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Network Diversity & Community Involvement

Keith Hampton’s article “Comparing bonding and bridging ties for democratic engagement: Everyday use of communication technologies within social networks for civic and civil behaviours,” builds on many of the sociological networking concepts that Kadushin has introduced in his earlier chapters. Hampton is particularly interested with democratic engagement within which he includes both political participation and community involvement. Previous research has posited that the structure of social networks is able to predict democratic engagement. Hampton seeks to explore the role of bonding or bridging ties on democratic engagement as well as how information and communications technologies influence this engagement.

Through a telephone interview asking people about their civic involvement, their networks, and their technology, Hampton posits that the following positive relationships exist:

  • size and heterogeneity of core networks and democratic engagement
  • core network size and some civic & civil behaviours (community group involvement, listening to a neighbour’s problems & helping them with chores)
  • core network heterogeneity and likelihood of participating in a sports league & listening to a neighbour’s problems
  • more face-to-face interactions with core network and likelihood of helping neighbours with chores and helping to care for a member of their family
  • more mail and likelihood of caring for a member of a neighbour’s family and lending them money
  • texting and likelihood for participating in a sports league
  • instant messaging and likelihood of helping a neighbour with chores and loan money.
  • use of social networking services and likelihood of belonging to a community organization

Based on his data, Hampton suggests that civic engagement is more correlated with bridging ties and network diversity than bonding ties.

One of the challenges that I had with this paper was Hampton’s focus on the “overall network” in the paper when his results are largely associated with the core network. Moreover, he establishes a binary between weak (core) and strong ties while at the same time establishing a binary between bonding and bridging ties. Although Hampton differentiates between bridging and weak ties, weak and bonding ties end up being conflated. What results from Hampton’s use of these binaries is the expectation that the results will not focus on the core to the extent that they do.

Questions:

  1. Were you surprised by any of the results?
  2. Georg Simmel proposed that individualism grew out of the change from singular community tie to the multiple (cross-cut) ties provided by urban life, social media, etc? Are we increasingly individualistic, because our networks are so much more fragmented now?
  3. Can you think of any examples where network diversity has been discouraged to try to encourage a more homophilic, tighter-knit group?
  4. What do you think of Hampton’s speculation that political disagreement among core ties may lead to a tradeoff between political participation and civic behaviours?
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