Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Reading :: Reputation

Reputation: A Network Interpretation
By Kenneth H. Craik

I've been reading a lot of social network analysis lately, mostly in sociology and related disciplines. But other disciplines have picked up elements of network analysis, including psychology. Kenneth Craik is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Berkeley, and Reputation involves a networked understanding of reputation from a psychological viewpoint.

Such an understanding isn't new - but, Craik tells us, the study of reputation has suffered "an interrupted mode of development": although Mark May and Phillip Vernon "advocated the study of person's reputation as centrally informative regarding an individual's personality" in the 1930s, that line of inquiry was dismissed in the late 1930s (p.126).

Craik aims to make up for lost time with a great deal of framework-building. He begins the book by defining reputation: "Reputation is not located on or in a person, like a left elbow or a knack for languages. Reputation is a dispersed phenomenon that is to be found in the beliefs and assertions of an extensive number of other individuals. ... Reputation is part of the social environment but uniquely referenced to a certain person" (p.xvii). Given the above, Craik defines the reputational network as made of two dimensions:
  • Person knows other
  • Other knows person
and these dimensions form a matrix of people in an individual's reputation network:
  • Social network members (Person knows other; other knows person)
  • Local and public figures (Person knows other; other does not know person)
  • Unseen audience (Person does not know other; other knows person)
  • Everybody else (Person does not know other; other does not know person) (p.xviii)
The reputation network is the focus for Part I of the book - not what's actually true, not how it affects the individual, but how a reputation network develops and works. Part II turns to the individual whose reputation is under discussion, examining how the network interacts with her or him. For my readers who study rhetoric, think of this understanding of reputation as an extended systematic exploration of ethos.

Craik develops three themes for reputation:
  • "the membership of a person's reputation network" (Ch.1)
  • "the ongoing social communication process through which news, observations, and impresions about an individual circulate along that person's reputation network" (Ch.2)
  • "the ways in which each member of a person's reputation network gathers and accumulates impressions, beliefs, and evaluations about that specifically identifiable person" (Ch.3; see p.xix).
These elements "generate two major aspects of reputation: the discursive facet, dealing with actively flowing information, and the distributive facet, dealing with latent stored information about the person" (p.xix). In Part I, Craik devotes himself to analyzing these, including how to measure the accuracy and validity of information flowing through a reputation network (p.77).

So that's an overview of Part I, in which Craik manages to "keep the person as agent out of our conceptual analysis for as long as possible" (p.71). In Part II, he turns to the person as agent, examining how that individual is affected by her or his reputation network. He develops a model in which the personality system and social system interact (Ch.7). He also leverages a couple of case studies, including defamation law and an examination of posthumous reputation, to further explore how these systems interact.

The book is far-ranging and develops a strong framework, which Craik details in the Conclusion. However, I found myself skimming through the second half of the book. I don't think this has to do with Craik's writing or analysis so much as the fact that I had trouble applying it to my research or background. I'll likely revisit the book if I become more involved in studying representation. But if that's your interest, I recommend the book.

No comments: