4.3 Betweenness Centrality

Famous Network Studies: Padgett and Ansell 1993

In one of the most famous network studies, Padgett and Ansell use network analysis to examine the rise of the Medici family to the height of Florentine politics, where the family came to run the city-state for several generations.

Scholars argued that it was through tact and skill on the part of the patriarch of the family, Cosimo, that the Medici rose to prominence in the 1430s. However, through network analysis, Padgett and Ansell show that it was actually due to the Medici family’s status as an out-cast “old” family that accidentally cast them into the center of Florentine politics.

Despite their poisition as old, wealthy families, the Medici joined the ring-leading Ricci family, on the side of wool workers in a rebellion in 1378-82 that was put down by the other old families. The Ricci, as leaders, were completely destroyed while the Medici were merely ostracized, unable to participate in full civic life.

After the rebellion, the voctorious old families intensely inter-married, removing the Medici and other losing old families from the network. Over the next three decades, the Medici refrained from involvement in poltics and intermarried with other old families who were ostracized and newly wealthy families. By 1420, the Medici were once again acceptable marriage partners into the ruling old families. The Medici, through marriage and business ties, thus came to the center of Florentine politics as they connected both the old and new families.

As civic strife between the old and new families was common, the Medici came to be torn between them, yet did not often get involved due to the fact that their interests were not well established, because they had interests everywhere. When civil strife occurred due to fiscal troubles in the 1420s, Cosimo, as partriarch of the Medici family, was thus the only one in the position to navigate the interests of the most families. This high betweenness in the network endowed the family patriarchs with the structural position to rise to the forefront of Florentine politics in 1434.

Padgett, John F. and Christopher K. Ansell. 1993. “Robust Action and the Rise of Medici, 1400-1434.” \(American\) \(Journal\) \(of\) \(Sociology\) 98 (6): 1259-1319