8.1 Introduction to Ego-Centric Networks
Egocentric analysis shifts the analytical lens onto a sole ego actor and concentrates on the local pattern of relations in which that ego is embedded as well as the types of resources to which those relations provide access. (Carolan, 2014, ch. 7)
The concept of ego-centric networks is pitched against socio-centric networks that we’ve been exploring so far in this class. Some researchers also refer to ego-centric networks as ego networks or personal networks. These two types of networks are distinct in several important ways (Perry, n.d.):
- Unbounded versus bounded networks. Sociocentric SNA collects data on ties between all members of a socially or geographically-bounded group and has limited inference beyond that group. Egocentric SNA assesses individuals’ personal community networks across any number of social settings using name generators, and is therefore less limited in theoretical and substantive scope.
- Focus on individual rather than group outcomes. Sociocentric SNA often focuses on network structures of groups as predictors of group-level outcomes (e.g. concentration of power, resource distribution, information diffusion). In contrast, egocentric SNA is concerned with how people’s patterns of interaction shape their individual-level outcomes (e.g. health, voting behavior, employment opportunities).
- Flexibility in data collection. Because sociocentric SNA must use as its sampling frame a census of a particular bounded group, data collection is very time-consuming, expensive, and targeted to a specific set of research questions. In contrast, because egocentric SNA uses individuals as cases, potential sampling frames and data collection strategies are virtually limitless. Egocentric data collection tools can easily be incorporated into large-scale or nationally-representative surveys being fielded for a variety of other purposes.
Ego-centric networks are useful when the foci of the research are individuals in a network, if capturing the complete network is less important, and/or when the researcher plan to correlate attribute data of individuals with their relational characteristics in a network. Examples of ego-centric networks’ applications abound. As we explored in Week 3, ego-centric networks can be used to investigate stroke patients’ health behaviors. In education, for example, Dawson (2010) studies high and low-performing students based on their ego-networks.
Below, James Cook – a sociology professor we’ve been watching – nicely explains how studying ego-centric networks would be helpful.
How ego-centric networks could be applied to your research projects? You do not necessarily need to focus on your class project but projects in your field in general.
Dawson, Shane. 2010. “‘Seeing’ the Learning Community: An Exploration of the Development of a Resource for Monitoring Online Student Networking.” British Journal of Educational Technology: Journal of the Council for Educational Technology 41 (5):736–52. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00970.x.