Network evolution and field dynamics

October 15, 2007 at 10:55 pm 2 comments

I have read this paper at least 3 times and still couldn’t get all the details of it. Seriously, it is a monster, because this paper is a fabulous example of what the network research paradigm could go in the future: the multi-modal, multiplex, multi-level and longitudinal approach, which all the researchers are calling for but few actually do. Have you read anything like that before?

Powell, W. W., White, D. R., Koput, K., & Owen-Smith, J. (2005). Network Dynamics and Field Evolution: The Growth of Interorganizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences. American Journal of Sociology, 111(5), 1463-1568.

Rationale of the study
• Studies of networks are disconnected with analyses of fields. Most network analysis has taken an individual-level or dyadic focus, while very few researchers have taken a macro perspective to study the evolution of entire networks.
• Most existing studies use cross-sectional data, while few employ longitudinal data to study structural change.
• Existing studies are usually focusing on a single network, while few look at the interaction of multiple networks.

The field
• Biotechnology is a highly dynamic and turbulent field, characterized by a high rate of formation and dissolution of linkages and plenty of entry and exit events.
• Six types of organizations and four types of ties.
• Specifically, this paper maps out the shifting network typology and logics of attachment over time.

Mechanisms of network attachment
• H1.-Network expansion occurs through a process in which the most-connected nodes receive a disproportionate share of new ties (accumulative advantage: preferential attachment, rich-get-richer).
• H2.-Network expansion follows a process in which new partners are chosen on the basis of their similarity to previous partners (homophily: social similarity).
• H3.-Network expansion entails herdlike behavior, with participants matching their choices with the dominant choices of others, either in mutual response to common exogenous pressures or through imitative behavior (follow-the-trend: neo-institutionalism, imitating the leaders).
• H4.-Network expansion reflects a choice of partners that connect to one another through multiple independent paths, which increases reachability and the diversity of actors that are reachable (multiconnectivity: search for novelty and interact with heterogeneous partners).

Method and Results
• A number of sophisticated methods are employed to analyze the data:
o Degree distribution: the probabilities of tie formation across different org types and time points.
o Visualization: evolution of the network typology
o Attachment bias (conditional logit models): the logics of attachment
• Summary of results: in the field of biotechnology, network evolution follows a combination of the four logics. Organizations with diverse portfolios of well-connected collaborators are found in the most cohesive, central positions and have the largest hand in shaping the evolution of the field.

Further Questions
• This empirical study links structural analysis with the evolution of the biotechnology field. It presents and tests hypotheses on attachment bias from various theoretical roots, by employing a set of sophisticated methods. After reading this paper, what do you think might be the implications for our own research, in terms of theory, method, and analysis?
• This study compares and analyses network topologies of different types of organizations over time. This structuralist approach corresponds to one of the two types of network studies (the other is connectionist). It puts more emphasis on network typology, while focuses less on the resource flow between the nodes. What might be the pros and cons of this approach?


Entry filed under: COMM641, evolution, organization, organizational community, reading notes, social network.

computer-mediated group norms Caring for your introvert

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Guru1951  |  October 10, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Do you have a Powell paper in pdf format? If so can you send it to me? I am very much interested in this type research. I am working on a theory of complexity involving evolution of networks. Thanks

  • 2. REX  |  March 20, 2009 at 8:24 am

    I need more tips on networking on the it field.


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