Martin Everett, the former vice-chancellor of the University of East London, is setting up a centre for social-network analysis at the University of Manchester.
It is the professor of mathematics’ first academic post since he left UEL last spring.
Professor Everett said the launch of the Mitchell Centre next month would mark a British revival in the multidisciplinary area of social-network analysis – the study of relationships between individuals – which has “been dead in England for some time”.
“It’s become very popular now because of the ease of collecting data,” he said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a group of anthropologists at Manchester, known as the Manchester Group, helped to lay the foundations of the new area of study. But the group disbanded when a pivotal figure, J. Clyde Mitchell, moved to the University of Oxford.
“Clyde was my supervisor at Oxford and I continued to work in the field, collaborating mainly with American academics,” Professor Everett said. “The subject is now growing exponentially and we are in the process of re-establishing Manchester’s international credentials in this important field.”
Analysis of relationship patterns between terrorists and other criminals is attracting research funds, and the area has benefited from the online social-networking boom.
One of the most influential theories to emerge from social-network analysis is the “strength of weak ties” theory proposed by US sociologist Mark Granovetter.
The theory holds that weak social ties among groups of people where individuals do not know the others very well or see them very often offer the greatest opportunities in terms of career advancement and social mobility.
Professor Everett is the co-author of UCINET, the most common software package used for analysing social-network data.
He stepped down as vice-chancellor of UEL in March 2009 following an investigation by its governing board into complaints that he had not shown sufficient leadership.
Among the allegations levelled at him was that he was too academically minded.
The university’s accounts reveal that he was paid £250,000 in compensation when he left.
This included a direct cash payment of £168,000, of which about £100,000 was categorised as “contractual payments” and £68,000 as an “ex gratia payment”.
UEL’s 2008-09 accounts show that £82,000 of this sum was paid directly to Professor Everett’s solicitors as a contribution towards his legal expenses. The institution also agreed not to enforce legal costs awarded against the vice-chancellor, estimated to be about £50,000.