Talking ties: reflecting on network visualisation and qualitative interviewing


Ryan, L., Mulholland, J. and Agoston, A. 2014. Talking ties: reflecting on network visualisation and qualitative interviewing. Sociological research online. 19 (2), p. 16.
TitleTalking ties: reflecting on network visualisation and qualitative interviewing
AuthorsRyan, L., Mulholland, J. and Agoston, A.

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.

KeywordsQualitative Research, Social Networks, Visualisation Tools, Highly Skilled Migrants, Interview Dynamics, Social Ties
Research GroupSocial Policy Research Centre (SPRC)
PublisherBritish Sociological Association
JournalSociological research online
Publication dates
Print31 May 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited17 Apr 2015
Output statusPublished
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
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