This paper proposes a mixed-method sociosemantic network analysis of meaning structures in practice. While social and institutional fields impose meaning structures, to achieve practical goals, field participants gather in groups and locally produce idiocultures of their own. Such idiocultures are difficult to capture structurally; hence, the impact of practice on meaning structures is underrated. To account for this impact, we automatically map local meaning structures—ensembles of semantic associations embedded in specific social groups—to identify the focal elements of these meaning structures, and qualitatively examine contextual usage of such elements. Employing a combination of ethnographic and social network data on two St. Petersburg art collectives, we find the seemingly field-imposed meaning structures to be instantiated differently, depending on group practice. Moreover, we find meaning structures to emerge from group practice and even change the field-wide meaning structures.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
While this study focuses on meaning structures in the framework of social fields, we keep in mind that group culture is more than classifications related to fields. It is also shared stories, common points of concern, relational expectations (White 1992; Fuhse and Mützel 2011; Godart and White 2010), and so on. These are not only molded by the interplay of fields and practice, but also affected by socioeconomic and neighborhood differences, personalities, and many other factors.
Topic models require researcher to impose the number of topics for the algorithm to find; this number is difficult to justify (see, e.g., Bail 2014). Similar to coding (including coding as part of supervised topic modeling (McAuliffe and Blei 2008), this does not suit the purpose of capturing meaning structures in practice.
Displaying the concept associations as a network, it is tempting to read sequences of associations as sentences or stories, similar to the chains of implication for personality characteristics and relationship qualities in Yeung’s analysis of communes’ meaning structures (Yeung 2005, pp. 405–407; see also Bearman and Stovel 2000). To be honest , we initially yielded to this temptation. But when we took into account the textual context of the associations, we soon discovered that it is misleading to interpret indirect associations in this type of semantic networks. As a consequence, we doubt that measures accounting for overall network structure, that is, the core of social network analysis, are useful for analyzing semantic networks of direct collocation when focusing on meaning structures. In this kind of analysis, our network visualizations are merely convenient ways of jointly presenting dyads of concepts that signal meaning structures. As a consequence, we limited ourselves to usage of dyad-based network statistics, such as degree centrality in this paper. Elsewhere, we experiment with statistical models that focus on local micropatterns of social ties and concept associations (Basov 2019).
In addition, there are good technical reasons for such a qualitative inspection. When meaning resides in the context of a sentence, it cannot be teased out automatically. For instance, consider differences in the attitude of the speaker to political performances: ‘all performances must be political performances’ in contrast to ‘political performances are senseless.’ Computer algorithm maps an association political—performances in both cases. Hence, a proper interpretation of the semantic networks requires manual checking the actual quotes from which concept associations were taken.
We refrain from using thesauri to collapse synonymous words for the very same reason we refrain from taking words in their dictionary meanings or coding: to avoid imposing meanings. Dictionary synonymy does not determine the sociolinguistic use of the words in context (Wittgenstein 1953; Labov 1972).
In Russian language, subjects, verbs, and adjectives are often to be found close to each other. For languages in which, for example, subject and verb tend to be found far apart, a larger window size may be required in order to link parts of speech important to expressing meaning structures. However, for the reasons described below, we would still recommend to refrain from using a window larger than an average sentence.
As our focus is on the artistic field, this comparison does not include Chtodelat Academics.
The capability of our approach to extract only focal shared concept associations out of thousands of concepts and associations produced by the collectives comes in handy to make the amounts of concepts, associations, and hence quotes manageable in qualitative analysis.
Here and further: The first letter in the encoded member’s name refers to the collective: P for Parazit and C for Chtodelat; the second letter was randomly assigned.
A highly visible gallery in St. Petersburg.
Alexander, J.C. 2006. The meanings of social life: A cultural sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Alexander, J.C., and P. Smith. 1993. The discourse of American civil society: A new proposal for cultural studies. Theory and society 22 (2): 151–207.
Antonyuk, A. 2018. The changing meaning of privacy in information technology debates: Evidence from the Internet governance forum. In Proceedings of the international conference on Internet Science, 24–26 October 2018, St. Petersburg, ed. S.S. Bodrunova, pp. 92–100. Cham: Springer.
Bail, C.A. 2014. The cultural environment: Measuring culture with big data. Theory and Society 43 (3–4): 465–482.
Bail, C.A., T.W. Brown, and M. Mann. 2017. Channeling hearts and minds: Advocacy organizations, cognitive-emotional currents, and public conversation. American Sociological Review 82 (6): 1188–1213.
