I posted this as a comment on the thread (with some modifications/links):
Anyhow, there is some baby and bathwater stuff in the original post, and I wanted to re-post my comments on networking here as APSA is less than two weeks away (crap!).
One can read Brian's post in a variety of ways. My reaction was mostly to the notion of networking down rather than up. I have always been more comfortable hanging out with the junior folk than the senior folk at the APSA and ISA. I never liked approaching the big names who are very, very busy, but have enjoyed meeting the newer folks. I made a lot of good friends by going to the reception held by my old school, and meeting the next generation of folks. We had something in common--experiencing the same profs.
The business meetings of the APSA and ISA sections to which I belonged tended to be populated by younger folks, so that was an easy way to meet people. These folks led me to a poker game that introduced me to a senior faculty member who has become a mentor and mensch for me, but that was not my intent (I like poker).
When I worked on a speaker series at my old job, I wanted to include
younger/newer/female voices since the previous person to organize them tended to focus on big male names. As a result, I met several really interesting people who are doing fun work that changed how I look at the world and at my research.
As I get older, the potential set of "younger" folks widens, and I hope to keep meeting new folks at these conferences while remaining connected to those I have met before--the time does tend to fill up (contact those you want to see at APSA soon as dance cards do get full). This is a very social business, and you never know where your research will turn. The new scholars are more likely to turn you on to a new set of ideas or perhaps be excellent co-authors as they have the latest methods training.
To be clear, my networking at conferences was never very strategic--only once did I try to meet someone with the purpose of establishing a co-authorship (that did work out real well). But my non-strategic behavior has largely paid off in the sense that I know a larger community of people who do interesting work, some have become pretty influential people in the discipline, and I am now pretty well connected even if I am not wired into some big names/networks.