5.5. The Structural Perspective

The structural perspective analyzes the association, arrangement, proximity, or connection between resources without primary concern for their meaning or the origin of these relationships. We take a structural perspective when we define a family as “a collection of people” or when we say that a particular family like the Simpsons has five members. Sometimes all we know is that two resources are connected, as when we see a highlighted word or phrase that is pointing from the current web page to another. At other times we might know more about the reasons for the relationships within a set of resources, but we still focus on their structure, essentially merging or blurring all of the reasons for the associations into a single generic notion that the resources are connected.

Travers and Milgram conducted a now-famous study in the 1960s involving the delivery of written messages between people in the midwestern and eastern United States. If a person did not know the intended recipient, he was instructed to send the message to someone that he thought might know him. The study demonstrated what Travers and Milgram called the “small world problem,” in which any two arbitrarily selected people were separated by an average of fewer than six links.

It is now common to analyze the number of “degrees of separation” between any pair of resources. For example, Markoff and Sengupta describe a 2011 study using Facebook data that computed the average “degree of separation” ...

Get The Discipline of Organizing: Core Concepts Edition, 3rd Edition now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.