Social network analysis ( SNA) is an increasingly popular approach that provides researchers with highly developed tools to map and analyze complexes of social relations. Although a number of network scholars have explicated the assumptions that underpin SNA, the approach has yet to be discussed in relation to established philosophies of science. This article argues that there is a tension between applied and methods-oriented SNA studies, on the one hand, and those addressing the social-theoretical nature and implications of networks, on the other. The former, in many cases, exhibits positivist tendencies, whereas the latter incorporate a number of assumptions that are directly compatible with core critical realist views on the nature of social reality and knowledge. This article suggests that SNA may be detached from positivist social science and come to constitute a valuable instrument in the critical realist toolbox.