What do We Need to Add to a Social Network to Get a Society?

Bill Hillier


Recent years have seen great advances in social network analysis. Yet, with a few exceptions, the field of network analysis remains remote from social theory. As a result, much social network research, while technically accomplished and theoretically suggestive, is essentially descriptive. How then can social networks be linked to social theory? Here we pose the question in its simplest form: what must we add to a social network to get a society ? We begin by showing that one reason for the disconnection between network theory and society theory is that because it exists in space-time, the concept of social network raises the issue of space in a way that is problematical for social theory. Here we turn the problem on its head and make the problem of space in social network theory explicit by proposing a surprising analogy with the question: what do you have to add to an urban space network to get a city. We show first that by treating a city as a naïve spatial network in the first instance and allowing it to acquire two formal properties we call reflexivity and nonlocality, both mediated through a mechanism we call description retrieval, we can build a picture of the dynamics processes by which collections of the buildings become living cities. We then show that by describing societies initially as social networks in space-time and adding similar properties, we can construct a plausible ontology of a simple human society.


spatial configuration; spatial analysis; architectural theory; spatial networks; social networks

Full Text: JOSS_2010_p41-58.pdf