My Challenge Question

My entry for the challenge question for the NEH Seminar on Networks and Networking in the Humanities was the following:

My apologies for lurking so long. I find that a number of my questions have already been asked, and more articulately than I would have been able to put them. Where there is/are remaining question(s) for me that remain is in the ethnographic context: i.e., understanding how individuals in the world draw upon shared resources, which themselves reflect some shared (if also possibly contentious) understandings, in order to get certain kinds of socio-cultural business done. E.g., negotiating the purchase of a tract of land, the purchase of an artifact, or simply something like establishing “we’re all friends here.”

I think what I am after is how nodes in a social graph (aka sociogram[?]) access nodes in a network of populated forms — folklorists and anthropologists (and cultural historians) will call these things like “tales” or “legends” or “anecdotes” etc. — which themselves contain and structure nodes in a network of ideas/values.

I think I am after something like this:

One of our readings for the seminar, Barabasi’s “Linked” was fairly interesting in terms of offering network theories/models as describing/explaining a fairly wide range of complex realities. It seemed to me at its best when it covered actual networks or biological networks. It seemed weakest precisely where I am most interested: where people get involved. (To be fair, I have read a fair number of trade business books over the years and it offered about the same amount of depth and coverage as the rest of the genre.)

So, like Tim, I am interested in complex networks of texts and, like Sarah, I am interested in complex networks of people. I am most interested in seeing if network theories can be used to model how those networks map onto each other.

Also like Sarah, my current research explores an arena where there are some complex relationships: in some cases like and others dislike, but even with dislike there are commercial relationships, as well as a general cultural imperative to behave in public, that mitigate/enrich even relationships of dislike. E.g., one craftsman has to buy some of his equipment from another one, who is also the individual whose work he has copied. (And the complexity of following that sentence reveals the complexity of following the relationship.)

For my own part, I have partially given up on working with my current research in order to test out some of these ideas but have turned to another set of data that I think might help me work through some of these ideas and confusions. (I’ve written about this decision here.)

And so, to pose a question: I guess I would like to know if there are network theories/models that I can read that will point me in this direction of layered networks? Perhaps, the materials within each individual’s mind can be conceived of as a subnetwork, but instead of me making up something like that, I am hopeful that there is some work in this area that can leapfrog me in the right direction.

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