Méthodologie Sociologique Methodology/Bulletin de Bulletin of



Méthodologie Sociologique Methodology/Bulletin de Bulletin of
Bulletin of Sociological
Methodology/Bulletin de
''Negative Ties, Lost Ties, Latent Ties''
Nathalie Chauvac, Laurence Cloutier, Adrien Defossez, Grégori Akermann and Ainhoa de
Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique 2014 121: 5
DOI: 10.1177/0759106313509933
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Association Internationale de Methodologie Sociologique
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Introduction to the Special Issue
‘‘Negative Ties, Lost Ties,
Latent Ties’’
Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique
2014, Vol 121 5–9
ª The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0759106313509933
Nathalie Chauvac
Scool – Coopérative de recherches en sciences humaines et sociales,
LISST-CERS, Université de Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France
Laurence Cloutier
LISST – CERS, Université de Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France
Adrien Defossez
LISST – CERS, Université de Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France
Grégori Akermann
LISST – CERS, Université de Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France
Ainhoa de Federico
MCF LISST – CERS, Université de Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France
Numéro thématique sur les réseaux sociaux – « Liens négatifs, Liens perdus,
Liens latents » : Ce numéro spécial propose d’apporter un éclairage particulier sur
certains aspects peu explorés des liens sociaux, à savoir les liens négatifs, les liens perdus
ou les liens latents. Les textes présentés ici ont été rassemblés à la suite d’une journée
d’études portant précisément sur cette thématique. Des analyses de terrain rendent
compte de la présence de réseaux sociaux « inefficaces », « conflictuels », « absents » ou
« interdits », et une réflexion théorique est engagée pour explorer et caractériser ces
différents liens sociaux. L’accent est mis sur les méthodes employées pour appréhender
ces situations relativement difficiles à saisir, en théorie comme en pratique. En prenant
en compte ce type de liens, ces travaux ouvrent une voie heuristique pour la sociologie
des réseaux sociaux.
Corresponding Author:
Nathalie Chauvac, LISST-CERS, Maison de la Recherche Université Toulouse le Mirail, allées A. Machado, 31058
Toulouse cedex 9, Toulouse, France.
Email: [email protected]
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Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique 121
This special issue intends to bring a unique perspective on some unexplored aspects of
social networks, namely the negative ties, lost ties or latent ties. The texts presented
here were prepared following after a conference organized specifically on this topic.
Field analyzes reflect the presence of social networks that are ‘‘inefficient’’, ‘‘conflictual’’,
‘‘absent’’ or ‘‘prohibited’’, and theoretical development has begun to explore and
characterize these social ties. The emphasis here is on the methods used to understand
these relatively difficult-to-grasp ties, both in theory and in practice. Taking into account
such links, this work opens a heuristic path in social network analysis.
Mots clés
Relations sociales, Liens négatifs, Liens perdus, Liens latents, Liens absents, Réseaux
sociaux, Réseaux personnels
Social Relations, Negative Ties, Lost Ties, Latent Ties, Absent Ties, Social Networks,
Personal Networks
Work on social relations has developed in recent years and permitted to put the spotlight
on a certain number of social phenomena such as access to employment, support from
professional or personal networks, and the evolution of friendship networks. The study
of social networks has generally been on existing ties or links, their creation, their
mobilization, but there is little research on negative ties, lost ties or latent ties. The objective of the Third Inter-Congress Conference of the Association Française de Sociologie
(AFS) Re´seau The´matique 26 (RT26), ‘‘Social Networks’’, and Seventh Meeting of the
‘‘Social Networks in Toulouse’’ (ReSTo or Re´seaux Sociaux à Toulouse) group, held on
5-6 April 2012 at the University of Toulouse, was to allow researchers from different
disciplines to address these topics, and to discuss and share their research.1 Twelve presentations were made and this scientific exchange attracted fifty researchers from France
and abroad. The topic of the meeting had emerged from discussion among PhD students
concerning a nagging question that bothered at least two of us, and about which the students had asked each other. The relative difficulty of finding work on this topic2 led us to
propose this theme to the ReSTo group, which was received with enthusiasm by Ainhoa
de Federico, and at that point the organizing committee was established.3 The presentations made during the meeting are the basis of this BMS special issue which offers an
exploration of the topic of negative ties.
