The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan hosted the Fourth Annual Political Networks Conference and Workshops the week of June 14. One hundred ninety one scholars from all over the world came to Ann Arbor to attend three days of workshops and two days of academic panel presentations. Over 70 institutions are represented at the conference, including several  major American, European and Asian universities.

Since its inception at Harvard University in 2008, the Annual Political Networks Conference and Workshops have functioned as an intellectual hub in building knowledge of theories and methods of network analysis as well as encouraging application of these theories and methods to the study of politics. Topics range from political mobilization to political discussion within various networks such as Facebook and the impact of these political phenomena on elections and other dimensions of politics.  For instance, scholars at the University of California, San Diego presented a project on how to derive the measure of political discussion on Facebook to examine whether political disagreement changes attitude stability, attitude strength, or political engagement 

In the political networks subfield, an emerging trend is “increasing adoption of statistical approach to network analysis” according to Carter T. Butts at the University of California at Irvine, whose paper with his colleague Zack W. Almquist won one of the two the Best Poster Awards at the Conference.

Their paper, “Modeling the Dynamics of Emergent Networks: Collaboration and Mass Convergence in the Hurricane Katrina Disaster” presents a model that predicts the structure of an emergent network during disaster, illustrating how individuals interact with each other to solve problems and reach consensus during critical times.

While about 80 percent of the participants are political scientists, the field consists of multiple disciplines including political science, computer science and organizational studies, according to Michael Heaney, the Host Committee Chair of the Conference, who is also an Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and Political Science at the University. This interdisciplinary nature of the Conference attracted a number of scholars studying networks in diverse fields such as Shah Jamal Alam, a post-doctoral research fellow studying HIV risk dynamics and genetic sequences in the Department of Epidemiology at Michigan. The most important aspect of the Conference for him was to “expect people from different disciplines” who “are open to feedback from the audience.” Both the diversity of disciplines and scholarly openness at the Conference encouraged many graduate students to present their works whether the results were preliminary or complete.

The next conference is planned for summer 2012 at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Below, Michael Heaney (Conference Host) and Carter Butts catch up between sessions.