Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Social Networks

This seminar will not emphasize technical treatments of social networks, so there are no particular prerequisites. However, some level of comfort with quantitative methods and principles will be helpful.

Social scientists began to study social networks in the 1930s. By the 1940s, the mathematical specialty of graph theory was applied to their analysis. In the 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram brought the "small world" problem to widespread attention with a clever experiment investigating how many acquaintance links were needed to connect random pairs of Americans, a number that became enshrined in the phrase "six degrees of separation"—also the title of a 1993 Will Smith movie and of a game concerning the prolific movie actor Kevin Bacon ( In the 1990s, the study of networks caught the interest of physicists and computer science scholars, and evolved into the fields of "complex networks" and "computational social science." Email and mobile phones became increasingly prominent in our social life, and from the early 2000s, social media, beginning with Friendster and MySpace and continuing with Facebook and Linked In, then Instagram and Snapchat, among many others, shaped more and more of our social existence and our personal networks.

This Introductory Seminar reviews the history of social network studies, investigates how networks have changed over the past 100 years, and asks how new technologies will impact them. We draw from scholarly publications, popular culture, and personal experience as ways to approach this central aspect of the human experience. We will read, analyze in short papers, and discuss classic and modern writing on social networks. We may also dissect films and novels, social media, and your own experiences, to reflect on what they tell us about the impact of social networks on individual lives and society.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Mark Granovetter

Mark Granovetter

"I have been interested in social networks since my undergraduate years (and before people had begun using the term) because as a history major, I could see how critical they were. Going on to graduate work in sociology, I did my doctoral dissertation on how people find jobs through social networks. My first published paper, 'The Strength of Weak Ties,' was one of the earliest sociological treatments of social networks and is now the most cited paper in sociology (more than 49,000 citations). I think that social networks are an unending source of fascination, which has kept me studying them for more than 40 years, and I look forward to sharing this excitement."