Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems

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Turkish Nomads -- ISBN 9870739118924 cheap -- Rowman - Slow

3-D Graphic of Structural endogamy (relinking marriages) among Nomad Kin, color-coded by generations. Nodes are couples not individuals, so where downward lines meet it is a relative that is married. This is called relinking. The relinking structure and dynamic is a key to ethnographic understanding. Names of some of the lineage ancestors are shown at the top.

Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems: Process Models of a Turkish Nomad Clan[1] (a Google book) is an anthropological and complexity science book by social anthropologistDouglas R. White, University of California, Irvine, and Ulla Johansen of the University of Cologne. It is considered an important publication in anthropology[2] in a Cambridge journal, and the political science of Central Asia [3] Lexington Press

The breakthrough is to code and portray the data of a longitudinal ethnography of a given people as a complex interactive system, in this case from an ethnogenesis of Yörük Oghuz origin (of which the Seljuk are a clan) in the late 18th century in Turkey to the present date, based on the detailed genealogies and chronicles recorded in fieldwork carried out between 1956 and 2004 recorded by ethnographer Ulla Johansen. The analysis of these data provides for an account of social dynamics relevant to many parts of the Middle East.


The basis for the book is the complete <[genealogical network] for a <[nomad community], its history, and its migrants and migrations. These form a relational web not just for description but for analysis of social dynamics. The picture that emerges is one of a complexly scalable social system that expands through reproduction, kinship alliances, and fissions, and overcomes internal conflicts and those with neighbors along routes of migration. These networks constitute a generative demographic engine for health, a potential for large sibling groups, and for extensive cooperation within and between these groups constructed through reciprocal ties of marriage. The book is lavishly illustrated with photos, network diagrams, and analytical tables showing how very simple principles of cohesion and <[scalability] alliances between families are able to organize this social system through a series of shifting articulations at a variety of social and spatial levels. Thus continual reshuffling is capabable of moving, and does move individuals and groups in the society through a variety of transformations in relation to life problems, social problems, technological problems, and the transmission and enrichment of a highly complex cultural system. The book shows how these adjust dynamically to changing social conditions.


This book makes major methodological, substantive, and theoretical advances for the disciplines of ethnography, social anthropology, and social history; and marks some new understandings of several of the many forms of social complexity. No previous work has been able to connect dynamical historic and social network analysis with changes that can be visualized and analyzed through time in terms of structure, interaction, and social change, using the actual concrete data of the ethnography, person by person, relation by relation, group by group, change by change. This is a level of integration hitherto never achieved in anthropology. It builds on a methodology for analysis of structural changes that was developed by the lead author. Douglas R. White had previously developed new concepts and measures for the study of social cohesion, starting first with cohesion in kinship ties (structural endogamy) and then progressing to structural cohesion generally, which has since become one of the many major tools of [network analysis].

If the book combines complexity theory following lines of thought at the [Santa Fe Institute] with a contribution to understanding of Middle Eastern social structure, it is through combining network visualization and analysis with the study of the dynamics of marriage choices. The book expands the <[theory of social practice] to show how changes in the structure of a society's kinship network affect the development of social cohesion over time. By rigorously examining the genealogical networks of the Turkish nomad clan and associated clans that are studied, the authors explore how changes in network cohesion are indicative of key processes of social change. This approach alters in fundamental ways the anthropological concepts of social structure, organizational dynamics, social cohesion, marriage strategies, as well as the study of community politics within the dynamics of ongoing personal interaction.

Chapter 1 <download>

Chapter 1 makes a strong argument about what can be learned, in parallel to in-depth ethnographic field study, from network analysis of the very material that the ethnographer collects systematically, but in pieces and chunks. Even for the best ethnographer, there is more to learn than what can be observed, discovered, or intuited, even by in-depth immersion in the culture, or from normal tabular comprehension of statistical data. The argument is radical: moving from person to person, site to site, household to household, event to event, conversation, the ethnographer (like any person, generally, that takes in information and new knowledge) is always in a position to take in the patterns and knowledge stored in a larger network only from a local perspective. Immediate neighbors and their neighborhood may be known, but to move further and further out to the ensemble of links at successive distances takes you into such number and diversity of complex patterns that they simply cannot be comprehended directly as a complex ensemble of interactions, patterns, outcomes, and processes. <[Lévi-Strauss] put this very nicely in <[Elementary Structures of Kinship] (English edition 1969: 124-5) when he said approvingly, quoting another, "there must be a way to approach the study of kinship systems (italics added) which avoids their apparent and impossible complexity." Viewing the complexity of social life while lacking the modern tools of <[network analysis], he concluded that members of a society, like anthropologists themselves, can only fall back on mental models, abstracted systems, and norms, or a structural analysis of mental life. Chapter 1 of this book, however, goes on to show some simple principles by which the complexity of the actual concrete and ever-changing networks of social life can be apprehended in ways that go far beyond even the trained eyes and ears of an ethnographer.

