Research

My research is on conditions and consequences of social networks. I am fascinated by the sociological proposition that people’s relationships are not only a product of their preferences, but also of their opportunities to engage in contacts. These opportunities are determined by social contexts such as the institutions in a society, but also by much smaller contexts such as the residential neighborhood, classrooms, or work organization. Within these lines of reasoning, I am interested in the following research questions:

  1. In which social settings do people create what type of networks and how is the value of social capital depending on these settings? What are effects of technologies, next to economy and politics, on social capital, networks, and solidarity behavior?
  2. What puts social cohesion at risk, and what level of social cohesion is desirable for an individual and society as such? What, if community fails?
  3. What kind of institutional setting can warrant solidarity behavior and social sustainability?

Projects

These are projects and research problems I currently work on.

  • Declining Cohesion Or Segregated Worlds? Read more

    Declining Cohesion Or Segregated Worlds?

    Since sociology exists, – and maybe even longer – there is the concern that we loose our social bonds, that social relationships become superficial and more and more dispersed in space. In particular, since new technologies, such as the internet or social media, were used on a large scale, the implications for relationships became an issue. However, much research, next to my own research, shows that we actually do not loose high quality relationships; at least not to an extent that justifies the idea the social cohesion is rapidly declining. This does not take away that ongoing changes affect our social worlds: we use the internet for meeting others, we keep our friends up-to-date via facebook and whatsapp – and many of us in a ‘bubble’ in which we meet mostly people who are very similar to us. I am currently working on questions around these ‘bubbles’ and related new and older social cleavages.

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  • Inequality In Social Capital Read more

    Inequality In Social Capital

    Social inequality in all types of resources is a major research problem in sociology. It is assumed that inequality in particular forms of capital, such as human capital or financial capital, brings about inequality in social capital and vice versa. Furthermore, social research shows the importance of social networks and social capital for in general all aspects of life. For example, many studies point at the importance of social networks for achieving major goals in life such as getting ahead in the occupational career, e.g. finding a job or a house, but also for staying healthy or getting support with daily and personal problems. Yet, although the value of social networks for providing social capital is without any doubt, little is known on the distribution of social capital and even less so on the differences in social networks between different social groups: older and younger, natives and migrants or higher and lower educated persons.

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  • Neighborhood Effects On Individual Behavior Read more

    Neighborhood Effects On Individual Behavior

    As a sociologist, I am interested in context effects for individual behavior. Individual action is not only driven by own preferences and goals but the surrounding context also determines what people do. A perfect research site to study this claim is the residential neighborhood. Do neighborhood contexts and the composition of people, who live there, matter for the behavior of passengers? More in detail, are people more inclined to do favors for a stranger in neighborhoods, when social norms concerning collective efficacy are tight and the neighborhood is more advantaged in general? The answer is ‘yes’: in a number of field-experiments we were able to show that people behave more prosocial in neighborhoods with high collective efficacy, i.e. the shared norm that everyone will intervene on behalf of common goods.

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  • Networks Through The Life Course Read more

    Networks Through The Life Course

    How do our networks change through the life course? We do know from research that networks seem to shrink if we become older. Given that most people also work less and become less active at higher ages this is a plausible finding. We do not know, however, whether and how relationships change in quality and in the social capital they provide. Maybe, high quality contacts compensate for decrease in quantity. This implies that social resources do not change through the life course; they rather might grow in value. This project studies these changes in relationships and resources for different social categories and through the life course. Networks might not change in the same way for everybody, e.g., men and women, high and lower educated might differ in this regard.

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  • Adult Friendships Read more

    Adult Friendships

    In my view, the knowledge about friendship among children and adolescents is richer than the knowledge about adult friendships. However, given high rates of divorce and geographical (or relational) distance among family members, friends and acquaintance are crucial for our integration in life and society. I am working on patterns of these friendships, where do we make friends, and how do these relationships exactly look like? Interestingly, it seems that in our modern times, friendships are not so important for practical things anymore: while practical help such as doing jobs in the house or garden are largely outsourced, friends are before all important for identity confirmation, companionship and advice. Further, good friends are almost as close to another than marriage partners. However, unlike marriages, friendships do not end abruptly, we rather let them go gradually. Which means of course that we can get them back!

