Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings
By Charles Kadushin
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012

Review by Matthew Bridgewater, Woodbury University

Introduction What is a Network? Social Network Analysis Ethics Conclusion References
Abstract image of two swirls of green and peach light


There has been a great deal of attention to ethical dilemmas in research in writing studies and composition studies (e.g., Anderson, 1998; McKee & DeVoss, 2007; McKee & Porter, 2012; Nickoson & Sheridan, 2012; Powell & Takayoshi, 2003; Schneider, 2006). Readers interested in research ethics will be glad to know Charles Kadushin (2012) did not forget to address the unique ethical dilemmas that social network analysis brings to the table. This book provides readers with a heuristic that can be used to trek through new ethical dilemmas in social network analysis. Kadushin bases his chapter on ethics on two things: 1) a realization that ethics is much more complicated than internal review boards or the somewhat out-of-date Belmont Report, and 2) his personal experience using social network analysis for decades.

Kadushin admits that social network analysis can be used nefariously. One example, from Morozov (2009), was how "Iranian immigration-control officials checked Facebook for the name of a traveler entering Iran, and recorded the names of all of her friends who were in Iran" (as cited in Kadushin, 2012, p. 185). The web of social network analysis, sometimes unwittingly and without reason, exposes people's privacy (pp. 195–198). This can be particularly important to organizational and communication scholars when conducting workplace studies where information about employees can be unknowingly given to management. Research in educational settings is also susceptible to compromising delicate social relations and identifying underage participants.

Kadushin also draws attention to how some internal review boards are made up of medical professionals who often are more concerned with whether a study will bring physical harm to a participant than whether a study has the potential to violate confidentiality, anonymity, or other ethical principles (p. 190). Kadushin explained that he was not the first to point to these concerns: In 2003, "The National Academy panel also noted that concerns about privacy need to be reviewed in an age in which so much about individuals is available through the internet" (p. 187). While much information is indeed public in the Internet age, is it ethical to use this information, especially when social network analysis can draw connections between people, groups, and organizations that aren't obvious (p. 188)? Ultimately, Kadushin argues that there needs to be an updated balance between what research needs to be done and what can harm people (p. 190).

While I won't dig into Kadushin's personal stories here, his valuable anecdotes cover problems conducting social network analysis of a college-student population, the French banking elite, the American elite and opposition to the Vietnam War, the communist elite in the former Yugoslavia, and terrorists and criminals (pp. 191–198). These examples highlight flashpoints that social network analysts could come across in their research, and they are an entertaining read.