Social Networks

Social networks definition and characteristics
Human beings are social creatures that create relationships/links/ties with other human beings (or organizations) to achieve their goals and satisfy their needs. The links manifest themselves in different ways, such as family ties, affectionate relationships, business links, etc. Every actor has many links (many types of links also). By connecting all relevant actors social networks can be created. A social network is defined as “a social structure made up of a set of actors (such as individuals or organizations) and the dyadic ties between these actors” (Wikipedia). A social network analysis is useful when trying to understand the organization of social entities or when trying to identify “local and global patterns, locate influential entities, and examine network dynamics” (Wikipedia).

Actors can be connected to each other in several patterns forming different types of structures i.e. tightly coupled network, central network, etc. There can be diversity among the actors i.e. actors with more/less centrality, actors more/less powerful, etc. The links or relationships can also be of different types i.e. equal, asymmetrical, and hierarchical. Some actors may be dependent on others to achieve their goals. If all these differences are relevant to the analysis they can be represented in the network in one way or another i.e. through arrows, different colors, different sized, etc.


Actors create and use social networks to achieve common or private goals (i.e. satisfy their needs). In other words networks provide the structure in which actors can coordinate activities. Or is it the other way around? The point is that actors create social networks by connecting with other actors, this connections are the means for coordinating activities. Networks are the bases of coordination.

The types of coordination mechanisms and their definition are the following:

Is “a dynamical and adaptive process where systems acquire and maintain structure themselves, without external control” (De Wolf and Holvoest, 2004). Is a process in which actors gain organization a structure through mutual, local interactions without external coordination (Boons and Gerrits, work in progress; Boons, 2008).

A coordination mechanisms through which actors wish to gain internal control by developing and enforcing monitoring and sanctioning rules themselves. “A system of external control may be relevant in setting the boundary conditions which enables actors to devise their self-governance, but the regime of monitoring and sanctioning does not make use in any way of governmental structures ” (Boons and Gerrits, work in progress )

Private interest governments:
A coordination mechanism in which actors self-organize “with goals specified by an external control system. ” “This is different from external control, as the control system does not specify the order and goal of the system, as it does in regulation.” (Boons and Gerrits, work in progress)

“We define government as the coordination mechanism for human activities where actors subject themselves to a separate system that has the power/ability to set and enforce rules that constrain their behavior on any issue it deems relevant (Boons and Gerrits, work in progress).

A different mixes of coordination mechanisms can be found different social entities.
According to Simon (1962) complex systems “first self-organize into smaller viable sub-systems, or stable assemblies, then these can self-organize to form more complex systems”. Through my perspective smaller sub-systems need different coordination mechanisms than bigger, more complex systems. A simple way to see this is that governments organize social masses and address wider goals and scopes. Governments also can interact and address smaller social groups either by direct control or by enforcing pressure i.e. through boundaries, goals, etc. Self-governance is when groups with smaller scope and goals want to gain internal control. Finally, self-organization is when actors intend to fulfill their goals and desires (smaller scope and goals) in an environment full of boundaries (upper levels of organization).

Social Network 1: My Paternal Family


My grandfather, Ismael Mendoza had five children on his first marriage. Out of which my father was the only man. He was also the oldest out of the five. My gran mother, suffer an accident when they were still young, and unfortunately died. My grandfather took care of his children, but got re married once the last was old enough to continue on her own. On his second marriage, my grandfather had two more sons. The attention and protection of my grandfather (first generation) got divided between his two families, yet he never stopped to look after his first family. My father and aunts (second generation) are now on their mid-forties, or early fifties. Each formed a family and had children (third generation) most of which are now adults.

My grandfather procures economic stability, to himself, his wife and seven sons/daughters through family businesses. Though are many family businesses, operated by distinct family members; there is tight communication of economic matters and distribution of wealth between the whole first and second generation. My grandfather’s children of the second marriage, because of their age, are treated more similar to the third generation.

