Social network analysis and activity theory: A symbiotic relationship

Murphy, Victoria; Littlejohn, Allison and Rienties, Bart C. (2020). Social network analysis and activity theory: A symbiotic relationship. In: Froehlich, Dominik E.; Rehm, Martin and Rienties, Bart C. eds. Mixed methods social network analysis: Theories and methodologies in learning and education. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, pp. 113–125.

URL: https://www-routledge-com/Mixed-Methods-Social-Net...


The chapter outlines benefits that can be accrued by combining SNA approaches with those based on activity theory. The two frameworks take different perspectives and are from very different origins. However, in essence they are both concerned with understanding the interactions that take place between individuals or networks in order to achieve a goal. The combination of these two research approaches can be utilised to address some of the limitations of both SNA and activity theory.

This chapter will initially explore similarities and differences in the philosophical principles underpinning SNA and activity theory, before moving on to the strengths and weaknesses of research designs based on each. It will then progress to discussing how a combination of the frameworks can create a stronger design; in particular we will explore how activity theory can place SNA in a qualitatively rich context, while SNA provides a structured exploration of the community and division of labour elements of an activity system. While there are several benefits to combination, there remain limitations that are not addressed by mixing these particular frameworks, such as a lack of focus on cognitive processes. Finally, the chapter will end by giving an example of a research design that combined SNA and activity theory to illustrate how researchers may implement this particular mixed methods approach.

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