«NETWORKING IN EVERYDAY LIFE by Bernard J. Hogan A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy ...»
Regardless of my intentions, the term networking has a certain cultural baggage.
That said, the shift in response from “introductions” to “Facebook” highlights how this baggage is shifting as the term enters a sort of new cultural niche. I had neither of these terms in mind when considering this topic. Since I am swimming against the current of popular understanding of the term, it may be helpful to illustrate some popular notions of networking if only to differentiate them from a proposed deﬁnition.
Networking as a term is most prominently found in popular (or pop) business lit
erature. I recently found a apt representative of this genre at an airport bookstore.
Alongside other business titles was The Little Black Book of Connections by Jeffrey Gitomer, a bestselling author of introductory business books. The book’s subtitle is “6.5 assets for Networking Your Way to RICH Relationships [sic].” Inside its embossed cloth cover is an ode to the usefulness of business relationships. As a popular book, it makes no mention of social capital, refers only to reciprocity as “the golden rule” and focuses on how to translate relationships into personal success. Despite its overthe-top design, most of the points in this book neatly capture the conventional view of networking. First, that it is dyadic—one connects to other people (Chapters one and six of his book). Second, that it is about making a good ﬁrst impression (Chapter six).
Third, it takes place at events (Chapter four). Most importantly, however, it is instrumental and goal-oriented (Chapter two). Consider one of Gitomer’s “universal truths of networking”: “Before you can GET what you want, you have to KNOW what you want, and make a GAME PLAN to get it” (Gitomer, 2006, 56). It is not hard to see how this instrumentally focused networking ideology is considered boorish outside business circles. It presumes a superﬁcial rational actor who easily merges their personal identity with the need to do business. This is the sort of actor who, with little sense of the prevailing social structure, juts out his hand at any possibly opportune time in order to get a return on his social investment.
Increasing in sophistication from Gitomer’s popular books are works such as Personal Networking by consultant Mick Cope (2003) and Networking Smart by sociologist Wayne Baker (1994). Like Gitomer’s work, they are still oriented towards business, but unlike Gitomer they offer a rich sense of social capital, and particularly in Baker’s case, considerations of social structure. What uniﬁes these books beyond the word business on the upper left corner of the back cover is their pro-relationship tone. They couple relationships with success; build relationships, build success.
networking via social software. The data in this study predate any signiﬁcant impact of social software by about two years, but given its present prominence (and congruence with the overall argument) it is still worth mentioning. These sites allow individuals to grow a list of friends by either searching for speciﬁc names or getting invited by other friends. This list becomes a sort of context for information sharing.
People post pictures that their friends can view, as well as play games and send messages. Being a friend means one has access to party invitations, personal life updates, pictures, and the friend’s list of friends. These sites are frequently referred to as “social networking sites” (boyd and Ellison, 2007) as they use the idea of a network in order to link people. That is, one is networking on this site by maintaining a friend list and gathering new ties.
In the past couple years, these sites have quickly diffused through the population.
Rather than being the mere toy of the technologically sophisticated, they are now a part of everyday life for millions of individuals.1 They are mentioned in media reports, embedded in popular discourse and for large segments of the population, are an assumed part of communicating in everyday life.2 As of June 2008, Facebook lists 1,200,000 members on their site from Toronto, which means one in every four people in the city is participating.
Networking in everyday life shares a number of features with these earlier concepts: it involves connections with a set of individuals (whether or not these individuals are neatly enumerated as they are on Facebook), there are contexts for action and there are undoubtedly beneﬁts from speciﬁc alters, usually considered as social capital. But rather than considering networking in everyday life as a single concept that stands alongside these other two, I consider all three as social network-oriented As the data for this study comes from Toronto, Canada, it is worth noting that for many months in 2007, Toronto was the world Facebook capital, having the most users in both absolute and per capita statistics.
Facebook claims that they are ceasing to distribute these statistics in the summer of 2008. However, as of writing they are still available at http://www.facebook.com/networks/?nk=67108974 CHAPTER 2. A 14
SOCIAL AFFORDANCES THEORY OF SOCIAL NETWORKINGforms of social action. Networking then is the active process of building, maintaining, and sustaining a speciﬁc set of mutually regarded relationships.
In this broad deﬁnition networking, then, is a speciﬁc form of social action. So while networking in this sense may be a foreign term to everyday discourse, it is a long-term citizen of sociological theory—as structure and agency. As such, I can make use of prior work on structure and agency in order to understand this phenomenon.
In the following pages, I elaborate on a theory of structure and agency that is aligned to the consideration maintaining ties in everyday life. I review the concept of social action and elaborate on a speciﬁc notion of agency from Emirbayer and Mische’s “relational pragmatism”. While I settle on their concept of agency, I refocus it towards a decidedly phenomenological approach to structure. By this I mean, I consider structure as mediated by the perceptions in lived experience. I introduce the concept of affordances to illustrate how individuals do not act on structure per se, but on perceived properties of the environment that serve as an “access point” to structure. This shift to interfacing with affordances rather than interacting with structure allows me to discuss the novel ways that media, and especially new media, can alter our sense of social structure and our capacity to interact with it.
