistical methods that dominate political science.

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