The mathematical foundations of epistemic network analysis

Dale Bowman, Zachari Swiecki, Zhiqiang Cai, Yeyu Wang, Brendan Eagan, Jeff Linderoth, David Williamson Shaffer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Epistemic network analysis (ENA) has been used in more than 300 published studies to date. However, there is no work in publication that describes the transformations that constitute ENA in formal mathematical terms. This paper provides such a description, focusing on the mathematical formulations that lead to two key affordances of ENA that are not present in other network analysis tools or multivariate analyses: (1) summary statistics that can be used to compare the differences in the content rather than the structure of networks and (2) network visualizations that provide information that is mathematically consistent with those statistics. Specifically, we describe the mathematical transformations by which ENA constructs matrix representations of discourse data, uses those representations to generate networks for units of analysis, places those networks into a metric space, identifies meaningful dimensions in the space, and positions the nodes of network graphs within that space so as to enable interpretation of those dimensions in terms of the content of the networks. We conclude with a discussion of how the mathematical formalisms of ENA can be used to model networks more generally.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Quantitative Ethnography
Subtitle of host publicationSecond International Conference, ICQE 2020 Malibu, CA, USA, February 1–3, 2021 Proceedings
EditorsAndrew R. Ruis, Seung B. Lee
Place of PublicationCham Switzerland
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9783030677886
ISBN (Print)9783030677879
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventInternational Conference on Quantitative Ethnography 2020 - Malibu, United States of America
Duration: 1 Feb 20213 Feb 2021
Conference number: 2nd (Website) (Proceedings)

Publication series

NameCommunications in Computer and Information Science
PublisherSpringer Nature Switzerland
ISSN (Print)1865-0929
ISSN (Electronic)1865-0937


ConferenceInternational Conference on Quantitative Ethnography 2020
Abbreviated titleICQE 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
Internet address


  • Dimensional reduction
  • Discourse
  • ENA
  • Epistemic network analysis
  • Network visualization
  • Quantitative ethnography

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