Because it was a series of network-related posts that led to my invite to guest-blog here at the FacultyLounge, I thought I’d start things off with another interactive network and a discussion of networks more generally. The network below (click-through the image for an interactive version) is an alternate projection of the law prof twitter network. I’ve taken the law prof follower relations and changed the unit of analysis to the school that each prof teaches at. This shows us an electronic social network of law schools. Schools that are strongly linked in this network have a lot of profs following one another on twitter. The larger a school’s node, the more influential it is (as gauged by twitter followers) in the law prof social media world.
This network shows three distinct communities. I’m not convinced the distinction between the red/blue communities is really very meaningful, but the green community is quite clearly mostly made up of European schools, and we see Canadian schools bridging the Atlantic divide. This shows that while geography probably only matters to a small degree in forming these relationships, national borders appear to be very important.
The natural question to ask of this sort of network is: why? Why would we care about which schools have profs following one another on twitter? My answer is that I don’t particularly. It is interesting I suppose, and clicking around the network can be fun. On some level twitter relationships are probably a rough proxy for inter-institutional relationships, which can speak to knowledge/influence flow and institutional reputation. But really, I’ve made this and other networks to try and spread network awareness to those interested in the law.
Over the past two decades, network analysis has become one of the most influential and important methodologies in both the physical and social sciences. While sociologists and communication scholars had been doing ‘social’ network analysis for decades, many point to the famous Watts & Strogatz Nature paper from 1998 as the seminal paper that marks the beginning of the current network revolution across almost all research disciplines. According to Google Scholar, the Watts & Strogatz paper has received over 25,000 citations from disciplines as varied as physics, biology, sociology and political science. I can think of very few disciplines that haven't, to some extent, embraced network methods. Even the digital humanists have been bringing a network way of looking at things to the humanities.
The adoption of network analytic techniques has been slower in the law and legal studies. There have been some studies examining precedent networks, information networks, and professor and judicial networks. But, while much of this work has been very good, there are huge expanses of unexplored territory and innumerable questions that haven’t been asked, let alone answered.
Networks permeate the law. Many of us work daily with some of the best and oldest citation network datasets in existence. Case citation networks have tremendous potential to help inform what we know about how the law develops and perhaps predict its future development. Statutes can also be analyzed as networks, with internal references linking section & subsection nodes to one another. In fact, all of the textual material that lawyers and legal academics interact with can be analyzed using a variety of textual-network tools.
In addition to the textual and information networks present throughout the law, lawyers and legal scholars are surrounded by social networks. For instance, the teams that litigate cases or do deals are prime candidates for research into team network structure and how it relates to success. There is no shortage of social legal networks as judges, lawyers, and law students organize into networks in much the same way that other social actors do.
For those interested in networks and the questions that network analysis can help us answer, Wikipedia offers quite good overview of a number of topics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_theory, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network_analysis). There are also a number of quality texts. Newman’s Introduction (https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199206650.001.0001/acprof-9780199206650) and Newman & Barabasi’s Structure and Dynamics (https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8114.html) are both good places to start. Also, I love talking shop, so feel free to reach out to discuss legal networks.