Social Networks in Renaissance Florence

One of the central questions animating my research focuses on exploring how understandings of relational meaning operate within social networks and their implications for status hierarchies. 

In my work on a large network of interpersonal loan exchange in Renaissance Florence involving thousands of ties (published in Poetics, Social Networks, and European Journal of Sociology) my co-author, Paul McLean, and I show that contrary to standard assumptions, a type of tie in a social network may have multiple distinct meanings. 

Personal lending in Renaissance Florence, we find, was equivalent to a business transaction to some and a kinship-infused obligation to others. We demonstrate that such meaning diversity leaves traces in the network’s micro- and macrostructure and can be linked to participants’ varied and overlapping relational involvements in deeply hierarchical political, economic, and cultural domains. We also find that these multiple interpretations of interpersonal credit relations contributed powerfully to the preservation of status differentials and elite solidarity in Renaissance Florence.