Qualitative network analysis for migration studies: beyond metaphors and epistemological pitfalls

Ryan, Louise and Dahinden, Janine (2021) Qualitative network analysis for migration studies: beyond metaphors and epistemological pitfalls. Global Networks, 21 (3). pp. 459-469. ISSN 1471-0374


In this introductory article, we as guest editors set out the key ambitions and arguments of the Special Issue and highlight our contribution to social network research within migration studies. We argue that social network analysis has the potential to address epistemological pitfalls in migration research especially in overcoming the metaphoric use of networks as well as nation‐state and ethnicity‐centred epistemologies. Moreover, we suggest that adopting a qualitative approach to social networks not only changes how we research networks but also what we understand them to be. While seeking to go beyond metaphors and delve into the tool box of SNA, in order to gain deeper understandings of social networks, we argue that this cannot mean purely quantitative research techniques. We draw upon the early roots of social network research, within anthropology, to find inspiration and consider the contribution of qualitative approaches to analysing dynamic social relationships and to including neglected aspects like meaning making and agency. Adopting a reflexive approach enables us to de‐migranticise our research turning the role of migration and ethnicity for social networks into an empirical question rather than taking them as an essentialist starting point for investigation.

The Special Issue brings together an integrated set of articles drawn from a social networks and migration symposium. Using qualitative and mixed methods approaches, these articles focus on a diverse range of geographical and social contexts. In so doing, the authors offer new methodological and epistemological insights into migrants’ social networks.

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