Networking the environment: Social network analysis in environmental management and local ecological knowledge studies

M. Salpeteur, L. Calvet-Mir, I. Diaz-Reviriego, V. Reyes-García

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Social network analysis (SNA) is grounded in a relational perspective. It conceives the system under study as a network composed of a set of nodes and ties, which can be represented and analyzed through a variety of mathematical tools (Wasserman and Faust 1994, Scott 2013).

Since it first emerged in the 1930s, SNA has extensively grown across multiple research fields, including physics, biology, and history, among others (Borgatti et al. 2009). In the social sciences, the distinctive contribution of SNA has been to shift the analytical focus from individual characteristics or social categories, which were at the center of classical social science research, to the patterns of relations in which individuals or groups are embedded (White and Johansen 2005, Borgatti et al. 2009). This relational perspective has allowed the development of a rich body of research, tackling key questions in the social sciences. For example, SNA researchers have made important contributions to our understanding of how power and influence are distributed in a given social structure (Bonacich 1987), of how social ties of different intensity explain social systems’ dynamics (e.g., Burt 2004), of the nature of the relations between social structures and individual agency (Archer 1982, Emirbayer and Goodwin 1994), and of the importance of shared characteristics in the formation of social clusters (the “homophily effect”; see McPherson et al. 2001). These theoretical advances have been of specific interest among scholars studying natural resources management, because they are dealing with the study of social-ecological systems in which complex social dynamics and interactions are taking place. SNA indeed offers some adequate theoretical and methodological frames to uncover the ways in which heterogeneous groups of actors interact, collaborate, exchange information and materials, and mobilize their social capital, all key aspects of natural resources management. Application of SNA in this field of research has given birth to a wealth of studies, which we will present below.

In this Special Feature, we gather contributions building on this line of research that specifically focus on three themes: (1) how SNA helps us explain natural resources governance, (2) how it helps us understand the circulation and local management of plant propagative materials, and (3) how it helps us understand the transmission of local ecological knowledge. Within each of these thematic areas, the contributions assembled here provide some new theoretical and methodological insights, based on case studies covering a large range of geographical and thematic areas. Because all readers may not be familiar yet with SNA, we propose a brief introduction to SNA in the following paragraph, before introducing the contributions to the special featur
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalEcology and Society.
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Local ecological knowledge
  • Natural resource management
  • Seed exchange networks
  • Social network analysis


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