Index: An informant-defined experiment in social structure

H. Russell Bernard, Christopher McCarty, Peter D. Killworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This paper describes an informant-defined experiment, designed to answer the questions “whom does any informant know, and why?” Each of 50 informants was allowed to ask an unlimited number of questions about each of 50 target persons (all mythical, each with a created life history). When informants felt they had enough information, they told us which of their acquaintances was most likely to know the target person, or, more precisely, could serve as the first step in a chain of acquaintances. The data show that four basic questions (location, occupation, age, and sex) account for more than 50 percent of questions asked, and a basic collection of six or seven questions would suffice for most circumstances. Less often used questions tend to be employed only when the basic set produces no useful information for that informant. The (verbal) reasons given for a choice could be succinctly defined using no more than four concepts. Analysis of these reasons shows that the basic pattern occurs throughout: location is important when the target is near, in a big town, and has a low occupation rating; occupation is important when the reverse holds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-133
Number of pages35
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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