Basov, N. 2018. Socio-material network analysis: A mixed method study of five European artistic collectives. Social Networks 54: 179–195.
Basov, N. 2019. The ambivalence of cultural homophily: Field positions, semantic similarities, and social network ties in two creative collectives. Poetics. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2019.02.004.
Basov, N., and J. Brennecke. 2017. Duality beyond dyads: Multiplex patterning of social ties and cultural meanings. In Research in the Sociology of Organizations, ed. P. Groenewegen, J. Ferguson, C. Moser, J.W. Mohr, and S.P. Borgatti, 87–112. Emerald: UK.
Basov, N., J.-S. Lee, and A. Antoniuk. 2017. Social networks and construction of culture: A socio-semantic analysis of art groups. Computational intelligence 693: 785–796.
Bearman, P.S., and K. Stovel. 2000. Becoming a Nazi: A model for narrative networks. Poetics 27 (2–3): 69–90.
Becker, H.S. 1982. Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Berger, P.L., and T. Luckmann. 1966. The social construction of reality. New York: Anchor Books.
Bernstein, B.B. 1971. Class, codes and control: Applied studies towards a sociology of language, vol. 2. London: Routledge.
Bian, Y., R. Breiger, J. Galaskiewicz, and D. Davis. 2005. Occupation, class, and social networks in urban China. Social Forces 83 (4): 1443–1468.
Blei, D.M., A.Y. Ng, and M.I. Jordan. 2003. Latent Dirichlet allocation. Journal of Machine Learning research 3 (Jan): 993–1022.
Bottero, W., and N. Crossley. 2011. Worlds, fields and networks: Becker, Bourdieu and the structures of social relations. Cultural Sociology 5 (1): 99–119.
Bourdieu, P. 1983. The field of cultural production, or: The economic world reversed. Poetics 12 (4–5): 311–356.
Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer.
Bourdieu, P. 1990. The logic of practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bourdieu, P. 1991. Language and symbolic power. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1996a) Physical space, social space and habitus. Universitetet i Oslo: Rapport 10.
Bourdieu, P. 1996b. The rules of art: Genesis and structure of the literary field. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bourdieu, P., and R. Johnson. 1993. The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bourdieu, P., and L. Wacquant. 1992. An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Breiger, R.L. 2000. A tool kit for practice theory. Poetics 27 (2): 91–115.
Breiger, R.L. 2005. Culture and classification in markets: An introduction. Poetics 33 (3–4): 157–162.
Breiger, R.L. 2015. Scaling down. Big Data & Society 2 (2): 1–4.
Breiger, R.L., and K. Puetz. 2015. Culture and networks [Liner notes]. In International encyclopedia of social and behavioral sciences. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Carley, K. 1986. Knowledge acquisition as a social phenomenon. Instructional Science 14 (3–4): 381–438.
Carley, K. 1994. Extracting culture through textual analysis. Poetics 22 (4): 291–312.
Dahlander, L., and D.A. McFarland. 2013. Ties that last: Tie formation and persistence in research collaborations over time. Administrative Science Quarterly 58 (1): 69–110.
de Nooy, W. 2003. Fields and networks: correspondence analysis and social network analysis in the framework of field theory. Poetics 31 (5): 305–327.
Diesner, J. 2013. From texts to networks: detecting and managing the impact of methodological choices for extracting network data from text data. KI-Künstliche Intelligenz 27 (1): 75–78.
DiMaggio, P. 2011. Cultural networks. In The SAGE handbook of social network analysis, ed. J. Scott and P.J. Carrington, 286–310. Los Angeles: SAGE.
DiMaggio, P., M. Nag, and D. Blei. 2013. Exploiting affinities between topic modeling and the sociological perspective on culture: Application to newspaper coverage of US government arts funding. Poetics 41 (6): 570–606.
Eliasoph, N., and P. Lichterman. 2003. Culture in interaction. American Journal of Sociology 108 (4): 735–794.
Emirbayer, M. 2004. The Alexander school of cultural sociology. Thesis Eleven 79 (1): 5–15.
Erickson, B.H. 1988. The relational basis of attitudes. In Social structures: A network approach, ed. B. Wellman and J. Bercovitz, 99–121. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Farrell, M.P. 1982. Artists’ circles and the development of artists. Small Group Behavior 13 (4): 451–474.
Farrell, M.P. 2003. Collaborative circles: Friendship dynamics and creative work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fine, G.A. 1979. Small groups and culture creation: The idioculture of little league baseball teams. American Sociological Review 44 (5): 733–745.