Figure 1

A network analysis of my paternal family, family Mendoza, is represented in figure 1. The central actor, my grand-father Ismael, is directly connected to his seven sons/daughters and his wife. The five son/daughters, product of the first marriage, are also connected to their respective partners and children. Families are clearly distinguishable in the network diagram. The first generation is connected to the second and the second to the third. Ties are still strong between generations because there is no actor completely economic or sociably independent to their progenitors. Thus, there is clear dependency of every actor to its progenitor(s), represented by arrows in figure 1. Although there are strong relationships between all the members of the family, the network analysis focuses only in the relationships between generations. These ties denote economic dependency and social authority.

The scope of the analysis is three consecutive generations of consanguine members, starting with my grandfather as the first generation, plus the affectionate family. The affectionate family represents the partners or children that form part of the family by choice. The goal of this organization is to ensure economical-social prosperity among all the members. The organization procures that younger members are sociably and economically protected by older members. Smaller organizational groups, called families, are stable entities that facilitate the organization and stability of the whole family.

There is a different mix of coordination mechanisms in the family network. My paternal family is set within a context, and thus obeys larger economic and social organization structures i.e. Mexican/international law, Mexican culture, etc. These external structures may affect the internal order through direct control or as pressures. For example in family businesses the external pressures may come as bank loans or businesses opportunities. The government, through the law, exerts direct control over the organization, in such a way that many aspects of the family the businesses, households, vehicles are dictated by this outer control. Additional to the external control, there are internal forms of control, or self-governance systems within the family. Every family has its own mechanisms of rule formation, monitoring and sanctioning social behavior. There is also a social pressure that comes from my grandfather to every member of the family i.e. his grand children should get good grades. Every family business also has its own governance system; these include rules and compromises such as working schedule, business goals, deadlines, etc. Finally self- organization is present in actors within this context. For example the replication of behavioral patterns from sons/daughters to parents is a form of self-organization.

The family network is organized in such a way to ensure stability. This stability is dynamic, and depends on feedback based on economic loops i.e. earning profits, accomplishing deadlines and social loops i.e. living in accordance to family values.

Social Network 2: Social Systems- Policy and Management

Social Systems-Policy and Management (fall 2012) is a course of 27 students and one teacher, Mr. Frank Boons. The goal of the course is to facilitate the appropriate environment, tools and material so that the enrolled students can learn from the topic. In this course a network of knowledge is created. The teacher, Mr. Boons, is the actor in the central position tightly linked to all the other actors who are students, as represented in figure 2. The student-teacher link is a relationship of knowledge dependency. The in-experts in the subject are dependent on the expert. During the lectures the teacher gives information to the students, thus the information flow is in one direction. The teacher lowers the dependency from the students and enriches the course by relying on other experts, either through guest lecturers or through published articles. There is also some interaction and information transfer among the students through conversations, electronic class networks (the SSPM blog), class discussions and/or class activities; where some students create more interactions for knowledge transfer than others. These types of interactions are exemplified in figure 2. Thus the networks structure is highly centralized, with large dependency on the central actor, but with enabled interactions among the peripheral actors.

Figure 2
Networks SSPM

In the SSPM network there is also a different mix of coordination mechanisms. This network is set within a context which renders most of its characteristics. The SSPM class is part of the Master Programme of Industrial Ecology, imparted by three united institutions: University of Leiden (official institution), TU Delft (official institution) and Rotterdam University (unofficial institution). In a broader context the course also obeys Dutch social, educative and institutional systems. The external structures affect the internal organization through direct control i.e TU Delft course rules; or through pressures i.e. social science teacher’s normative pressures. This entity also poses internal control in the form of a self-governance system. Self-governance is held through rule formation, monitoring and sanctioning according to F. Boons organizational criteria. Finally, self-organization of the actors is held within these boundaries through mechanisms such as mimicry.

As a small conclusion I want to say that this two examples intend to demonstrate how organization among social entities can be analysed using the concepts or theories of social networks and coordination mechanisms.


Boons, F.A. 2008. Self-Organization and Sustainability: The Emergence of a Regional Industrial Ecology, Emergence: Complexity and Organization 10(2).
Boons, F.A., Gerris, Lasse. “Between self-organization and government: a complexity perspective on the rise and fall of the hierarchical state.” Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
De Wolf, T. and Holvoet, T. (2004).. Emergence and Self-Organization: a statement of similarities and differences. Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Engineering Self- Organizing Applications, 2004. “Social Network.” Wikipedia. N.p., 20 2012. Web. 23 Dec 2012.


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