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5. Clyde Mitchell: Pioneer of social network analysis

 

5-mitchell-soc-networks-urbanJames Clyde Mitchell (1918 – 1995), came to the University of Manchester in 1965 as Professor in Urban Sociology.  He was interested in the study of social structure through the observation of regular patterns of social relations that persist over time.

During his time in Rhodesia, Mitchell and colleagues used the idea of social networks as an opportunity to develop a new kind of way of researching and understanding society. They started combining traditional, anthropological, written accounts with new, mathematically-based ways of mapping the relationships within a group, often presented as diagrams which created a radical new way of representing and analysing sociological knowledge.

Qualitative methods were used for example by Epstein for the study of the spread of gossip (Epstein 1969); by Kapferer to map interactions between a group of African mine employees (Kapferer 1969: 184). Wheeldon (1969) studied a black community in Southern Africa; Boswell (1969) observed the mobilization of personal networks during periods of crisis in the African city of Lusaka, and Harries-Jones studied the importance of local political hierarchies and organizations during the general elections in Luanshya.

These contributions were collected in first publication on social networks, edited by Mitchell, Social Networks in urban situations (Manchester University Press:  1969). In the introduction, Mitchell describes the foundational elements of social network analysis and their importance for the mathematical formalization of social structure. This book remains a milestone in the study of social networks, especially when mixed with qualitative methods. His heritage continues in the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis, named in his honour, in memory of his foundational role in the development of social network analysis.

 

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