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  • SSND: The Social Networks Of The Dutch Read more

    SSND: The Social Networks Of The Dutch

    The SSND, the survey of the social networks of the Dutch is a longitudinal project monitoring people’s network through time. Next to this, it has a clear focus on networks in neighborhoods. Starting in 1999, we have interviewed 1000 inhabitants all around the country about their personal network, their work, neighborhood and their issues in life. Since then, my colleagues and I organized two more waves, in 2008 and in 2014. It is intriguing to see how people’s networks change through time. So far, we found that people do not rapidly loose friends, but that there is a lot of dynamic in relationships. Persons who are in a given time period central in ones life are much more in the periphery later on – but this does not mean that the relation does not exist anymore. In autumn 2017 the fourth and final wave will be collected.

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Selection of Past Projects

These are projects I have worked on – but I am of course still interested in these issues. They also constitute the basis of my current work.

  • Social Networks Of Female Entrepreneurs Read more

    Social Networks Of Female Entrepreneurs

    It is widely acknowledged that woman’s networks and their social capital considerably differ from men’s. Given that social capital is an important resource for getting ahead in society it is important to understand these differences. Do women and men create different forms of social capital and are there differences in the benefits of social capital? What are the benefits of social networks and social capital, concerning local and non-local ties as well as ties on the micro and the macro (neighbourhood) level for women’s businesses? These questions are addressed in order to determine whether gender differences impact the way entrepreneurs run their business. Findings show that men and women differ in their number of weaker ties. In addition, women benefit from neighbourhood social capital and not so much from actual network ties, whereas for men the opposite holds, they benefit from diversity in actual network ties.

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  • Where Do Networks Come From? Read more

    Where Do Networks Come From?

    The social composition of contexts wherein people find themselves affects the opportunities to meet particular others and engage in contact with them, and thereby the structure and the composition of a person’s network. In this project, it has been shown that social contexts, places where people meet each other – such as work, school, neighborhood, but also family, going out places or the internet – matter for the resulting relationship. First of all, different important network relationships have been met at particular places: Meeting in educational contexts, voluntary organizations and the church is most ‘productive’ in creating friendship. Second, there seems to be a ‘path-dependency in friendships: if one has met a network member in a particular setting chances are high that another one is also met there at a later point in time.

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  • Conditions For Community Read more

    Conditions For Community

    To what extent can community be found in Dutch neighborhoods? This study argued that the conditions for building a community are similar to the conditions for creating social capital: opportunity, ease and motivation are crucial. Hence, there needs to be places to meet, not too many alternatives outside the neighborhood and the actors involved should be mutually dependent on each other. In neighborhoods these conditions are realized if there are meeting places, like green spaces, benches etc.; if they have to make arrangements on (e.g.) parking lots and if they simply are often enough personally available. Interestingly, not much actual relationships are needed for people to feel at home: it is sufficient if one knows where neighbors live and if neighbors greet each other. Hence, the general idea that community consists of strong ties that are densely connected is not supported and deserves rethinking and reconceptualization.

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  • Changing Social Networks Because of Changing Social Institutions Read more

    Changing Social Networks Because of Changing Social Institutions

    This idea was at the basis of my PhD in 1995, long ago. I studied whether social networks of people in the former GDR changed as a consequence of the political transition in the 1990s. My argument was that networks ‘react’ to social institutions because these create problems for which they provide no standardized solution. For example, in the former GDR, institutions created the problem for individuals whom to trust and where how to accomplish goods short in supply. Both problems were solved by the structure and content of personal networks in this time: a highly dense niche network of trustworthy others, surrounded by a sparsely connected, rather diverse network of weak ties, which were able to help with the organization of goods. After the upheaval, these structures clearly changed: niches became more ‘open’ and the weaker ties became more connected.