WORKING GROUP 7 Networks

Ansprechpartner: Michael Ott

Over last few decades the ubiquity and diversity of kinds of networks has been attracting attention in both academic research and popular discourse. The notion of networks seems to have the potential to become one of the central concepts and metaphors of the new millennium. The working group “Networks” is interested in recent methodological developments, in particular in the Humanities, related to the concept of networks, with a view to their relevance to the theoretical and methodological framework of the CRC 933. Two areas of network research have come into focus: Actor-Network Theory (ANT), a theoretical approach that was developed primarily by Michel Callon, Bruno Latour, and John Law, and Social Network Analysis (SNA), a spectrum of investigative techniques that emerged in sociology but have been recently increasingly employed in historical and literary research.

Actor-Network Theory originated in the field of Science and Technology Studies and while, as a method, it cannot be directly transferred to studies concerned with pre-modern societies, some of its basic concepts are potentially illuminating for the work conducted within the CRC. Among those are 1) the notion of artifacts not as passive carriers of meaning but as active participants and creators of social relations; 2) the transgression of the divide between the social and material; 3) the understanding of agencies as located not in persons or things but in traceable relations articulated through practices. Furthermore, some of the metalanguage and descriptive models developed within ANT can be productively employed within CRC projects. Participants of the working group also recognize that familiarity with further instances of the employment of ANT in significant case studies in the disciplines represented by the CRC could benefit research in the sub-projects. The minutes of a meeting of the CRC in May 2016 summarizes a discussion of the initial stage and results of the working group’s handling of ANT.

Social Network Analysis has been used in a variety of disciplines related to ancient studies, especially archaeology and historical research, and can potentially serve as a viable tool for various CRC projects. Not only active use of SNA, however, but even appreciation (as well as informed criticism) of the research conducted by others requires a certain degree of familiarity with methods of collecting, processing, and interpreting data, all of which pose different challenges. To address these difficulties, the working group has been developing relationships with researchers in the humanities who are employing SNA methods and tools in their studies. To this end, it organized a workshop on SNA in historical research in Heidelberg in May 2017. The workshop, conducted by Dr. Yanne Broux (Catholic University of Leuven), combined a general introduction to the field with hands-on sessions in which participants became better acquainted with existing methods and electronic tools for building, analyzing, and visualizing data sets. It also gave an opportunity to discuss the suitability of SNA for particular research questions.