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Mathematics LibreTexts

3.1: Introduction - Representing networks with graphs


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Social network analysts use two kinds of tools from mathematics to represent information about patterns of ties among social actors: graphs and matrices. On this page, we we will learn enough about graphs to understand how to represent social network data. On the next page, we will look at matrix representations of social relations. With these tools in hand, we can understand most of the things that network analysts do with such data (for example, calculate precise measures of "relative density of ties").

There is a lot more to these topics than we will cover here; mathematics has whole sub-fields devoted to "graph theory" and to "matrix algebra." Social scientists have borrowed just a few things that they find helpful for describing and analyzing patterns of social relations.

A word of warning: there is a lot of specialized terminology here that you do need to learn. its worth the effort, because we can represent some important ideas about social structure in quite simple ways, once the basics have been mastered.