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Relational chains

Les chaînes relationnelles

Theme issue for the ARCS journal - analysing networks for the social sciences

Dossier thématique, Revues ARCS - Analyse de réseaux pour les sciences sociales

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Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2022


In social network analysis, a distinction is made between approaches based on personal networks and those based on complete networks. While they allow for the precise documentation of network structures, these approaches have difficulty in capturing one-off situations of activation of “weak” ties. The aim of this issue is to present work on the study of relational chains in the various fields of social science.



Special issue coordinated by

  • Grégori Akermann, INRAE, Department of Action, Transitions and Territories (ACT), UMR Innovation 0951, Montpellier, France. E-mail: gregori.akermann@inrae.fr
  • Michel Grossetti, Laboratoire interdisciplinaire solidarités, sociétés, territoires (LISST), CNRS and University of Toulouse, Toulouse, France. E-mail: michel.grossetti@univ-tlse2.fr


The aim of this issue is to present work on the study of relational chains in the various fields of social science.

In social network analysis manuals (Degenne and Forsé, 1994, for example), a distinction is usually made between personal network approaches, in which relational neighbourhoods around selected actors are studied without making any assumptions about the relationships they might have with each other (and without worrying about these relationships), and complete network approaches, in which the existence of common resources between certain actors, and therefore of probable links between them, is taken as a starting point for the selection of the latter. The first typically produce large surveys (several hundred to several thousand people or organisations) in which the characterisation of the networks is fairly summary (mainly density, number of links, types of links). On the contrary, the second type of approach generally focus on more modest sets (generally less than a hundred units), on which they make it possible to obtain information in a systematic way, which makes it possible to carry out very sophisticated analyses of the structure of the networks thus constituted. Although they allow precise documentation of network structures, these approaches have difficulty in capturing the one-off situations of activation of 'weak' links.

There is another way of studying networks, which has the particularity of having given rise to some of the most famous works in the field and paradoxically of not being identified in general as a specific approach in the analysis of social networks, even though recent publications refer to it (Neal and Neal, 2022). This is what can be called the study of relational chains, famous examples of which are Milgram's investigation of 'small worlds' (1967), Nancy Howell Lee's investigation of women seeking an abortion doctor in the 1960s in the United States (Howell Lee, 1969) or Granovetter's investigation of access to employment (1974). There is also a large body of work on information diffusion (e.g. Reingen and Kernan, 1986, Erickson et al., 1978). In this approach, it is not a question of analysing static structures but rather the activation of relationships in processes of access to resources or in situations of information diffusion. Only those relationships that are actually present in concrete actions are taken into account. The 'structural' character of the measures carried out is restricted: it is essentially limited to the length of the relational chains thus activated (or, which amounts to the same thing, to the number of intermediaries), in order sometimes to highlight homophily and social stratification effects (Lin, 2004). On the other hand, we generally try to qualify the mobilised relations in a fairly precise way by their origin, their 'strength', the context in which they are situated, etc. In many studies, the mobilisation of resources via relational chains is compared with other access modalities in order to study the relational embedding effects of the social processes studied (Grossetti and Barthe, 2008).

Relational chains can sometimes be reconstructed from relational traces, for example in online communications where it is possible, in certain cases, to know who sent a mail to whom until reaching a recipient with whom an exchange was finally made. One can also attempt to reconstruct relational chains by means of questionnaires, if the type of resource accessed by the respondents is sufficiently simple and well defined and if the processes of access are already known. Finally, in other cases, it is possible to use mixed methods (Small, 2011) by carrying out coding on the basis of qualitative data from interviews, observations or documentary sources. This is the case of the "quantified narratives" method (Grossetti et al., 2011; Grossetti, 2011).

The expected proposals can be theoretical, literature synthesis or field study presentations in all social sciences.

Among the themes that may be addressed are, for example

  • relational chains to access various types of social resources (job, housing, information...) ;
  • chains of citations in scientific publications;
  • relational chains in the linking of organisations (companies, laboratories, public administrations, etc.) or places;
  • chains of relations in migratory processes.

Submission guidelines

Proposals should specify which category the contribution falls into. Proposals must be sent to: gregori.akermann@inrae.fr and michel.grossetti@univ-tlse2.fr


  • Receipt of proposals (abstracts of 5,000 characters maximum): 30 September 2022
  • Response from coordinators: 31 October 2022
  • Receipt of papers (80,000 characters maximum): 31 January 2023
  • Reviews of the proposals: 15 March 2023
  • Revised version: 30 April 2023
  • Submission of final versions: 31 May 2023
  • Release of the special issue: 30 June 2023


In accordance with the possibilities offered by the journal, the possible contribution formats are as follows:

  • Research papers: papers presenting original research, either mobilising network analysis methods or proposing theoretical and methodological reflections on network analysis;
  • Data papers: article presenting the construction and thematic interest of a dataset describing relationships (in the form of a list of links, matrices, etc.) in a standardised format, documented metadata and a DOI;
  • Software papers: presentation of a network analysis tool, software or package.


Degenne A. & Forsé M., 1994, Les réseaux sociaux, Paris, Armand Colin.

Erickson B. H., Nosanchuk T. A., Mostacci L. & Dalrymple C. F., 1978, « The Flow of Crisis Information as a Probe of Work Relations », The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie, 3(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.2307/3339794.

Granovetter M. S., 1974, Getting a job. A study of contacts and careers, Harvard University Press.

Grossetti M., 2011, « Les narrations quantifiées. Une méthode mixte pour étudier des processus sociaux », Terrains et Travaux, n°19, p. 161-182.

Grossetti M. & Barthe J.-F., 2008 « Dynamique des réseaux interpersonnels et des organisations dans les créations d’entreprises ». Revue française de sociologie 49(3), 585‑612.

Grossetti M., Barthe J.-F. & Chauvac N., 2011, « Studying relational chains from narrative material », Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique / Bulletin of Sociological Methodology, 110, 11-25.

Howell Lee N., 1969. The search for an abortionnist, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lin N., 2004, « Job search in urban China. Gender, network chains and embedded resources », in H. Flap & B. Völker (Eds.), Creation and returns of social capital. A new program, London/New York, Routledge, p. 145-171.

Milgram S., 1967, « The Small World Problem », Psychology Today, p. 60-67.

Neal Z. P. & Neal P., 2022, « That’ll move the chains: Collecting network chain data », Social Networks, 69, 35-44.

Reingen P. H., & Kernan J. B., 1986, « Analysis of Referral Networks in Marketing: Methods and Illustration », Journal of Marketing Research, 23(4), p. 370–378. https://doi.org/10.2307/3151813.

Small M. L., 2011, « How to Conduct a Mixed Methods Study: Recent Trends in a Rapidly Growing Literature », Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 57-86.


  • Friday, September 30, 2022


  • chaîne relationnelle, analyse de réseaux, accès, ressource, intermédiaire


  • Michel Grossetti
    courriel : michel [dot] grossetti [at] univ-tlse2 [dot] fr
  • Akermann Grégori
    courriel : gregori [dot] akermann [at] inrae [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Marion Maisonobe
    courriel : marion [dot] maisonobe [at] cnrs [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Relational chains », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, https://calenda.org/1002429

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