Fine, G.A. 1991. On the macrofoundations of microsociology: Constraint and the exterior reality of structure. Sociological Quarterly 32 (2): 161–177.
Fine, G.A. 2012. Tiny publics: A theory of group action and culture. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Franzosi, R. 2004. From words to numbers: Narrative, data, and social science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Friedland, R., and R.R. Alford. 1991. Bringing society back, in: Symbols, practices and institutional contradictions. In The new institutionalism in organizational analysis, ed. W. Powell and P. DiMaggio, 232–267. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Friedland, R., and J. Mohr. 2004. The cultural turn in American sociology. In Matters of culture: Cultural sociology in practice, ed. R. Friedland and J. Mohr, 1–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fuhse, J., and S. Mützel. 2011. Tackling connections, structure, and meaning in networks: Quantitative and qualitative methods in sociological network research. Quality & quantity 45 (5): 1067–1089.
Fuhse, J., O. Stuhler, J. Riebling, and J. Martin. 2019. Relating social and symbolic relations in quantitative text analysis. A study of parliamentary discourse in the Weimar Republic. Poetics, Special Issue on ‘Discourse, meaning, and networks: advances in socio-semantic analysis’. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2019.04.004.
Geertz, C. 1973. The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic books.
Girvan, M., and M.E. Newman. 2002. Community structure in social and biological networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 99 (12): 7821–7826.
Giuffre, K. 2001. Mental maps: Social networks and the language of critical reviews. Sociological Inquiry 71 (3): 381–393.
Giuffre, K. 2009. The return of the natives: Globalization and negative ties. Poetics 37 (4): 333–347.
Godart, F. C., and C. Galunic. 2019. Explaining the popularity of cultural elements: Networks, culture, and the structural embeddedness of high fashion trends. Organization Science. 30 (1):151–168. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2018.1234.
Godart, F., and H. White. 2010. Switchings under uncertainty: The coming and becoming of meanings. Poetics 38 (6): 567–586.
Labov, W. 1972. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Latzko-Toth, G., C. Bonneau, and M. Millette. 2017. Small data, thick data: Thickening strategies for trace-based social media research. In The SAGE handbook of social media research methods, pp. 199–214. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lee, M., and J.L. Martin. 2015. Coding, counting and cultural cartography. American Journal of Cultural Sociology 3 (1): 1–33.
Lee, M., and J.L. Martin. 2018. Doorway to the dharma of duality. Poetics 68: 18–30.
Martin, J.L., and M. Lee. 2018. A formal approach to meaning. Poetics 68: 10–17.
Mcauliffe, J.D., and D.M. Blei. 2008. Supervised topic models. In Advances in neural information processing systems, pp. 121–128. Cambridge: MIT.
McLean, P.D. 1998. A frame analysis of favor seeking in the renaissance: Agency, networks, and political culture. American Journal of Sociology 104 (1): 51–91.
McLean, P.D. 2007. The art of the network: Strategic interaction and patronage in renaissance Florence. Durham: Duke University Press.
Meyer, R., D. Jancsary, M.A. Höllerer, and V. Barberio. 2012. Call a man a customer..: Social categories and power in public sector discourse. The Academy of Management Annual Meeting.
Mohr, J.W. 1994. Soldiers, mothers, tramps and others: Discourse roles in the 1907 New York City Charity Directory. Poetics 22 (4): 327–357.
Mohr, J.W. 1998. Measuring meaning structures. Annual Review of Sociology 24: 345–370.
Mohr, J.W. 2000. Introduction: Structures, institutions, and cultural analysis. Poetics 27 (2–3): 57–68.
Mohr, J.W., and P. Bogdanov. 2013. Introduction—topic models: What they are and why they matter. Poetics 41 (6): 545–569.
Mohr, J.W., P. Bogdanov, P. DiMaggio, M. Nag, D. Blei, D.A. McFarland, D. Ramage, J. Chuang, J. Heer, and D. Jurafsky. 2013. Topic models and the cultural sciences. Poetics 41 (6): 545–770.
Mohr, J.W., and V. Duquenne. 1997. The duality of culture and practice: Poverty relief in New York City, 1888–1917. Theory and Society 26 (2): 305–356.
Mohr, J.W., and H.K. Lee. 2000. From affirmative action to outreach: Discourse shifts at the University of California. Poetics 28 (1): 47–71.
Mohr, J.W., and B. Neely. 2009. Modeling Foucault: Dualities of power in institutional fields. In Research in the sociology of organizations, ed. P. Walgenbach, 203–255. UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Mohr, J.W., and C. Rawlings. 2010. Formal models of culture. In Handbook of cultural sociology, ed. J. Hall, L. Grindstaff, and M. Cheng Lo, 118–128. New York: Sage.
