Social Network Analysis in Social Work Science
The symposium we propose is a collection of 5 papers that all use social network methods to understand how the social environment impacts the lives of marginalized persons. The papers cover a variety of populations: young men who have sex with men, homeless youth, persons living with severe mental illness in India and the United States, and homeless adult women. The outcomes tackled by these papers arelikewise diverse: substance use, sexual risk-taking, and community integration.
Social network research makes a distinction between two types of network studies, so-called “ego-centric” and “whole” network studies. Papers utilizing both types of network data are part of this symposium. Ego-centric network data depict the network ties of one particular person. Ego-centric data enable researchers to understand the diversity of network ties which surround an individual. These ties tend to be unbounded and include a large variety of individuals who cut across different types of networks, for example family, providers, and work colleagues. Whole network data provide an understanding of how a population of persons are connected to one another. Such data allow one to understand how a small number of ties aggregate into larger, whole network structures, and how positions in whole networks, and clustering of direct and indirect relationships, impact outcomes. These data typically allow one to examine more complex structures but only within one type of network connection at a time.
We believe that social network analytic strategies can help to propel social work science. Toward that end, this symposium will do much to expose other social work researchers to the benefits and insights which can be gleaned from social network analysis as applied to the problems of social work science. These papers all have implications for intervention research, particularly how features of social environments impact the well being of individuals living in those systems.