Chapter 2 <download>

Chapter 2 then procedes to show how the genealogical data recorded from historical studies of communities, social classes, or members of institutions or professions that are also intermarried with one another are easily coded and connected into a form easily read by a computer in a way that convey both the structural and the dynamical elements in a network as it unfolds in the temporal dimension. The connected network genealogy of the entire set of several thousand members and outmigrants of the nomad community is then presented graphically with appendices and tables showing the simplicity of the formats used to code and connect the network. These genealogies are also available interactively on the net, and have been avidly consulted by descendants of these particular nomads who occupy all walks of life in Turkey today (where descent from nomads has become a matter of pride). These community level and network genealogies have a certain fascination in themselves, but an actual intervention by a Turkish legislator descended from one of these lineages is used in this chapter to exemplify how genealogies over many generations are corrected both for factual and sometimes political reasons as groups and their ancestries are reshaped over time.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 provides background to the field work and the ethnography, including the following elements: Islam, polygyny, demography, economics, exchange and inheritance, gender, lineages, preferences for marriage with relatives such as the father's brother's daughter that are inside the lineage, history, and the amazing absence of fixed authority in office. As with many nomad groups, leaders emerge out of interaction rather than asserting authority or selection by higher authority. The simplest of principles of self-organization and scalability – the shifting expansion and contraction of fields of social action and cohesion – are emblematic, in this nomadic society, of principles of social organization that are widespread in the Middle East, and relevant to public understanding.

Chapter 4 <download>

Chapter 4 contains in short order the dilemmas of conflicting anthropological theories of kinship: those of <[Levi-Strauss’s] Elementary Structures, and <[Murdock’s] Social Structure, both published in 1949, and Pierre <[Bourdieu’s] Outline of a Theory of Practice, published in 1972. Middle Eastern kinship, particularly the Arabic pattern of privileged marriage within the patrilineage, makes no sense in the structuralist theory of marriage exchange nor in the nuclearist theory of blocks for extended families.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 develops the methods and foundational concepts for the network study of large kinship networks, small worlds and navigability through trust in kinship networks and scalable social complexity in social organization. The goal is not an abstract mathematical model of <[small world] or <[scale-free networks] but realistic social network models based on ethnography and documented social processes.

Chapter 6

Nomad clan, the 187 wives for the 253 relinked (structurally endogamous) couples left
Nomad clan, the 234 husbands for the 253 relinked (structurally endogamous) couples right

Chapter 6 reconstructs the past from the cross-corroborated evidence of oral tradition. Social memory, that is, overlapping shared memories of different individuals in a community, is shown to be a powerful basis for constructing a socially realistic set of networked and interpenetrating histories. Interestingly, the stereotype of a male bias in Middle Eastern kinship disappears as the memories of female linkages historically is 80% as strong as that of males, in spite of a patrilineal and male-localized social structure. This is the chapter that begins the intensive computer analysis of the network data and begins to build a realistic rather than stereotyped view of the actual social network structure and the dynamics of change through time.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is devoted to fractality, scalability, and the fluidity of kaleidoscopic emergent structures in Middle Eastern kinship, narratives, concepts, language and social groupings. The methods of network analysis that are applied become more intensive as the analytic patterns begin to take shape. It is in this chapter that a new theory of complexity in kinship organization, very different from the idea of a complex system in kinship as developed by Levi-Strauss in contrast to his elementary systems. A conception of segmentary system begins to emerge that is quite different from the common <[segmentary lineage] concept of anthropology textbooks.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 develops an understanding of the evolutionary dynamic of a successful nomad adaptation where large sibling groups self-select for collaborative network ties that ramify connections through trust in the kinship network while less well connected individuals or smaller groups of sibs compete by out-migration, moving to towns, villages and cities, coping not only through exodous from a highly desirable but competitive nomad environment to a diversity of niches that provide a larger scale of regional interconnections for nomad and exnomad alike in diverse occupations.

Chapter 9 <download>

This chapter describes an indigenous and widespread form of democracy that has long existed and continues to exist today: The tandiki kisi leader, emergent by reputation, who is not elected by formal vote but becomes visible only after it is observed that members of the community migrate to his tent to discuss problems and resolve disputes, and in time the tandiki kisi comes to enlarge his tent and number of wives to accommodate them. While there are many competitors for emergent leadership and it is difficult to predict from ascriptive attributes which will emerge, competitors soon fall away as no one comes to their tent, and the emergent position usually lasts until the leader retires at a late age. Further, it is shown how competition for rank on the basis of ability in a context of diversified choices sets the framework for a scalable social integration. Multilevel cohesion in which groups quickly adapt to new problems and situations operates in conjunction with a long tradition of decentralized leadership, even though new forms of elective office are imposed from the state.

Chapter 10

This chapter shows how emergence by reputation and ability also operates within groups defined by siblings and siblings-in-law rather than ascription and also operates in the emergence of lineage leaders, all knit together into a clan through reciprocal marriages alliances and bilateral kinship. A new theory emerges of a highly flexible, democratic, and complex type of endoconical clan organization as one of dynamical kinship and marriage cohesion. This model of case interlocking features of a scalable conical clan organization reconciles the theoretical dilemmas into which anthropologists were forced by the kinds of disparate and seemingly contradictory assumptions examined in chapter 4.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11 summarizes the book.



  1. 2006 in paperback, ISBN 0-7391-1892-7 - 20% reduction to Dec 28 2008 - and 2004 in hardcover
  2. Reviewer Alvin Wolfe writes it "...could be the most important book in anthropology in fifty years"
  3. Amazon reviewer T. Martin Doyle writes 'The White and Johansen approach to "network analysis" provides the framework for unparalleled examination of sub-national political behavior. This tool for nonlinear dynamic analysis encourages detailed assessment of highly decentralized self-organizing local governance structures otherwise unavailable through state level scrutiny. Those involved in the study of comparative politics will come to appreciate the meticulous findings exacted through use of this "network" construction. Additionally, examining the interaction of inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, or transnational advocacy networks with state government infrastructure becomes far more precise, compliments of White and Johansen.'

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