For example, networking on Facebook does not occur in a speciﬁc place or time.
Rather one can network at any time from anywhere with an Internet connection. However, who they network with is regulated by the speciﬁc friendship mechanisms set up on this site. In what ways are people accessible to each other via Facebook, and how is this different from other ways individuals are accessible? One can replace Facebook with virtually any other media and ask the same question, insofar as each medium is a means for accessing one’s personal network.
This sets up a series of questions about the logic of networking. I contend that individuals are moving from a logic of networking based on speciﬁc space-time con
logic of shared norms about the right spaces at the right times, to individualized perceptions of social structure based on the affordances of the media one uses. Granted, it has always been possible to consider affordances rather than objective features of contexts and media. However, when everyone adheres to similar perceptions of social structure (a normative view of social structure), it is not as relevant to consider affordances, since it is assumed that individuals are interpreting the time and space coordinates of social structure in a more or less similar manner. However, the current profusion of different ways in which one can perceive and access one’s alters means that individuals will routinely pay attention to different ways of understanding who in their network is available and who is going to be available in the future. It is a shift from asking about how “we” network at events to how “I” network with “my” alters. This is precisely the shift in the common understanding of networking alluded to above.
I will return to this theme again in the concluding chapter. After having reviewed several logics of networking in everyday life, I reiterate that social life is moving from a focus on space-time social constraints to affordance-based social access. There I discuss the implications of this conclusion for the fragmentation of social life, potential power struggles in the family and the network, and a shift in the way social capital is generated—from bowling alone to networking together.
2.2 Considering structure and agency Structure and agency have a long history in sociology, and one that I can scarcely do justice to in a single chapter. Nevertheless, any discussion of social action necessitates such an attempt.
In classical sociological work on structure and agency, thinkers would often em
of demonstrating how social structures constrain personal action. His emphasis on distinguishing sacred and profane sites implies an emphasis on how these sites structure and thereby constrain social action in various forms. Action at a sacred site was oriented towards the group or social whole, while action at a profane site could be oriented towards the individual (Durkheim, 1915). Durkheim did not focus only on material sites, however. Mere ideas could constrain action as social facts. Consider this claim about social facts.
A social fact is every way of acting, ﬁxed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an inﬂuence, or an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations (Durkheim, 1982, 10).
For him, like many positivists in his wake, sociology is the study of these structures;
our task is to illuminate these abstract forces so that we may better understand how such constraints affect behaviour.
In contrast to Durkheim’s structuralist point of view is Weber. Where Durkheim focused on the role of structures, Weber sought to illustrate how one’s understanding of social contexts would lead to different forms of action. Weber emphasized Verhesten, or empathic understanding. Where Durkheim ﬂeshed out the concept of structure, Weber ﬂeshed out a concept of action. Speciﬁcally, he articulated a typology of action, whereby acts are either goal-oriented (zweckrational), value-oriented (wertrational), traditional or affective (Weber, 1997). Where Durkheim saw society as moving towards increased integration through functional differentiation, Weber pessimistically saw society shifting from value, traditional, and affective action towards goal oriented action (Giddens, 1973).
Subsequent authors have sought to harmonize these competing positions, by fo
given shape by Parsons (1967) and has been elaborated upon by numerous social thinkers. Contemporary syntheses, such as those offered by Giddens’ structuration approach (1984) or Archer’s morphogenic approach (1995) generally consider structure and agency to be mutually constitutive. Structure constrains action, but in acting individuals modify structure which is then presented anew to the actor, ad inﬁnitum.
Recent work on structure and agency has been able to focus on one or other, rather than merely theorizing about the two in tandem. One such effort is the relational pragmatist approach to agency (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998). It is considered relational as it seeks to embed the concept of social networks (or more broadly social relations) into the dichotomy of structure and agency. That is, structure is not merely an omnipresent and diffuse force exerting pressure on ego, but a series of structured connections between individuals that are sustained through time and space. It is pragmatist in that the conception of action in this theory comes from pragmatist thinking on action. This does not refer to ‘practical’ thinking, but to the pragmatist school of philosophy starting with C. S. Peirce (Peirce, 1878). It has been updated through recent advances in cognitive science and psychology, but the main premise remains intact—individuals have coherent habits for action, and generally adhere to these habits as long as they work sufﬁciently. When problems arise, individuals will renegotiate their habits and often work creatively to resolve this problem. This new solution is fed back into the series of habits for daily life. This deﬁnition of pragmatism is eloquently expressed by
The typical pragmatist schema anchors doubt in action, which is conceived in terms of a model of periodically recurring phases. According to this model, all perception of the world and all action in the world is anchored in an unreﬂected belief in self-evident given facts and successful habits.
However, this belief, and the routines of action based upon it, are repeat
procedure of action is interrupted. The world reveals itself to have shattered our unreﬂected expectations; our habitual actions meet with resistance from the world and rebound back on us. This is the phase of real doubt. And the only way out of this phase is a reconstruction of the interrupted context. Our perception must come to terms with new or different aspects of reality...the pragmatists therefore maintain that all human action is caught in the tension between unreﬂected habitual action and acts of creativity (Joas, 1996, 128-129).