Music culture as a social network (Fall 2011)

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MUSIC 466/566 LEC A1 T R 11:00AM - 12:20PM
HC (Humanities Centre) room 4-78 (available for undergraduate or graduate credit)

Note: the following course outline is not yet finalized!


SNA segment.png

These days, social networks seem to be everywhere, especially with the advent of "social networking" as a catchphrase, new web-based social networking services such as Facebook, and popularization of social network concepts such as six degrees of separation, and small-world networks[1]. But the idea of using graph theory to understand social groups and culture goes back nearly a century, while social networks themselves are intrinsic to being human. [2][3]

Ethnomusicology is typically defined as the study of music in society or the study of music as culture...if social network analysis (SNA) is an important approach towards understanding society and culture, then it follows that SNA should also provide an insightful means of thinking in ethnomusicology, and a productive tool for ethnomusicological research.

Yet few ethnomusicologists have explored SNA's possibilities, perhaps because SNA appears inaccessible, filed under "mathematical sociology," while music scholars have tended to prefer the more qualitative, critical, and interpretive approaches of the human sciences. SNA also presents some challenging methodological difficulties for fieldworkers - mapping social networks is not always easy, practically and ethically. Yet SNA's origins lies in social anthropology, a field with longstanding connections to ethnomusicology. Methodologically SNA is more feasible today, with the emergence of online virtual communities, defined by social networking websites, and other electronic communications. And the basic mathematics required to understand SNA is quite elementary.

This seminar-workshop attempts to bridge the gap between traditional humanistic scholarship and SNA by providing a gentle introduction to methods, theories, and issues in social network analysis,with applications to ethnomusicology. You won’t merely read about social network analysis, you’ll actually do it!

Ethnomusicological applications of SNA include understanding the ways musicians and audiences interact in performance; network aspects of celebrity formation; exploring communities of musical taste; understanding the circulation of online music; analyzing the role of music in the structure of online social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace...and others specifically devoted to music); investigating networks of musical friendship, prestige, and respect; examining linkages between music sites on the Internet; considering networks generated by musical collaborations (e.g. composer-lyricist relations); the overlap of friendship and musical collaboration network; small world networks in the arts (c.f. Degrees of Kevin Bacon[4]); affiliation networks of numerous types; and many other topics.


MCSN 2011 schedule

Google Calendar


  • Weekly...
    • Classroom work: Lectures (mostly Tuesdays), demos (your demonstrations of Pajek technique), and discussions (more on Thursdays), all interspersed with group exercises, Q/A, videos, demos, etc.
    • Homework, promoting a theoretical and practical grasp of social network concepts
      • Readings: (mostly in ESNAP)
      • Lab: Pajek exercises, described in the ESNAP text (it's very important to do these completely!)
      • Problems: to test and reinforce those concepts. Questions are typically due on Thursdays; assignments are typically due the following Tuesday.
  • Occasional in-class self-guided group projects (these projects are to be written up and handed in the following class)
  • Three very short (20 minute) quizzes (Sep 22, Oct 13, Nov 3), to motivate and assess learning
  • SNA research project of your choosing, including planning, written proposal, data gathering, preparation of Pajek files, analysis, interpretation, and writeup as a final paper. (First project proposal draft due Oct 27, to be resubmitted until accepted.)
  • Class presentations - 15 minutes each - outlining your project's main questions and methods, with partial results, during the last few classes at term's end (depending on enrollment).

Note that there is no final exam, but only a final paper.

If possible, bring your laptop to each class, so we can explore the software together.


The evaluation of each requirement is on a scale from 0-4 points. These scores are combined according to the percentages indicated in order to produce a final numeric grade. This grade is rounded to the nearest numeric value in the table below, in order to determine the final letter grade. In exceptional cases the grade A+ may also be assigned. Expectations for the 500 level are higher than for the 400 level. Unexcused late assignments will be downgraded one quarter point per day late. The only valid excuse is a documented medical or family emergency. Please take care to plan ahead, bearing in mind due dates for your other courses.

  • Attendance and class participation (including Pajek demos): 15%
  • Homework (questions, assignments, project write-ups): 20% total (each submitted item receives an equal weight)
  • Quizzes: 6.6666% each (20% total)
  • Project proposal: 5%
  • Research class presentation: 10%
  • Research paper: 30%

A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0.0

Moodle site

We'll experiment with the University's new Moodle system - here's the link.


