pardon my self indulgence

While i think up to now we were still trying to sort out how this venture might go, there’s no turning back now that we’ve been linked over on OrgTheory. Not for the next week or so anyway. And given Kieran’s link i think i am going to try to take advantage of the impending/underway OrgTheory bump.

i’m currently teaching an undergrad social networks class. And following discussions with my chair, i may be doing so most semesters for the foreseeable future. This is a good thing. However i am taking a slightly different tack on it than most SN courses i’ve seen previously, so i am actively tweaking it as i go, and know it could definitely benefit from others’ input.

Anyone who’s spent some time within the networks community has become abundantly aware of a variety of the critiques of a networks perspective (not an exhaustive list, just some greatest hits; not necessarily conceding these, just acknowledging they’re out there):

  • It’s a-theoretical
  • Too many static networks, too little attention to dynamics
  • Our visualizations often make things feel more “real” than they are
  • Relationship stacking*
  • “I can’t add that to my survey!”
  • Can we really capture the networks we think matter?

Of these, the first is probably the most widespread, and will quickly evoke strong reactions from many of us who study networks (see Borgatti et al 2009 in Science). But ironically, if networks is taught as an undergrad class it’s almost always taught as a methods/stats class. This can go some distance in undermining our ability to withstand that particular criticism, no?**

Anywho, this is where i have taken a slightly different approach to teaching networks to undergrads than most syllabi i’ve seen.*** It’s not a methods/stats class. And it really, ironically doesn’t include much math. i do tackle the intuition behind some of the math, but i don’t expect them to know/calculate any formulas. Instead, i’m trying to take a topical approach to networks. I.e., here’s some of why we think they matter, and here’s some of the evidence that’s so. In some respects, i’m really trying to make it an alternate approach to an intro to sociology –  addressing many of the core issues we’d expect students to get there, but doing it with a fundamentally relational lens.

So, the self indulgent reason for my post? Do you have any readings i must add to my syllabus in future iterations? (If you want to see what i am doing now, it’s here.) i’m already planning to drop about 20% of those from this time around next semester (mainly ones that just didn’t quite work like i’d hoped). And more than just for this re-write, i would really like to have a “deep bench” – both so that i can keep it fresh for myself, and so that, where possible, i can tailor some readings to the interests of the class.

* My best attempt at a label for a very interesting critique from Ezra Zuckerman.
** Likely a slightly bigger can o’ worms than i want to open at this point, but…
*** i’d be happy to be pointed to examples that i’ve missed on this front. The only one i’ve actually seen is Matt Salganik’s at Princeton, though i’ve heard word of a few others out there or in the making. Drop any pointers in the comments or email me (jimi dot adams at AY ESS YOU dot EE DEE YOU).


8 Responses to pardon my self indulgence

  1. brayden says:

    Looks like a great class! I would have loved to take this as an undergrad (or at least the current version of myself would have liked it). I’d think about adding something by Uzzi on the paradoxes of embeddedness. When I taught Granovetter in my econ soc class, the students seemed to get it easier when seen in the context of apparel.

  2. […] in sexual networks Today in my social networks class, we covered Bearman, Moody and Stovel’s 2004 AJS paper. Virtually every time i have heard […]

  3. […] See more discussion of social network curriculum/pedagogy at Jimi’s post here. […]

  4. […] ordered the book today myself, so can’t comment on it just yet. ** I have to start out my undergrad social networks class with some variant of “this is not a class about Facebook” each semester. *** A paper i […]

  5. […] related news, today marked the start of the second time through my undergrad networks class. Last semester went ok (though i am glad it was small), and that experience (along with a number of […]

  6. MishaTeplitskiy says:

    Pardon my lateness with this reply. Discovered the blog recently and have been reading my way back in time. While John Padgett’s networks class here at UofChicago is for grad students, it’s taught entirely as theory, so perhaps the syllabus will be of interest. Here’s the link:

  7. MishaTeplitskiy says:

    Oops, should’ve said “entirely as a theory/substantive topic” above.

  8. jimiadams says:

    thanks for the pointer! i hadn’t come across that one before.

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