An article that will be appearing in Organization Science sometime this year discusses some aspects of network-based inquiry that might be interesting to folks in CCK2011 (note: although it’s not up yet, the DOI will be 10.1287/orsc.1110.0643). The experiment may not be directly related to our course, but I think some of its implications may be worth pondering.
In the paper I’m editing, the authors set up two experiments to discover how people activate their social networks in the face of the threat of job loss and whether that activation is related to their social status. Aside from the conclusions of the experiments, what’s interesting to me on the level of theory is that they suggest that cognitively activating these netowrks is a precondition to mobilizing them. They suggest that given a certain kind of threat/opportunity, a person can invest in activating certain network segments in response that she may not have activated given another kind of threat/opportunity.
This suggests, then, that the social network also resides as a perceptual network. And it can help explain why people vary their network-based responses in different situations. The researchers postulate that this may account for varying study results in research on social networks. It explains why the construction of a certain kind of study can “prime” study subjects’ conception of their networks that cause variations in response.
So do networks also live in my head? If so, how can I possibly conceptualize something so vast as, say, the internet? And here is where connectivism could help; the idea that “know where” is the key to knowledge, not “know what,” in a digital age. I can’t possibly “know” what’s in the internet, the thingness of every node—but I certainly have the sense that everything is within reach with potentiality. I like this aspect of connectivism because it honors the connections as knowledge. So what lives in my mind as “the internet” is not a static network but something more akin to a sense of the firings between network nodes.
The authors of the study I’m editing only account for human-based social networks, but I think the insights can be called upon here to talk about something that’s been bothering me about connectivism as a theory: agency. The contention that we do not create connections (and therefore knowledge) isn’t a premise, I guess, that I’m willing to accept. What I’m gradually concluding is that I am at least partly a constructivist; those theoretical insights generally give me what I’m looking for, which is a way to account for human agency, desire for change, thirst for knowledge, whatever you want to call it. What I’d like to do is take the best of both theoretical worlds: nonstatic, nonlocated knowledge coupled with intentional agency.
P.S. To posit agency doesn’t mean that it always works. For instance, Sparky incessantly brings me a stick (or a basketball, a Kong®, a squirrel corpse, a Frisbee®, and so on) and tries to create a series of events whereby he gets to chase the toy because I’ve thrown it. Sometimes, his agency has the expected result; sometimes, it doesn’t. Does he ever give up? No, because there’s a greater chance of getting the outcome he wants by taking action versus taking no action. And why my husband and I have been chanting outside of the Ohio Statehouse this week.