You'll find a number of these books on reserve in the Music Library (Rutherford, 2nd floor), though new rules may preclude placing textbooks there. Some are also available electronically. But I do recommend purchasing the required work (ESNAP), since working from an electronic version may prove awkward as you're also using your computer to work the examples using Pajek.


Wouter de Nooy, Andrej Mrvar, and Vladimir Batagelj, Exploratory Social Network Analysis with Pajek (ESNAP), illustrated edition. (Cambridge University Press, 2005). (Available in the SUB bookstore, and also available online, though you may find it difficult to work with an ebook.) To be read in conjunction with Pajek (which was created for PCs but also runs fine on Macs).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Purchase the first edition (blue), not the 2nd edition (green). The second edition is not out yet, and so I could not use it while preparing this course. It might be on the market by September 2011, however. While it might seem logical to buy the most recent version, new editions can differ significantly, and all my assignments refer to the first (blue) edition. So don't buy the 2nd edition unless you're prepared to spring for both.


Texts and reference works

Use these to supplement the primary text, particularly if something is unclear. Several of these books are available for purchase in the bookstore, and we'll put as many on reserve as possible.

Robert A. Hanneman and Mark Riddle. Introduction to social network methods (also available as a pdf. Free.) Works well with Netdraw (which works only on PCs, or Macs in Windows compatibility mode). Use this supplemental text to clarify and reinforce understanding, especially if you're having trouble with a concept as presented in the required text.

John P Scott, Social Network Analysis: A Handbook, 2nd ed. (Sage Publications Ltd, 2000). (Available in the SUB bookstore.) Provides a succinct summary of the field at an advanced level.

Linton C. Freeman, The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of Science (Empirical Press, 2004). Outlines the intellectual history of SNA.

Wasserman, Stanley and Faust, Katherine. Social network analysis methods and applications. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press; 1994. A rich summary of SNA theory and applications, for those who want a more complete and rigorous reference work.

Peter J. Carrington. Models and methods in social network analysis. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press; 2005. Available electronically.

Popular treatments

Enjoyable and accessible, these books may also stimulate your creative thinking...feel free to browse.

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means (Plume, 2003).

Duncan J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004).

Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Back Bay Books, 2002).

Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009). (A popular science treatment.)

Software (all free!)


Pajek (Slovenian for "spider") is required, as it accompanies our textbook. It runs on Windows, Linux, and Intel Mac platforms.


Optionally, you may like to explore and experiment with other packages...

NodeXL for Excel (Windows only)









International Network for Social Network Analysis (professional SNA society - with lots of links, naturally!)

Wiki for SNA

Social Network Analysis Instructional Web Site

David Easley and Jon Kleinberg's Interdisciplinary networks course at Cornell University (cross-listed in computer science, economics, sociology, information science)

Kinds of music networks

  • affiliation networks
    • musicians/groups: co-membership
    • fan clubs and groups
    • musical taste networks (people who like this music also like this...)
  • relation between friendship networks and musical attributes (taste, performance, consumption, breadth)
  • structure of musician communication networks
  • product networks (co-purchase, e.g. Amazon)
  • musical flow/awareness
  • communication networks in performance
  • transmission: teaching and learning networks (oral tradition, diachronic variation...)
  • networks of musical collaboration (e.g. composer/lyricist networks, co-member networks)
  • small world networks
  • musical prestige and authority
  • scale-free networks & celebrity
  • egonets and music attributes (performance, consumption, taste, breadth)
  • citation and co-author networks among music scholars
  • affiliation networks linking scholars to research areas (topical, theoretical, disciplinary, or geocultural)
  • webpage word co-occurrence (e.g. musical genres)

Sources of online network data

Possible short learning projects

  • Shared FB friends among class members
  • Musical taste implications
  • Observation of conversational interactions
  • Plot networks in films about musicians
  • Ego-alter networks
  • Friendship networks
  • Musical affiliations
  • Flow: how you learn about music from friends...
  • Literary connections through song lyrics
  • Composer-lyricist networks

Mathematica demos

Instructive, and fun to play with (btw, Mathematica is wonderful...but pricey)


Social nets