Social network analysis can be defined as the study of all the relationships that an
individual or group has with others, taking into account the form taken by these relations,
and the analysis of all relationships to identify relevant groups retrospectively and understand in practical terms how structure constrains behavior while emerging from such
interactions (Degenne and Forsé, 2004). The numerous studies that focus on social networks can be interested in the nature of relationships between individuals or groups, their
frequency, their content. A more holistic approach focuses on the structure of the networks,
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Chauvac et al.
their density, and the potential centrality of individuals. Still others try to understand how
social networks evolve over time, moving from one particular event to another. But such
existing works focus on active and positive relationships; for example, those allowing
access to a resource, to a support, to a presence with favorable effect; that is to say, ties
mobilized or ‘‘mobilizeable’’, or ties encouraging the ‘‘positive aspects’’ of an individual’s social life.
The project we presented was to explore and characterize ties that were negative, lost
or latent; those that the network prevents or does not allow, the gaps and the losses. The
work presented at the meeting and here in this issue of the BMS has resulted in progress
in the definition of what could be a negative relationship, either by starting from the analysis of field work as done by Cécile Plessard, Adrien Defossez, Marie Pierre Bès and
Nathalie Chauvac, or by offering theoretical reflection as proposed by Alexis Ferrand.
If negative ties are defined as social relations whose existence, instead of allowing access
to a resource, forbid it (Ferrand in this issue) or limit (Chauvac in this issue), or provoke
its loss (Comet, 2011), the call for proposals and replies highlighted especially the rarity
of such work in research and publications. Nathalie Chauvac explains that, for her, negative ties emerged while trying to understand some job-hiring sequences told by interviewees, which resisted modelization by currently proposed concepts and analytical
frameworks. How does one understand that an experienced employee seeking a job in
the sector in which he has worked for many years, staying in the same region, does not
rely on his professional network to find a job? It is with the use of mixed methods, based
on extensive interviews thematically analyzed and quantified that allows one to return to
the corpus to understand and realize that the professional relations in question constituted an obstacle to the extent that they were all aware of the reason for the previous job
termination of the potential candidate.
In this case, being known in a local professional environment where everyone is
linked, may be a barrier to access to employment for an employee fired for theft of equipment during his job. Relations exist, they are active and this is what rules out being a job
In other cases, it is ego who forbids himself or herself access to certain resources if he
or she has to use specific relationships that are nevertheless positive. Adrien Defossez
has surveyed cancer patients concerning persons solicited for information on the progress of the patient’s treatment. This self-censorship vis-à-vis relations potentially able
to provide the resources needed by ego is related to a sort of economy of ties, the patients
wishing to retain for more complicated issues contacts with certain interlocutors who
they already feel are busy enough, or do not want to ‘‘mix genres’’ with friends who are
also doctors. This restraint in relationships is described by Marie-Pierre Bès and Nathalie
Chauvac concerning doctoral students who participated in their action research on networks. Not only are the doctoral students not necessarily aware of the extent of their own
professional networks, or that of their supervisor, who they don’t necessarily even allow
themselves to mobilize, thus confirming the idea that the existence of a potential network
is not sufficient to consider possible access to some resources. It is in this sense that we
could also qualify as a negative tie an existing or active relationship that prevents the
mobilization of certain types of resources. Thus, some businessmen will refrain from
searching for funding within their family for fear that the relationship with will be
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Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique 121
modified. Fear to transforming the relationship eliminates the possibility of using this tie
in a particular context.
The context can however be a resource. Indeed, the analysis in terms of chains of
ties mobilized by Chauvac, Bès and Defossez has the advantage of highlighting the
relationships (and devices) actually mobilized to successfully obtain a job, to obtain
information, to obtain in general a resource. And this type of analysis allows us to see
that some ties can play a key role even though they would never have been voluntarily
mobilized by ego, and even less likely cited in a survey. It is the fact the alter was there
at the right time that permitted access to this resource, a phenomenon particularly
important in understanding the difficulty of some long-term unemployed to mobilize
their former colleagues for information on difficult jobs, or that patients ask the doctors
who visit them in the room more easily the soliciting them by telephone, even if they
have been given instructions to do so. Ties are not all mobilized in the same way; some
are highly dependent on the context in which they can function. Hence the need to consider the dynamics of social relations, as do, for example, de Federico (2004) and
Bidart, Degenne and Grossetti (2011).
