Social network studies have gained significant recognition in terms of both theory and method in recent years. Theoretical studies on social networks have greatly impacted various domains such as social capital, knowledge management, network organizations and so on. Based on the theoretical constructs of sociology, mathematical foundations of graph theory and recent developments hi computer hardware and software, social network analysis (SNA) offers a unique methodology for visualizing and investigating social structures and relations.
While a general social survey usually allows for studying individual’s properties as the prime context for explaining outcome, SNA incorporates the social context to explain individual or group outcomes. The relationships between the actors hence become the focus of study and the properties of the actors themselves remain secondary. This paper focuses on the data collection procedure, its benefits and limitations and standard measures of social network data within the context of the knowledge-intensive work of GPs in rural and isolated settings.
The development of the field of social networks was brought about in the 1930’s by several groups working independently in different traditional field. In the 1930s, a systematic approach to theory and research began to emerge. Georg Simmel constructed a theory that explained the causes of social phenomena and contributed towards ‘formal sociology’, which was the predecessor to SNA. In 1934, Jacob Moreno became the first to operationalise a social network by creating a system for representing,a social network as a combination of nodes and links.
Later, Dorwin Cartwright and Frank Harary built upon Moreno’s work, by applying the concepts of graph theory to the sociogram. They were able to incorporate much more complexity in the patterns of social relations, by adding direction to the lines and to show relationships as positive or negative. By the late 1930s, two separate traditions for SNA had developed . The first was the work by a group at Harvard University on ways to find subgroups of people in larger groups. The sociocentric approach developed from this tradition. It involves the quantification of relationships between people within a defined group.
The focus is on measuring the structural patterns of those interactions and how those patterns explain outcomes. The second tradition originated from group of anthropologists at the University of Manchester which paved the way for community studies and gave rise to the egocentric approach. They studied the networks of relations surrounding individuals rather than focusing on the whole society. Therefore, with its focus on individuals, it was concerned with making generalizations about the features of personal networks.