Simpsons, Social Network Analysis, and Visible Path


Now cover your left eye, read the following while wearing your social networking analysis hat.
Then cover your right eye, and read it again, now wearing your psychoanalyst’s hat.
You see what I see, yes? They don’t match.

What the social network analyst sees is dyadic communication. H-M, M-L, L-B, B-H… etc. A chain. As described below, a 2-clique.

Clearly it’s not a chain! The Simpson’s dinner table conversation is all triangulation. H(L)M, where Lisa is the kid Dad wont talk to and whom he will address only through Marge. L(H)B is the sibling alliance Bart-Lisa in response…

Plotting this out as a chain would miss the most critical, motivating, and humorous aspects of the interaction here… SNA can sometimes mistake the relation for the relationship, translating, or transliterating perhaps, what it can read from form, traces, traffic and suchlike where it can’t possibly decipher the meaning, the implications, the suggestions, hints, contexts, rituals and so on of an interaction. I had a friend admit that she and her therapist were going to see a therapist, because their therapy had become so entangled. Applying SNA to the Simpson’s conversation below would be like applying psychoanalysis to the chalk-drawn hopscotch lines and boxes and numbers left on a corner of school recess concrete. (Here’s Eddie Izzard: “What happened here? Mystic numbers, 1, 3, 7, a baby doll’s head here, something else over there..”)

I’m not trying to be flippant, and I have nothing against Visible Path. Interesting stuff indeed, in fact. But if we’re going to use SNA, and it has its place, we have to be careful. What it looks like, or what it is in network relations terms, is not what happened, nor what was going on for those involved.

This from Stan Wasserman, of Visible Path:

“3) I am teaching a Network Analysis Workshop at the Goizueta Business School, at Emory University in Atlanta (wonderful place, and a real hotbed of network research). One of my students this week, Eric Overby, told me of a great dialogue from The Simpsons, which, in his words:

“The first four statements from Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart are a nice example of a strongly-connected, but not recursively connected, 2-clique. After the first exchanges, the network relationships break down (because Homer gets confused), and hilarity ensues.

Read it yourself and enjoy:

Homer: Marge? Since I’m not talking to Lisa, would you please ask her to pass me the syrup?
Marge: Dear, please pass your father the syrup, Lisa.
Lisa: Bart, tell Dad I will only pass the syrup if it won’t be used on any meat product.
Bart: You dunkin’ your sausages in that syrup homeboy?
Homer: Marge, tell Bart I just want to drink a nice glass of syrup like I do every morning.
Marge: Tell him yourself, you’re ignoring Lisa, not Bart.
Homer: Bart, thank your mother for pointing that out.
Marge: Homer, you’re not not-talking to me and secondly I heard what you said.
Homer: Lisa, tell your mother to get off my case.
Bart: Uhhh, dad, Lisa’s the one you’re not talking to.
Homer: Bart, go to your room.

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