Understanding Community: A review of networks, ties and contacts

Clark, Andrew (2007) Understanding Community: A review of networks, ties and contacts. NCRM Working Paper. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. (Unpublished)

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This is an overview of different approaches to the study of social networks,
relationships and contacts situated in the context of debates on the
interpretation of the changing nature of ‘community’. Three approaches are
considered; a traditional ‘community as locality’ approach that sees contacts as
bound to a particular geographic location; ‘social network analysis’ that
considers the ‘networked’ nature of an individuals’ contacts; and the idea that
individuals are connected through ‘small worlds’ that attempt to understand the
linked nature of different networks (see Larsen et al., 2005).
Implicit in these competing approaches is the link between ‘community’ and
social networks (though the two are far from mutually exclusive). This is
particularly evident in explanations of how social, spatial and technological
change has altered the ways in which social relations are ordered. Simplified,
this forms a somewhat evolutionary narrative of shifts in the organisation of
social relations from ‘face-to-face’, to ‘place-to-place’, to ‘person-centred’
contacts and relationships (Wellman, 2001). It is the later, encapsulated in ideas
such as ‘networked sociality’, that some suggest has had most impact on our
understandings of social networks and community (Wittel, 2001). This is evident
in discussions of how the rise of instantaneous communication technology such
as the internet, e.mail or mobile phones have facilitated the ‘death of distance’
and enabled individuals to overcome the problem of time when contacting
others (Cairncross, 2001). As the review goes on to discuss, this does not mean
that the need for embodied travel or face-to-face contact is now redundant. If
anything, some argue that travel has increased in frequency and distance, and
produced more dispersed and flexible social ties which continue to be
maintained through ever complex processes of physical co-presence (Urry, 2002;
While some present almost utopian claims about networked individualism and
how new travel and communication technologies can empower individuals to
‘choose’ or create better networks, and therefore better social lives, the review
warns of the dangers of overlooking what, for many, is exclusion from the
ability to engage in such socially enabling networking. Furthermore, the alleged
‘death of distance’ and freedom from spatial fixity of networked individualism
has not eradicated the relevance of the spatial and temporal contexts of social

Item Type: Working Paper (NCRM Working Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social networks, community, social contacts, ‘death of distance’, NCRMpublication
Subjects: 6. Mixed Methods Data Handling and Data Analysis > 6.1 Social Network Analysis
6. Mixed Methods Data Handling and Data Analysis > 6.3 Mixed Methods Approaches (other)
Depositing User: NCRM users
Date Deposited: 05 Dec 2008 18:31
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 13:50
URI: https://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/id/eprint/469

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