The ‘Riddle’ of social network intricacies
UNC sociology professor publishes two analytical handbook chapters

By Benjamin Welch

Though the term “social network” produces visions of Facebook courtesy of a recent movie about the website’s founders, the true definition is more complicated than clicking the “friend” button.

Mark Riddle, a UNC sociology professor, is researching social networking.
Mark Riddle, a UNC sociology professor, is researching connections in social networks. Photo by Benjamin Welch

Mark Riddle, a sociology professor at the University of Northern Colorado, is assisting others in making that definition in two articles that will be published in “The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis” in May.
Riddle defines social networking as something other than the popular website:
“If you are at the center of a hub of people and everybody’s connected to you, but not to each other, then there are a lot of potential ties there but not actual ties,” he said.
Steve McDonald, of North Carolina State University, who published an article in the previous edition of the SAGE Handbook, said the publication would help future researchers in the area.
“In the next decade, there is going to be plenty of people doing social network analysis on a whole slew of different things,” he said.
The two articles, “A Brief Introduction to Analyzing Social Network Data" and "Concepts and Measures for Basic Network Analysis," are the prefacing chapters in the handbook and are an introduction to the mathematics of social network analysis. Riddle said the two chapters are like a statistics book, providing aid to researchers who want to look into the topic.
 “People are connected in a variety of ways,” he said. “So talking about different dimensions of their connectedness can have different meanings, and (the articles show) how to compute it. Here’s how to make the numbers work.”

Watch a video interview with Mark Riddle

Though Riddle is now gaining prominence in the field of sociological studies, his path toward discovering his passion was not an easy one.
He received his bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Afterward, he got his theology degree and spent a decade as a priest. He said he knew the clergy wasn’t his calling, and after a chance meeting with sociologists, he pursued his master’s and subsequently his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Riverside.
While at UCR, he teamed up with his dissertation adviser and mentor, Robert Hanneman, to co-author a textbook. Hanneman is Riddle's co-author on the chapters being published by Sage.
“What our chapters do is try to show some of the connections between how one observes data and gains insight about it on one hand, and formal mathematical structure on the other hand,” Hanneman said.
Hanneman and Riddle became close friends and research partners. The two articles being published in SAGE are from the second edition of that initial textbook.
“He was the mentor I hope to be to my students,” Riddle said of it.
The “SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis” was the first comprehensive collection of readings covering the sociological approaches to social networks, Hanneman said. Previous handbooks of social analysis discussed topics ranging from online interaction to connectivity of terrorist attack victims to corporate networks.
This year’s handbook will also concentrate on the future of social networking.
“It is the end-all and be-all of the social sciences, at the moment,” Riddle said. “There have been people doing social network analysis for a long time, and numeric representations exist as early as the 1940s. But, of course the growth in social media of various kinds has been phenomenal in the last decade. So, currently there are a lot of researchers trying to look into how people are connected on Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser extent, MySpace, and trying to develop models for what that looks like and trying to make claims about what’s happening socially.” 
In addition to his work on social network analysis, Riddle has published in educational journals about research on higher education and contributed to a journal on disabilities. Currently, he is prepping for an article on moral panic, which is how people get excited over items of interest that are in the public eye over short periods of time.
Though the ideas behind social analysis and the steps to achieve obtaining data in the field are a difficult process, Hanneman sums up the basic theory.
“Our chapters are basically about what are the main concepts and tools and translating ideas about social structure into mathematical form,” he said. “This will be a prominent publication cited by many researchers for a long time.”

Chapters of the SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis
PART ONE : GENERAL ISSUES Social Network Analysis: An Introduction
The Development of Social Network Analysis-with an Emphasis on Recent Events
Network Theory
Social Physics and Social Networks
Social Networks in Economics
Relational Sociology, Culture, and Agency
Personal Communities: The World According To Me
Social Support
Kinship, Class, and Community
Animal Social Networks
Networking Online: Cybercommunities
Corporate Elites and Intercorporate Networks
Political Dimensions of Corporate Connections
Policy Networks
Social Movements and Collective Action
Crime and Social Network Analysis
Terrorist Networks: The Threat of Connectivity
Scientific and Scholarly Networks
Cultural Networks
Social Networks, Geography, and Neighbourhood Effects
A Multiple-Network Analysis of the World System of Nations, 1995-1999
A Brief Introduction to Analyzing Social Network Data
Concepts and Measures for Basic Network Analysis
Survey Methods for Network Data
Survey Sampling in Networks
Qualitative Approaches
Analyzing Affiliation Networks
Positions and Roles
Relation Algebras and Social Networks
Statistical Models For Ties and Actors
Exponential Random Graph Models for Social Networks
Network Dynamics
Models and Methods to Identify Peer Effects
Kinship Network Analysis
Large-Scale Network Analysis
A Reader’s Guide to SNA Software