In network analysis, blockmodels provide a simplified representation of a more complex relational structure. The basic idea is to assign each actor to a position and then depict the relationship between positions. In settings where relational dynamics are sufficiently routinized, the relationship between positions neatly summarizes the relationship between sets of actors. How do we go about assigning actors to positions? Early work on this problem focused in particular on the concept of structural equivalence. Formally speaking, a pair of actors is said to be structurally equivalent if they are tied to the same set of alters. Note that by this definition, a pair of actors can be structurally equivalent without being tied to one another. This idea is central to debates over the role of cohesion versus equivalence.

In practice, actors are almost never exactly structural equivalent to one another. To get around this problem, we first measure the degree of structural equivalence between each pair of actors and then use these measures to look for groups of actors who are roughly comparable to one another. Structural equivalence can be measured in a number of different ways, with correlation and Euclidean distance emerging as popular options. Similarly, there are a number of methods for identifying groups of structurally equivalent actors. The equiv.clust routine included in the sna package in R, for example, relies on hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA). While the designation of positions is less cut and dry, one can use multidimensional scaling (MDS) in a similar manner. MDS and HCA can also be used in combination, with the former serving as a form of pre-processing. Either way, once clusters of structurally equivalent actors have been identified, we can construct a reduced graph depicting the relationship between the resulting groups.

Yet the most prominent examples of blockmodeling built not on HCA or MDS, but on an algorithm known as CONCOR. The algorithm takes it name from the simple trick on which it is based, namely the CONvergence of iterated CORrelations. We are all familiar with the idea of using correlation to measure the similarity between columns of a data matrix. As it turns out, you can also use correlation to measure the degree of similarity between the columns of the resulting correlation matrix. In other words, you can use correlation to measure the similarity of similarities. If you repeat this procedure over and over, you eventually end up with a matrix whose entries take on one of two values: 1 or -1. The final matrix can then be permuted to produce blocks of 1s and -1s, with each block representing a group of structurally equivalent actors. Dividing the original data accordingly, each of these groups can be further partitioned to produce a more fine-grained solution.

Insofar as CONCOR uses correlation as a both a measure of structural equivalence as well as a means of identifying groups of structurally equivalent actors, it is easy to forget that blockmodeling with CONCOR entails the same basic steps as blockmodeling with HCA. The logic behind the two procedures is identical. Indeed, Breiger, Boorman, and Arabie (1975) explicitly describe CONCOR as a hierarchical clustering algorithm. Note, however, that when it comes to measuring structural equivalence, CONCOR relies exclusively on the use of correlation, whereas HCA can be made to work with most common measures of (dis)similarity.

Since CONCOR wasn’t available as part of the sna or igraph libraries, I decided to put together my own CONCOR routine. It could probably still use a little work in terms of things like error checking, but there is enough there to replicate the wiring room example included in the piece by Breiger et al. Check it out! The program and sample data are available on my GitHub page. If you have devtools installed, you can download everything directly using R. At the moment, the concor_hca command is only set up to handle one-mode data, though this can be easily fixed. In an earlier version of the code, I included a second function for calculating tie densities, but I think it makes more sense to use concor_hca to generate a membership vector which can then be passed to the blockmodel command included as part of the sna library.




m0 <- cor(, bank_wiring))
round(m0, 2)

blks <- concor_hca(bank_wiring, p = 2)

#code below fails unless glabels are specified
blk_mod <- blockmodel(bank_wiring, blks$block, 
     glabels = names(bank_wiring),
     plabels = rownames(bank_wiring[[1]]))

The results are shown below. If you click on the image, you should be able to see all the labels.


  • Tim

    I’ve been hitting an error with your code while using it to blockmodel trade data from the Correlates of War project. For some years of data, I am able to use this smoothly, but in other years I receive the following error message: “Error in while (any(abs(mi) <= cutoff) & iter <= max.iter) { : missing value where TRUE/FALSE needed". Do you have any insight into why I'm seeing this, and how I could resolve this problem? I'm happy to provide my base code and data file if necessary. Many thanks!

    • Adam Slez

      If it’s working in some years and not others, the problem is probably with the data. The error indicates that the any(mi) <= cutoff statement isn't turning out a logical statement, which points to the abs(mi) command, since cutoff should be an unchanging scalar. mi is a correlation matrix. My guess would be that there is something in the data that is causing every entry in the correlation matrix to turn into an NA. Just take the trade matrix for one of the bad years and dump it into a cor command and see what happens. If you get all NAs, you'll have to figure out what's causing it and then clean up the data accordingly.

      Two other things to note…

      First, if you are using this for real work, keep in mind that the program is only set up to produce an even number of blocks, which may have implications for the results. You can get an uneven number by, say, partitioning the data into two groups, and then rerunning the code using only one of the two groups. You would need to do this my hand, which would pose some problems if you wanted to automate the procedure to work across time.

      Second, looking at the code, I see a couple of lines that could be cleaned up. I may have to post a new version. I'll update the post here if I do. There is, however, no reason to think the current version is producing bad results.

      • Tim

        You’re absolutely right about the data issues- thanks for the quick response. There’s something producing NA’s in my correlation matrix, so I’m looking into this while attempting other methods of block modeling. Thanks!

  • Leah Reisman

    Hello! Thanks so much for this. Have you by any chance updated concor_hca to handle 2-mode data, or could you point me in the right direction regarding how to do this? I’m a bit of a beginner to social network analysis and would really appreciate any help you can provide.