social networks

Colloque Performance, théâtre, anthropologie (INHA/EHESS, 24-25 mai 2011)

J’interviendrai lors de ces deux journées d’études organisées par Georges Vigarello, Sylvie Roques et Christian Biet.  Voilà pour l’instant l’argumentaire et le programme – cela s’annonce tout à fait passionnant.

PERFORMANCE, théâtre, anthropologie

Le mot de performance s’est imposé dans le monde de l’art. Les chorégraphies de Jérôme Bel en danse, le « bio-art » de Yann Marussich jusqu’aux transformations physiques d’Orlan en sont autant d’exemples Il est porté sans doute par un contexte : celui de la productivité, de l’innovation, voire de l’informatisation1. Il s’est imposé aussi au théâtre, d’autant plus facilement d’ailleurs que la place du « faire » y semble première. Il s’y est même banalisé, régulièrement évoqué, jusqu’à apparaître quelquefois comme étant à l’essence même du jeu2. L’intérêt indéniable est ici d’aiguiser l’attention vers la part physique du spectacle, son versant le plus charnel.


  1. Voir Innovation et performance, approches interdisciplinaires, dir. D. Foray et J. Mannesse, Paris, EHESS, 1999.
  2. F. Dupont, « Facere ludos. La fonction rituelle et l’écriture du texte dans la comédie romaine: un exemple, le pseudolus de Plaute », Colloque international, Genève, 27-29 novembre 2003.

What's the actual size of your personal social network? Some numbers

Ok, so you have hundreds of friends on Facebook and thousands of followers on Twitter. Big deal. How many will show up to help you win that human pyramid contest, uh? And how many have you actually being interacting with in the last few months? More broadly, what’s the size of your actual social network? Scientists have been looking for an answer to that question, exploring the cognitive limits of the number of individuals one person can create ties with, both online and offline.

Famously, in 1992 anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed a rough estimate of 150. The ‘Dunbar’s number’ was the result of a large-scale study comparing the size of the neocortex in primates and humans. But in 1998 that figure pretty much doubled when social network analyst Peter Killworth contemplated a mean personal network size of 290. And in 2010 that number doubled again, as sociologist Matthew Salganik settled for an estimate of 610 personal ties.

So who says 1,200? Nobody yet. Maybe (I’m just teasing) psychologist Lisa Barrett will come up with a number of her own, if the hype surrounding her latest article published in Nature Neuroscience continues. What hype? Didn’t you see this?

Apparently, after scanning a few brains, Barrett and her team discovered a fancy correlation between personal network size and the size of the corpus amygdaloideum. Turns out Facebook has nothing to do with the matter in question. If the numbers of the average size of personal networks are going up as years go by, it’s not because of our increasing technological embeddedness. Dunbar’s number was based on the size of human neocortex (i.e. that part of the human brain presiding higher mental functions), so it  would come as no surprise if it was way smaller than the one correlated to the size of the amygdala (the part that regulates emotional responses and aggression). After all, it’s safe to say that among our acquaintances the number of those we would like to punch is higher than that of those with whom we would enjoy a civilized chat…


Bickart, K., Wright, C., Dautoff, R., Dickerson, B., & Barrett, L. (2010). Amygdala volume and social network size in humans Nature Neuroscience, advance online publication DOI: 10.1038/nn.2724

Dunbar, R. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates Journal of Human Evolution, 22 (6), 469-493 DOI: 10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J

Killworth, P., Johnsen, E., Bernard, H. R., Shelley, G., & McCarty, C. (1990). Estimating the size of personal networks Social Networks, 12 (4), 289-312 DOI: 10.1016/0378-8733(90)90012-X

McCormick, T., Salganik, M., & Zheng, T. (2010). How Many People Do You Know?: Efficiently Estimating Personal Network Size Journal of the American Statistical Association, 105 (489), 59-70 DOI: 10.1198/jasa.2009.ap08518

ps. This post was inspired by a few tweets exchanged with mathematician Valdis Krebs (@orgnet) and anthropologist Sally Applin (@AnthroPunk). To them goes my appreciation and #FF.

Canadian sociologist Barry Wellman's lecture on Networked Individualism

The director of NetLab at the University of Toronto, Barry Wellman has a reputation for being a pragmatic, rigurous, and coherent researcher having studied extensively networked communication and having helped internet research overcome its early-days “Real Life vs. Virtual Reality” divide. Wellman’s intellectual approach is social network analysis and his main contribution boils down to showing that computer networks are actually social networks. He was saying that as early as 2001, several years before Facebook made it obvious. Wellman heralded the idea the online communications are immanent to our lives – i.e. that they are  not located on some transcendent digital Great Beyond. According to his results, we tend to reproduce online the same social networks that we have in our family and work life.

In this lecture delivered at the Clinton School of Public Service (University of Arkansas) he explores the dimensions of networked individualism and buries the cyber-pessimist argument linking Internet to social isolation (as discussed also in this post).



Social Network Analysis for beginners

In the last few decades, Social Network Analysis (SNA) has established itself as one of the essential tools for sociology. And computer science. And medicine and management and economics and so on. Now, it is a fact that NOT everyone among my friends and colleagues is aware of what the hell SNA is about and how it can come handy when studying social phenomena. Instead of suggesting the canonical readings (Granovetter, Wellman, White, etc.), I’ve been looking for a satisfactory and comprehensive online SNA tutorial. The closest I’ve come to that is:

View more presentations from Hendrik Speck. (tags: xing web)

Just skip the introductory part about Myspace and Avril Lavigne. I mean, the man wrote it in 2007, so the first 18 slides have that spooky scent of an afternoon nostalgia television show… Go straight to part 2 and you will find that, though longish, the presentation is quite educational. Also, it has a few wicked social graphs. Hope that’s useful.