Cécile Plessard tried precisely to reconstruct individual networks of ties by focusing
her analysis specifically on links that have existed and were active at some point, but for
various reasons (conflict, moving away, simple loss of contact) were no longer active
some time later. Again, the approach in terms of negative ties appeared to be necessary
for the analysis in a field that resisted conventional frames. Cécile Plessard clearly distinguishes a first category of persons mentioned by respondents as network members
when they are not necessarily for a sociologist because they fall more into the category
of interaction, of belonging to a common circle or because the ties are not reciprocal,
because the persons are ‘‘no longer seen’’, dead, missing or in conflicting with ego – ties
that do not rely on trust, or that are not forbidden. And then there is what she calls ‘‘negative non-relationships’’ that have all the characteristics of a tie: ‘‘The tie is effective,
even daily, but its main characteristic is to be negative.’’ The term ‘‘non-relationship’’
that she uses tends to imply that there is no tie without positive content. Yet she also
found them in her surveys, very much like the other authors in this special issue and
showed the interest of taking them into account.
The text by Alexis Ferrand provides an interesting theoretical framework for negative
ties. Indeed, taking Nadel‘s distinction between a relationship between individuals, in
which each person can have several roles, which are subdivided into several distinct ties,
he finds that some of the possible ties do not exist, but there are several ways of not existing. Here, the sociological perspective will take into account not only the tie itself, but
the process that led to its non-existence. Why doesn’t ego cite alter as his confident even
when he mentions his tie with alter as an important relationship, multiplex and of trust?
On closer analysis, Ferrand shows that the absence of ties, that can lead to what Chauvac
calls negative relationships, Plessard negative non-relationships, or Defossez and Bès
latent ties, is not the result of a type of management strategy of the flow of information
in a personal area network (to not transmit confidential information to too many people
for fear of a disclosure), or the result of the imposition of some sort of social norm (to not
favor one children more than another, for example), but rather an incompatibility
between two links. And in this sense, he argues that the zeros (for ties that are not
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Chauvac et al.
observed) are significant, which could serve as a conclusion for this special issue on negative, lost and latent ties. Taking into consideration such ties is heuristically useful for
social network analysis. Methodologies for analyzing them remain to be refined, but the
work presented at this conference and in this special issue shows that the paths are being
explored, including in the work of Claire Bidart, Ainhoa de Federico and Miranda Lubbers on the effect of life events on network dynamics and the loss of ties, in that of Renata
Hosnedlova on the weight of certain negative ties in the process of returning home or not
for certain immigrants, in that of Carmen Marquez on the effects of negative ties on
school failure and truancy, in that of Laurence Cloutier on careers of independent inventors, or in that of Gregori Akermann on business start-ups.
1. This conference was organized with funding from the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Toulouse (MSH-T), and cooperation of the CEntre Translation, Interpretation and language Mediation (CETIM) of the University of Toulouse le Mirail, including supervision by Solange Hibbs
who participated in the translation of student presentations.
2. It is interesting to note that at about the same time, 19-20 April 2012, Karoly Takács brought
together a group of specialists in social networks on a theme close to our’s at the Corvinus
University of Budapest, and during the month of August there were discussions on SOCNET,
the international Internet forum for social network analysts, about negative and latent ties,
involving references mainly between 2008 and 2013. This shows how this question is often
coming up in recent times.
3. We also wish to thank Michel Grossetti for his support taking part in the organizing committee.
Bidart A, Degenne A et Grossetti M (2011) La vie en re´seau. Dynamiques des relations sociales
Presses Universitaires de France.
Comet C (2011) Anatomy of a Fraud. Trust and Social Networks. Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/Bulletin de Me´thodologie Sociologique 110: 145-57.
De Federico A (2004) L’analyse longitudinale de réseaux sociaux totaux avec Siena. Méthode, discussion et application. Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/Bulletin de Me´thodologie Sociologique 84: 5-39.
Degenne A et Forsé M (1994 et 2004) Les re´seaux sociaux. Paris: A. Colin.
Ferrand A (1989) Connaissances passagères et vieux amis. Les durées de vie des relations interpersonnelles. Revue suisse de sociologie 2: 431-39. Available at http://halshs.archivesouvertes.fr/halshs-00257945/fr/
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