Alan Baker

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20092010 Forum on Connections

Alan Baker

Assoc Professor of Philosophy, Swarthmore College

The Network Perspective

Networks are all around us. As persons, we are ourselves the units in a network of social relationships of various kinds. As organisms, we are the delicate result of a network of biochemical reactions. My project focuses on the assumptions that underly the ‘new science of networks’, and on the implications it has for our engagement with the world around us. A striking feature of the network perspective is its emphasis on the connections between entities rather than on the entities themselves. This emphasis arises from the fundamental character of network models. Typically all the ‘nodes’ in a network are treated as identical: they are literally reduced to nothing – to dimensionless points with no intrinsic properties. What distinguishes one network from another is the pattern of ‘links’ between its nodes. It is this pattern which becomes the object of analysis and which gives a network its characteristic signature.