The primary goal of the NetGloW conference series is to bring together networks researchers from around the globe, to unite the efforts of various scientific disciplines in response to the key challenges faced by network studies today, and to exchange local research results – thus allowing an analysis of global processes. It is also crucial for us to support junior researchers’ orientation in the complex landscape of network science, and to encourage applications of network analysis by practitioners.
The first NetGloW conference, subtitled “Structural Transformations in Europe, the US and Russia”, took place in St. Petersburg on June 22-24 2012 and brought together more than 150 scientists, political practitioners and business representatives from all around the world. The conference bore a pronounced interdisciplinary character: involving sociologists, philosophers, culture researchers, management specialists and economists. All were responding to the challenges created by structural transformations in the US, Russia and Europe, transformations which are themselves catalyzed by the growing importance of networks in the present day world. The discussions were focused on knowledge and innovation networks, academic networks, networks in policy and culture, as well as networks in virtual space.
The idea of the 2014 event is to discuss the key current issues and problems of linking theoretical and methodological developments in network analysis.
Moving from theory to methods and applications one can consider networks as a useful metaphor, providing plenty of opportunities for theoretical speculations, many of which are very difficult to operationalize. Graph theory allows analysts to build various theoretical models, yet those models are not always suitable for the theoretical design. Reliable and relevant network data are either difficult to obtain or – in the case of Big Data – hard to screen and handle. Moving reversely from methods to theorizing, it can be seen that the complex mathematical core of network analysis methods and their applications are difficult to use for theory developers who often have no mathematical background. Network data collected in numerous fields of application for network research, as well as usage of the existing network analysis techniques and network metrics calculation, do not always provide clear evidence for grounded theoretical generalizations.
This is particularly the case for the most intensely developing areas of network research, like communication and knowledge networks, sociosemantic networks, online networks, culture and identity networks, science and technology networks, organizational and innovation networks, economic networks, policy networks, civil society and social movement networks. These rapidly growing thematic fields of network studies experience a gap between the theoretical ideas they generate, and the sophisticated analytical methodology that is being produced by network analysts. Thus, there is a need for thorough reflection on the process of relating theories to methods. Which methods in network analysis should be used to test certain theoretical ideas; how should specific metrics be interpreted with regard to theoretical constructs developed in the field; which data should be considered when dealing with particular theoretical concepts? – These are the questions NetGloW’14 conference sets out to answer. Deriving from this work, it is crucial to support students and practitioners in selecting proper tools and techniques when they apply network analysis in their areas of studies and practice.
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