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 a swirl of red and yellow light


Charles Kadushin is Distinguished Scholar at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Visiting Research Professor of sociology at Brandeis University and Emeritus Professor of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. He has made several contributions to sociology, such as being an early developer of social network analysis and studies on the American cultural elite. His Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts and Findings (2012) explains the concepts, defines the vocabulary, and outlines the framework of social network analysis—a methodology in sociology that builds upon psychology, biology, economics, and previous sociology research—for readers without any background in it. This book also presents contributions that it has made to the social sciences, thereby demonstrating the power of social network analysis across disciplines.

Readers of Kairos might think of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or the World Wide Web in general as potential topics in a book about social networks. Popular culture seems to be obsessed with "the discovery that we are all connected in various ways" (Kadushin, 2012, p. 108), and this is largely because social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are so ubiquitous. But this book is not specifically about the recent digital manifestations of social networks. It's instead about the specific methodology of social network analysis, a research framework that developed over the last half of the twentieth century and continues to develop and contribute to understanding social systems to this very day. As Kadushin reminds readers at various points in the book, social networks are as old as humanity itself. While social media and other online activities can plot out social networks openly and seemingly effortlessly, sociologists were trying to understand social networks long before there were social media.

Each person is part of many social networks (family networks, professional networks, neighborhood networks, friendship networks, etc.). Yet, before I read this book, I lacked the vocabulary to conceptualize social networks in ways that many researchers understand them. The purpose of this book is to introduce readers to the vocabulary, concepts, and framework of social network analysis. Understanding Social Networks, then, is more theoretical—like Bruno Latour's (2005) Reassembling the Social or Clay Spinuzzi's (2008) Network—than books that discuss methods more explicitly—such as Gesa Kirsch and Patricia Sullivan's (1992) Methods and Methodologies in Composition Research, Janice M. Lauer and William J. Asher's (1988) Composition Research: Empirical Designs, Heidi McKee and Dànielle DeVoss's (2007) Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethics, or Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan's (2012) Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies.

Understanding Social Networks is organized into three sections. In the first section, Kadushin introduces readers to networks, meticulously answering such questions as how a network can be defined by social network analysis. This sets the stage for the second section, which focuses on how networks affect one another and individuals while also explaining further characteristics of networks. This section also presents easy-to-understand research findings from social network analysis. In the final section, Kadushin discusses the ethical questions one should be aware of when conducting social network analysis and summarizes the main points of the book.

This review will discuss some highlights from Understanding Social Networks to inform Kairos readers of the potential this book brings to writing studies, rhetoric, and communication studies.