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Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology

Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology

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Published by tom.brughmans8209
To be published as :
Brughmans, T. (Forthcoming). Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology. In Chrysanthi, A., Flores, M. P., Papadopoulos, C. (eds), Thinking beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process. Oxford, Archaeopress - British Archaeological Reports.
To be published as :
Brughmans, T. (Forthcoming). Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology. In Chrysanthi, A., Flores, M. P., Papadopoulos, C. (eds), Thinking beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process. Oxford, Archaeopress - British Archaeological Reports.

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Published by: tom.brughmans8209 on Jan 20, 2011
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07/23/2012

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To be Published asBrughmans, T. (Forthcoming). Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology. In Chrysanthi, A., Flores, M. P.,
Papadopoulos, C.
(eds),
Thinking beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process
. Oxford, Archaeopress - BritishArchaeological Reports.
Facebooking the Past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology
Tom Brughmans
Abstract
Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. Thesocial networking website's viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its userstroubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through itsability to provide a digital medium for social relationships.This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were ascrucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what wedo as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in thematerial record? And do social network analysis techniques aimed at understanding suchrelationships help archaeologists understand past social relationships?This paper explores the assumptions and issues involved in applying a social network perspective inarchaeology. It argues that the nature of archaeological data makes its application in archaeologyfundamentally different from that in social and behavioural sciences. As a first step to solving theidentified issues it will suggest an integrated approach using ego-networks, popular whole-network models, multiple networks and affiliation networks, in an analytical process that goes from methodto phenomena and back again.
Keywords:
social network analysis, complex systems, social relationships, archaeological datacritique, graph theory, archaeological networks
 
Introduction
Does social network analysis allow archaeologists to understand past social relationships? Thesocial network perspective is based on the assumption that relationships between individuals shapetheir actions, and it offers a set of theories and techniques for understanding human behaviour through relationships between individuals or communities and their affiliations. But can this perspective just be adopted from the social and behavioural sciences by archaeologists and beapplied to archaeological data? Does it succeed in explaining the full complexity of past socialrelationships? This paper aims at surfacing fundamental issues with the archaeological applicationof social network analysis which have been largely ignored in previous applications. A number of suggestions will be made as a first step to overcoming these issues.This paper purposefully only covers social network analysis. A general discussion of thearchaeological potential of other network-based approaches has been published recently(Brughmans 2010).
Once upon a time … A short fiction about a network and a politician
1
Once upon a time in Rome there was a man Called Cicero. He was a great orator and one of the bestlawyers in the city. In fact, only one other lawyer was said to be his superior, a man calledHortensius. As Cicero had achieved almost all he could within the boundaries of his profession, hedecided to take up politics. It was his lifelong dream to become a Consul of Rome, so Cicero rose tothe challenge and signed himself up as a candidate for the coming elections. Consular elections inRome, as you may know, worked according to a very familiar political principle: the most popular individual gets the job. Popularity, however, is not exempt from another and possibly even morefamiliar human principle: everything has a price. In Rome votes could be bought, so in the end therichest person would be elected.Our friend Cicero might not have been counted among the wealthiest men in Rome and neither was
1This short fiction is very loosely based on Robert Harris' novel Imperium (2006). It is adapted by the author anddoes not aim at being historically accurate in any way.
 
he a member of the established political families. There was no doubt in his mind that the electionswould be the most demanding struggle in his life so far. He did have one advantage however, Cicerowas quite a popular man. In fact, according to his Facebook profile (Figure 1) he had over onethousand friends. Everyone even remotely familiar with Facebook, or indeed the idea of friendship,will know that that is a large number of friends to have. Among those friends were a couple of veryinfluential and popular men like Atticus, who frequented in many different social circles includingthe highest echelons of Roman aristocracy. Cicero himself was mostly popular with the rural elite aswell as with some groups of the Roman plebs.Cicero knew, however, that one thousand friends would not be enough to ensure victory in thecoming elections. If he was to have a real chance at actually becoming the next consul of Rome,Cicero would need to distinguish himself in some way from the other candidates. To do this, Cicerodid not invest too much effort in the electorate of Rome, with its established political affiliationsand corruption scandals that would even disgust the most inhumane of persian kings. Instead heturned his attention to the communities living to the north of the city, who could cast their vote inthis year's election for the very first time. By browsing through some public Facebook profilesCicero found out that these new voters were very different from the Romans, as they shareddifferent Facebook pages and visited each other's farms in Farmville and so on. Cicero did not haveany friends from these communities himself, however, so he asked some of his Facebook friendswho lived closer to them to find out who among the new voters were the most popular andinfluential people. Cicero visited these people personally and added them as friends on Facebook.By doing this Cicero became part of a totally new and isolated network within the electorate. Heexplored who was friends with who and what topics they liked to discuss. Armed with thisknowledge Cicero gave public talks in some of the most popular meeting places in the north aboutthe issues his new Facebook friends cared about. Every day more and more northerners addedCicero as a friend on Facebook, so that their support in the coming elections was as good asguaranteed.

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