Understanding Personal Networks: The Limits of Big Data and the Perils of Common Sense
Distinguished Speaker Series
Past Talk
Mario Small
Ph.D., Grafstein Family Professor at Harvard University
Nov 15, 2017
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2:00 pm
177 Huntington Ave
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11th floor

When people seek emotional support, how do they decide whom to talk to? Network analysis and common sense would both suggest that people will go to those they are closest to.  Based on in-depth interviews with graduate students in one university and nationally representative survey data on adults 18 and older, I find reason to question that belief.  Shifting from what people say to what they actually do, I find that people are far more willing to turn to others they are not close to, even near-strangers, than either conventional wisdom or network theories would suggest.  Examining why, I show that widely-agreed upon assumptions about the nature of strong ties do not accord with how people interact with those they are close to in their ordinary lives.  The findings suggest that, in big data era, qualitative research has become more, not less important to network analysis.

About the speaker
Mario L. Small, Ph.D., Grafstein Family Professor at Harvard University, is the author of numerous award-winning books and articles on urban poverty, support networks, qualitative and mixed methods, and other topics. His latest book, to be published fall 2017, is Someone To Talk To (Oxford). A study of how people decide whom to approach when seeking support, the book is an inquiry into human nature, a critique of network analysis, and a discourse on the role of qualitative research in the big-data era. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mariosmall/files/cv_aug_2017.pdf