Reflections on Sunbelt XXX

I spent last week in Riva del Garda, a spectacularly beautiful Italian resort town that lies in what used to be part of the southern Tyrol, i.e., part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until it was ceded to Italy in 1918, at the end of WWI. I was there for the 30th annual Sunbelt conference, the annual meeting of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA), to present the latest findings from my ongoing research on the network connecting winners of an advertising contest in Japan and to search for new approaches to analyzing the sort of data with which I am working. What is striking to me, returning to OAC, is how similar the debates I encountered there are to those found here. At a session on philosophical roots I heard about precursors to network analysis and balance theory in Spinoza. At the mixed-methods session in which I participated, most of my colleagues were grappling with projects that begin by selecting a sample of egos, asking them about people with whom they interact, and using the results to generalize about the networks to which they belong. I was starting with whole networks combining several thousand events (winning ads) and twice as many individuals (members of the creative teams). We all were concerned with how best to blend quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand events that clearly require both. Closest to my own immediate interests was the session by the "Vizards," experts in visual representation showing off their latest ideas by developing their own representations using the same data set: scraped from a site that provides information on music groups and links to "similar groups." It was astonishing to see a self-organizing map produce a hugely complex and detailed picture of musical genres based only on this information. The major difference between Sunbelt and OAC is, of course, that most of the participants in the former are comfortable using network and other forms of quantitative analysis, in a subfield of social science to which mathematicians and physicists have and continue to make profound contributions.

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