Conducting Personal Network Research

A Practical Guide

Christopher McCarty, Miranda J. Lubbers, Raffaele Vacca, and José Luis Molina

A Paperback Originale-bookprint + e-book
A Paperback Original
April 1, 2019
ISBN 9781462538386
Price: $47.00
270 Pages
Size: 7" x 10"
February 22, 2019
ePub and PDF ?
Price: $47.00
270 Pages
print + e-book
A Paperback Original + e-Book (ePub and PDF) ?
Price: $94.00 $51.70
270 Pages

Written at an introductory level, and featuring engaging case examples, this book reviews the theory and practice of personal and egocentric network research. This approach offers powerful tools for capturing the impact of overlapping, changing social relationships and contexts on individuals' attitudes and behavior. The authors provide solid guidance on the formulation of research questions; research design; data collection, including decisions about survey modes and sampling frames; the measurement of network composition and structure, including the use of name generators; and statistical modeling, from basic regression techniques to more advanced multilevel and dynamic models. Ethical issues in personal network research are addressed. User-friendly features include boxes on major published studies, end-of-chapter suggestions for further reading, and an appendix describing the main software programs used in the field.

This title is part of the Methodology in the Social Sciences Series, edited by Todd D. Little, PhD.

“Spectacular. The writing is clear, accessible, and succinct, yet unusually comprehensive. The book covers most of what any researcher new to this important kind of analysis would want to know, such as how to think about research questions, conduct research ethically, and collect data effectively. But this book is not only for beginners—experienced researchers will find it a useful reference on many important issues, such as the precise ways that different question wordings in surveys can affect results, and the strengths and benefits of different visualization strategies.”

—Mario Luis Small, PhD, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

“This is the best applied textbook on social network analysis I have read. It covers everything from planning and conducting a network study to using network analysis to answer network-specific questions. It provides real-life examples and conceptual explanations in clear, understandable language. The book offers the perfect balance of foundational knowledge of network processes and practical tips for examining them. This is a 'must read' for anyone embarking on network research.”

—Leslie Echols, PhD, Department of Psychology, Missouri State University

“A sound, well-written, and authoritative guide on how to do (and interpret) personal network research. The book nicely links personal network analysis to broader methodological approaches. I really like the boxed research case examples. I recommend this book and will use it both in teaching and professionally.”

—Barry Wellman, PhD, Director, NetLab Network, Toronto, Canada

“This is an exciting book because it can be used by so many. Researchers new to personal network analysis get definitions, concepts, and design help that will get them going and carry them a long way. At the same time, the book has nuggets that even the most experienced in the field will value. The authors know well many of the methodological issues regarding social network analysis, and have made important contributions, specifically regarding the measurement of networks, the use of multilevel models, and generation of network visualizations. But they also know fieldwork and the deeper scientific issues and challenges that often accompany methodological decisions. This is evidence-based practice at its best. I will immediately recommend this book to several of my students engaging in analysis of personal networks, as well as others who will benefit from specific chapters. I can think of several projects in the past that would have benefited from this book. I am thrilled that it is here now.”

—Ken Frank, PhD, MSU Foundation Professor of Sociometrics, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education, Michigan State University

“The book describes the breadth of research in the field. It walks the reader through the process of creating a personal network, typically through a name generator, and addresses important conceptual considerations and pitfalls. I'm a big fan of the boxed examples throughout the book; they tend to summarize really interesting findings. The authors impart a great deal of wisdom and provide enough information to work from initial conceptualization to analysis and presentation of results.”

—Bernie Hogan, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

“This is an ideal introductory book for graduate students and researchers interested in studying personal networks. The authors provide great illustrations and case studies of personal networks and why they matter to many outcomes of interest, across fields as diverse as sociology, organizational science, and public health. Descriptions of the challenges that often arise when studying personal networks—and the pros and cons of various solutions—will doubtless help readers make informed decisions when planning their own research.”

—Kayla de la Haye, PhD, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California

“Written by leading, accomplished scholars, this is a rich how-to guide for students seeking to conduct network analysis. In particular, the book explains well the care—both conceptual and practical—that must be taken to best construct and measure the qualities of social ties.”

—Claude S. Fischer, PhD, Professor of the Graduate School, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents


1. Introduction sample

What Is This Chapter About?

