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International Conference ‘Networks in the Global World. Bridging Theory and Method: American, European, and Russian Studies’

xbsruBzag78International scientific conference ‘Networks in the Global World. Bridging Theory and Method: American, European, and Russian Studies’ took place in St. Petersburg State University on June 27-29, 2014. 

 The conference was organized by the Center for German and European Studies (St. Petersburg State University – Bielefeld University) in cooperation with German Academic Exchange Service, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, International Sociological Association, Junior Sociologists Network (International Sociological Association), Council of Young Scientists (Faculty of Sociology, St. Petersburg State University), Inter-University Center for Science and Education Programmes in Social Communication, and Center for Social Technologies.

The primary goal of the ‘Networks in the Global World’ conference series is to bring together networks researchers from around the globe. It seeks 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. 

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.

The idea of 2014-year event was to discuss the key current issues and problems of linking theoretical and methodological developments in network analysis. There were several reasons for the choice of this focus. Moving from theory to methods and applications, one can consider networks as a useful metaphor, providing plenty of opportunities for theoretical speculations. However many of these 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 where network research is applied, 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, organisational 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 by which we relate 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. Also among the conference’s aims was the goal of supporting students and practitioners in selecting proper tools and techniques when they apply network analysis in their areas of study and practice.

More than 160 people registered for participation in the conference. Participants from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, UK, Ukraine, and USA were representing various disciplinary backgrounds.

The conference was preceded by a set of workshops on software tools for network analysis including the following: ‘Pajek for Beginners: From Data to Measures and Visualization’ by Wouter de Nooy, ‘Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL’ by Mark Smith and ‘Exponential Random Graph (p*) Modeling and Network Dynamics’ by Benjamin Lind (National Research University ‘Higher School of Economics’, Russia). 

The three conference days that followed contained a variety of sessions and keynote talks in a set of thematic areas, including: Networks in Science, Technology, and Innovation; Network Perspectives on Knowledge, Communication, and Culture; Words and Networks; Network Analysis of Political and Policy-making Domains; Social Movements and Collective Action as Network Phenomena. Keynote talks were given by such prominent network researchers as Thomas Valente (University of Southern California, USA), Loet Leydesdorff (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), Jana Diesner (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA), Peter Groenewegen (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands), Johanne Saint-Charles (University of Quebec at Montreal, Canada), Dimitris Christopoulos (MODUL University, Austria), Mario Diani (University of Trento, Italy), Marc Smith (Connected Action Consulting Group, USA), and Wouter de Nooy (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands).