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Talking Ties: Reflecting on Network Visualisation and Qualitative Interviewing


  • Louise Ryan
  • Jon Mulholland
  • Agnes Agoston


This paper uses a reflexive approach to consider the opportunities and challenges of using a visualisation tool in qualitative research on social networks. Although widely used to map social networks over many decades, particularly in health studies and psychology, network visualisation tools are less common in qualitative sociological research. While recent trends in Social Network Analysis (SNA) have tended to concentrate within the quantitative domain, our paper is influenced by the ‘cultural turn’ in network research, and aims to respond to calls for more exploration of how social ties are constructed and represented in qualitative research. Having used a target sociogram to visualise the networks of highly skilled migrants, we reflect critically on how this tool, far from being a neutral data collective device, influences how networks were described, explained, and perceived by participants. Focusing on the dynamics within the interview encounter, especially in the context of ‘researching up’, we explore participant reactions, what we learned and might do differently, next time. We conclude that, despite certain limitations, the sociogram helped mitigate the abstract nature of some topics by connecting them to specific groups of people drawn on the diagram. The tool not only enhanced participants’ reflection process but allowed certain topics to emerge which might have not otherwise surfaced, hence greatly contributing to the collection of rich data. Nonetheless, as we discuss, there are also ethical issues associated with its use.

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  • Louise Ryan & Jon Mulholland & Agnes Agoston, 2014. "Talking Ties: Reflecting on Network Visualisation and Qualitative Interviewing," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 19(2), pages 1-12, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:socres:v:19:y:2014:i:2:p:1-12
    DOI: 10.5153/sro.3404

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Katy Pilcher, 2012. "Performing in a Night-Time Leisure Venue: A Visual Analysis of Erotic Dance," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 17(2), pages 1-14, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Elisa Bellotti, 2016. "Qualitative Methods and Visualizations in the Study of Friendship Networks," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 21(2), pages 198-216, May.
    2. Neil Armitage, 2016. "The Biographical Network Method," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 21(2), pages 165-179, May.
    3. Nick Crossley & Gemma Edwards, 2016. "Cases, Mechanisms and the Real: The Theory and Methodology of Mixed-Method Social Network Analysis," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 21(2), pages 217-285, May.
    4. Alessio D'angelo & Louise Ryan & Paola Tubaro, 2016. "Visualization in Mixed-Methods Research on Social Networks," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 21(2), pages 148-151, May.
    5. Paola Tubaro & Louise Ryan & Alessio D'angelo, 2016. "The Visual Sociogram in Qualitative and Mixed-Methods Research," Sociological Research Online, , vol. 21(2), pages 180-197, May.

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