Nenko, A. 2017. Starting a creative city from below: Artistic communities in St. Petersburg as actors of urban change. In The impact of artists on contemporary urban development in Europe, ed. M. Murzyn-Kupisz and J. Dzialek, 241–260. Cham: Springer.
Nenko, A., A. Khokhlova, and N. Basov. 2017. Communication and knowledge creation in urban spaces: The tactics of artistic collectives in Barcelona, Berlin and St. Petersburg. In Communicating the city: Meanings, practices, interactions, ed. G. Aiello, M. Tarantino, and K. Oakley, 165–181. New York: Peter Lang.
Nerghes, A., J.-S. Lee, P. Groenewegen, and I. Hellsten. 2015. Mapping discursive dynamics of the financial crisis: a structural perspective of concept roles in semantic networks. Computational Social Networks 2 (1): 16.
Padgett, J., K. Prajda, B. Rohr, and J. Schoots. 2019a. Political discussion and debate in narrative time: The Florentine Consulte e Pratiche, 1376–1378. Poetics, Special Issue on ‘Discourse, meaning, and networks: Advances in socio-semantic analysis’.
Padgett, J.F., J. Schoots, B. Rohr, and K. Prajda. 2019b. Conflict and revolt in the name of unity: Florentine Factions in the Consulte e Pratiche on the Cusp of the Ciompi Revolt. Poetics, Special Issue on ‘Discourse, meaning, and networks: Advances in socio-semantic analysis’.
Pivovarov, A.M., and O.A. Nikiforova. 2016. Communication in creative process of art communities. Indian Journal of Science and Technology 9 (25): 1–9.
Porter, M.F. 1980. An algorithm for suffix stripping. Program 14 (3): 130–137.
Roberts, J. 2010. Revolutionary pathos, negation, and the suspensive Avant-Garde. New Literary History 41 (4): 717–730.
Roth, C., and J.-P. Cointet. 2010. Social and semantic coevolution in knowledge networks. Social Networks 32 (1): 16–29.
Saint-Charles, J., and P. Mongeau. 2018. Social influence and discourse similarity networks in workgroups. Social Networks 52: 228–237.
Schultz, J., and R.L. Breiger. 2010. The strength of weak culture. Poetics 38 (6): 610–624.
Sinclair, J. 1991. Corpus, concordance, collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thornton, P.H., W. Ocasio, and M. Lounsbury. 2012. The institutional logics perspective: A new approach to culture, structure, and process. Oxford: Oxford University Press on Demand.
Vaisey, S., and O. Lizardo. 2010. Can cultural worldviews influence network composition? Social Forces 88 (4): 1595–1618.
Volkova, T. 2015. The Chronicles of Russian Activist Art. In Global activism: Art and conflict in the 21st century, ed. P. Weibel. Cambridge: MIT Press.
White, H.C. 1992. Identity and control: A structural theory of social action. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Wittgenstein, L. 1953. Philosophical investigations. New York: Macmillan.
Yeung, K.-T. 2005. What does love mean? Exploring network culture in two network settings. Social Forces 84 (1): 391–420.
This study was supported by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (18-011-00796) and by Russian Foundation for Humanities (15-03-00722). Meetings of the authors were possible thanks to the generous support of their academic mobility by The Centre for German and European Studies (Bielefeld University, St. Petersburg State University, and German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with funds from the German Foreign Office). The authors express their gratitude to those who helped in data collection and processing: Maria Veits, Olga Volkova, Alexey Evstifeev, Alexander Kopiy, and Olga Nikiforova. Furthermore, our field study would not be possible without the two creative collectives which so generously agreed to let us collect data about them. The authors are grateful for comments received on this paper from Loet Leydesdorff, Dafne Muntanyola, Margarita Kuleva, and Anisya Khokhlova as well as the participants of the XIXth International Sociological Association World Congress of Sociology, 36th, and 34th Sunbelt Social Networks Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis, workshop ‘Network Theory and Methods: Combining Structure, Content and Meanings?,’ 12th European Sociological Association conference, 2nd and 3rd International conference: ‘Networks in the Global World’ in St. Petersburg, and 1st European Social Networks Conference. Finally, the authors thank anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. All errors and mistakes are our own.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Basov, N., de Nooy, W. & Nenko, A. Local meaning structures: mixed-method sociosemantic network analysis. Am J Cult Sociol 9, 376–417 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-019-00084-9
- meaning structure
- mixed method
- art collective