1.1 Everyone Has a Personal Network

1.2 The Size, Composition, and Structure of Personal Networks

1.3 Egos, Alters, Egocentric Networks, and Sociocentric Networks

1.4 Should I Use Personal Network or Whole Network Analysis?

Box: Combining Personal and Whole Networks

1.5 Who Is This Book For?

1.6 Book Overview

Chapter Summary

2. How Personal Networks Have Been Used So Far

What Is This Chapter About?

2.1 A Brief History of Personal Network Analysis

Box: The Bott Hypothesis about Conjugal Roles and Social Networks

Box: Clyde Mitchell and the Manchester School

Box: The Small World Experiment

Box: The East York Studies

2.2 What We Currently Know about Personal Networks

2.3 Theoretical Frameworks for Effects of Personal Networks on Individual Outcomes

2.4 Final Remarks

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

3. Developing a Research Question

What Is This Chapter About?

3.1 Research Questions, Hypotheses, and Objectives

3.2 Outcomes and Social Determinants

3.3 Real or Perceived?

3.4 Some Examples of Questions and Hypotheses in Personal Network Research

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

4. Getting Started: Selecting a Population, Survey Mode, and Sampling Frames

What Is This Chapter About?

4.1 Deciding Whether Personal Network Analysis Is Appropriate

4.2 Selecting a Population

Box: Neighborhood Networks and Status

Box: Emotional Support and Cognitive Functioning among the Elderly

Box: Social Support and Smoking in African American Adults

4.3 The Survey Mode

4.4 The Sampling Frame

4.5 Integration with Larger Surveys

4.6 Identifying Dependent and Explanatory Variables

Box: Loneliness and Dementia

Box: Personal Networks and Ethnic Identity

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

5. Questions about the Ego

What Is This Chapter About?

5.1 Variables and Research Aims: What Questions to Ask

Box: Personal Networks and Social Support: Comparing Two Ethnic Groups in Southern California

5.2 Levels of Measurement

Box: Needle-Sharing and Personal Network Correlates

5.3 Wording a Question

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

6. Delineating Personal Networks: Alter Elicitation

What Is This Chapter About?

6.1 What Is a Name Generator?

Box: Contact Lists in Phones and Personal Networks

6.2 How Social Ties Are Stored in Memory and How They Are Recalled

Box: Probing

6.3 Defining the Boundaries of Personal Networks

6.4 Name Generators for Eliciting Intentional (Nonrandom) Subsets of Alters

Box: Multiple Name Generators for Social Support

Box: Single- and Multiple-Name Generators

6.5 A Name Generator for Eliciting a Random Subset of Alters

6.6 Additional Qualifiers of the Network Boundary

6.7 Alternative Approaches to Name Generators

Box: Keeping Diaries of Contacts during Three Months and Beyond

6.8 Final Remarks

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

7. Collecting Alter Attributes

What Is This Chapter About?

7.1 What Is a Name Interpreter?

7.2 What We Really Know about Alters

Box: Alters’ Real Attributes or the Ego’s Perception of Their Attributes?

7.3 Questions about the Attributes of Alters

7.4 Questions about Relationships between the Ego and the Alter

Box: Tie Strength: Closeness, Duration of Relationship, or Frequency of Contact?

Box: Level of Knowing, Duration of Relationship, and Frequency of Contact

Box: The Friendship Label

7.5 How Many Questions about Alters? Respondent Burden

Box: Ordering Questions about Alters Alterwise or Questionwise

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

8. Collecting Data about Ties between Alters

What Is This Chapter About?

8.1 What Is an Edge Interpreter?

8.2 What We Really Know about Alter–Alter Ties

8.3 Alter–Alter Prompts

Box: Detailed Answer Categories for Smaller Personal Networks

8.4 Respondent Burden

Box: The Reliability of Respondents’ Evaluations of Alter–Alter Ties

Box: A Different Way to Explore Network Structure and Composition

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

9. Visualizing Personal Networks

What Is This Chapter About?

9.1 Personal Network Visualization: Basic Principles

9.2 Collecting Personal Network Data through Visual Displays

9.3 Network Visualizations as Cues in Qualitative Interviews

9.4 Comparing Personal Networks through Visualizations

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

10. Measuring Personal Network Characteristics without Generating Names

What Is This Chapter About?

