Workshop Report on “Social Network Analysis and its Uses in History and Archaeology” (10 January 2019)

The word “Network” has become a term commonly used in disciplines dealing with the ancient world. Some scholars use it merely as a metaphor for describing geographical connections. Others, such as myself, use networks in order to examine relational constellations of people, places and objects. And there are also scholars who investigate networks and their structural formations in order to understand the causal as well as consecutive dynamics of such relations.

On 10 January 2019 the workshop on Social Netwotk Analysis (SNA), held at the Max Weber Kolleg, Erfurt, intended to unfold the diverse uses of the term “network”, as well as its advantages and disadvantages as analytical tool for the historical and archaeological disciplines. The speakers gave an overview of SNA, introduced new research tools and discussed the cultural turn in network research more broadly. During the workshop, we experimented with material we had collected from our own research and discussed with the other participants in how far it would serve as a sufficient basis for qualitative SNA. The participants felt that the qualitative approach is particularly useful in order to understand the structural similarities of different social relations.

Dr. Markus Gamper, sociologist (of religion) from Cologne, delivered the keynote and provided a broad outline of the most recent developments in SNA in the cultural studies, as well as the latest visualization techniques for qualitative analyses. 

After that Dr. Elena Köstner (University of Regensburg) discussed her linguistic analysis and graphic visualization of the network of people that appear in the ancient text source “The Feast of Trimalchio” by the Roman courtier Titus Petronius Arbiter (c. 27-66 CE). Finally, Dr. Maik Patzelt from the University of Osnabrück presented the diverse identities and agencies of late antique widows via a theoretical network approach, and described how the women used their relations to empower themselves.

The workshop made clear that we have to define more precisely what the relation between the actors in the network is. Individuals only “knowing of each other” is not always sufficient for a fruitful SNA. It should rather include interactions which have to be identified clearly and determined as relational. Overall, the workshop provided a fascinating forum for discussions and all participants felt that many more avenues can be explored when it comes to SNA in the humanities.  

— Asuman Lätzer-Lasar

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