Network analysis, culture, and the problem of agency
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This paper reflects on the importance of network analysis in sociological research, even though it has never been subjected to a theoretically informed assessment and critique. Network analysis does not have a formal theory; it uses instead strategies to understand social structures. The authors present a summary of the theoretical assumptions of network analysis. The paper also defines three (implicit) models in the network literature of interrelation of social structure, culture, and human agency. The first, structuralist determinism, neglects the political and cultural discourse in history and the potential causal role of actors' beliefs, values, and normative commitments. The second one, the structuralist instrumentalism, accepts the prominent role of social actors in history, but conceptualizes their activity in narrowly and instrumental forms. Finally, the structuralist constructionism, thematizes certain historical processes of identity conversion and "robust action." It adequately conceptualizes human agency and the potentially transformative impact of cultural idioms and normative commitments on social action. To conclude, the paper calls for an historical explanation that synthesizes social structural and cultural analysis to adequately explain the formation, reproduction, and transformation of networks themselves. The authors end the paper proposing an outline for a theoretical synthesis.