10.1 Characteristics of Larger Personal Networks

10.2 Personal Network Size

Box: The Random Mixing Assumption in the Network Scale-Up Method

10.3 Social Distance

10.4 Social Capital

10.5 Social Support

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

11. Analyzing Personal Network Composition and Structure

What Is This Chapter About?

11.1 Summarizing Name Interpreters and Edge Interpreters by Respondents

11.2 Creating Simple Compositional Variables from Personal Networks

Box: How to Use SPSS for Working with Personal Network Data

11.3 More Advanced Compositional Variables

Box: The Power of Homophily

11.4 Creating Simple Structural Variables from Personal Networks

Box: To Include or to Exclude Ego?

Box: Personality and Personal Network Structure

11.5 Creating Compositional Variables Based on More Than One Attribute

11.6 Creating Variables That Combine Composition and Structure

Box: 11.7 Adding Compositional and Structural Variables to the Dataset

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

12. Statistical Modeling with Personal Network Data: The Level of Egos

What Is This Chapter About?

12.1 Personal Network Data and Statistical Modeling

12.2 Predicting Ego-Level Dependent Variables

12.3 Models for Non-Network Dependent Variables

Box: Using Personal Network Characteristics to Predict Immigrant Assimilation

Box: The Effect of Personal Network Exposure on Reproductive Health Behavior

Box: A Longitudinal Analysis of Personal Support Networks and Depression

Box: Using Cluster Analysis to Find Types of Immigrants’ Personal Networks

12.4 Models for Network Dependent Variables

Box: Predicting Network Dependent Variables with Generalized Linear Models

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

13. Statistical Modeling with Personal Network Data: The Level of Alters and Ties

What Is This Chapter About?

13.1 Statistical Models for Alters or Ego–Alter Ties

Box: Testing Theories on Social Support with Hierarchical Models for Personal Networks

13.2 Statistical Models for Alter–Alter Ties

Box: Modeling Alter–Alter Ties to Study Transitivity and Homophily

Box: Using Personal Networks to Estimate Whole Network Characteristics through ERGMs

Box: Using SAOMs to Examine the Evolution of Alter–Alter Ties over Time

Chapter Summary

Further Reading

14. Ethics in Personal Network Research

What Is This Chapter About?

14.1 Personal Network Research and Ethical Dilemmas

14.2 Gaining Consent

14.3 Confidentiality

Box: Incentives and Respondent-Driven Sampling

14.4 Social Media and Mobile Phones

14.5 Managing and Publishing Personal Network Data

Box: Doing Network Research in Organizational Settings

Chapter Summary

Further Reading



About the Authors

Christopher McCarty, PhD, is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Florida, where he is also Director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. He has done research on personal networks since the 1980s and is the developer of EgoNet, the first program for the collection and analysis of personal network data. Dr. McCarty has conducted studies of migration, disasters, substance abuse, homelessness, and racism. Along with his coauthors, he conducted the largest personal network study of migrants to date, using data from Spain and the United States.

Miranda J. Lubbers, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, and Director of the Research Group on Fundamental and Oriented Anthropology. Dr. Lubbers has investigated personal networks in the area of migration and transnationalism, poverty and livelihood strategies, and social cohesion in Spain. Currently she directs two research projects using personal networks. She also co-organizes a biennial international summer school in Personal Network Analysis.

Raffaele Vacca, PhD, is Research Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida. Dr. Vacca designed and conducted one of the first personal network surveys among international migrants in Italy. In the past few years he has taught courses and workshops on quantitative methods and statistical software for social network analysis at several international conferences and universities in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. His current interests focus on international migration, health disparities, social networks, and science and scientific collaboration.

José Luis Molina, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain. He is also president of the University's Research Ethics Committee. Dr. Molina is an economic anthropologist who studies the emergence of socioeconomic structures such as migrant enclaves and transnational fields. He is interested in mixed-methods approaches combining ethnography and personal network analysis, with a focus on Southeast Europe, and Romania in particular.


Researchers and students in sociology, anthropology, geography, psychology, management, marketing, public health, nursing, and medicine; marketers and management consultants.

Course Use

Will serve as a supplemental text in advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in social networks and survey research across the social and health sciences, as well as geography methods and migration courses.