According to Anthony Giddens (1979), human agency must include an acting subject that deals with action linearly. In this duality of structure, on the most basic level people make up society but are inherently constrained by it (Giddens, 1979). Social interaction is strongly linked this unavoidable embeddedness of the individual within a (social) system (Giddens, 1979). Giddens would argue that sociology had lacked a theory of action. Power and centrality in networks brings to light unintended consequences of social action of the “powerful,” not personal culpability, per se. Giddens (1979) wrote that a person wields power could have acted otherwise. In social networks, degree is a measure of possible opportunities due to his or her favored position. Even if an influential node has the highest Bonacich centrality or has been blessed with higher number of connections, there is still human agency (outside of coercion). Did that node take advantage of that position of prestige? “Human agency must never be ignored otherwise agency will rear its defiant head like a Kraken” (Battle-Fisher, 2015).

We live life, later to splice episodes of that life that are later deemed relevant to a “history.” Each history is a snapshot from our lives mapped in sociograms, those funky social network visual maps that structurally show connections among “nodes” (us). That map show ties but it does not offer the conscious lives of nodes. The map talks to us mathematically. The history of a node is not purely textbook history. A node is not alone, not without alters (the others) that “alter” via socially negotiated emergence. History is co-created within networks.

Giddens was rebutting against dominant theories of his time. As a result, we must take care in social network theory and analysis to not ignore the social, human nature of the nodes we map. The pendulum in “social” theory had swung such that actors (and any sense of agency) were reduced to roles and functions in a system (as node in a social network graph). Giddens was fighting blindness to agency unapologetically. Social networks celebrate the structure in both application and ontology. Social networks also measures power and prestige mathematically. Mr. Giddens, we are not on opposing teams as long as systems thinking dig deeper into the narrative of the sociograms. Systems researchers have warned of a bias of resting on the message extracted from the visual structure of the sociograms over social cognates experiences by those nodes (Tottterdell et al., 2008). This lesson must also not be lost on card-carrying systems science Norma Raes. Validate the lives populating that visual structure by digging deeper into “us” after mapping “us.”


Battle-Fisher, M. (2015). Applications of Systems Thinking to Health Policy and Public Health Ethics- Public Health and Private Illness”. New York: Springer.

Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Totterdell, P., Holman, D., Hukin, A. (2008). Social networkers: measuring and examining individual differences in propensity to connect with others. Social Networks. 30: 283-96.

A version of this article was originally published on the Orgcomplexity Blog.

Interested in the idea of ethereal networks? Check out my Hippo Reads post, “The Beauty of Ethereal Social Networks.”

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

About The Author

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Adjunct Assistant Professor, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine

Michele Battle-Fisher is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and the author of Application of Systems Thinking to Health Policy and Public Health Ethics: Public Health and Private Illness (Springer), a 2016 Doody's Core Title. Ms. Battle-Fisher is a Health Systems/Complexity scholar and bioethicist. She has researched and taught in the medical and policy fields, ranging from public health, science and technology, bioethics, systems theory and its application to health. She was a speaker at TEDxDartmouth 2018 where she discussed the "Paradigm Shift" of Health Systems Science curriculum in health and clinical medicine. She was selected as a finalist in the 1st annual MIT Press “Pitchfest”, the “Shark Tank” of book publishing.