I. social network analysis / sociology of science


New mechanisms for network closure of structural holes across large interdisciplinary research networks: case study for a concept of “generative socio-technology”

Social scientists use the term “structural hole” to define a gap that separates two or more people who could produce novel work together but haven’t yet met. In research settings like universities it's common that thousands of structural holes exist: legal scholars want to work with AI scientists, physicians want to work with engineers, public health researchers want to work with economists, etc. What separates potential collaborators and how they can more quickly meet then becomes a problem of social network structure and information flow.

In recent publications we’ve codified that human agent “information brokers” (those who capitalize on connection) or "tertius iungens" (those who connect out of good will) bridge structural holes when they introduce two people with diverse but complimentary skills, experiences and interests.  What lacks in analytical literature is enough acknowledgment that in today’s world we use web platforms to make meaningful connections that often transcend rates of meeting people through traditional means of third-party-facilitated connection or serendipitous run-in.

The goal of this project would be to take interview data from scientists who’ve participated in interdisciplinary research and analyze how they came to know their collaborators. A central research question would be “Compared to in-person run-ins and personal connections, how can web platforms —those in existence and not yet created— expedite the rate at which collaborators come together?” Also: What key features of existent platforms (matching algorithms, shared information channels, feeds/filters, etc.) offer meaningful ways of discovering collaborators, resources and discussion? And if not yet in existence, how do scientists and entrepreneurs ideate/design/engineer idealized interactions uniquely enabled by internet software? In response to the latter question, I would propose a concept of “generative socio-technology” to describe the means by which scientists use design-thinking principles to describe software that isn’t yet in use, and how they independently or in conjunction with programmers and entrepreneurs create and share tools which drive home needs of direct collaboration, resource sharing, and constructive discourse.


Visibility and closure of organizational information across academic research networks and resulting effects on social action

Practice theory, which attempts to illuminate determinants of people taking autonomous action based on factors like information availability, personal internalization, sense of duty, environmental dispositions, interpersonal influence, and so on, is a concept growing in popularity among social scientists yet still vastly underdeveloped due largely to difficulty in capturing and patterning data. However one relationship stated above which we can immediately analyze objectively is how shared information drives real-life action. Think: “Bill went to this gathering because Lane invited him to the event on Facebook”, “ Sarah applied to this job because Michael emailed her the listing” or “Michelle joined this lab because she saw a flyer in the hallway.” In research settings we tend to take for granted that a massive factor of how well a lab/department/university/community performs rides heavily on how efficiently collective information is created, shared, discovered, remixed and built-upon by individual members.

This project would cross-analyze norms of information flow across various university research departments. We’d look at which tools are used to disseminate opportunities and how people can trace back having taken action around a particular project to an originally raw informational signal: whether via word of mouth, printed text, digital resources, degree requirement, or otherwise. A key research question would be “What tools, methods, and organizational norms are most effective for exchanging information within large groups from which individuals can take part in work that advances their individual professional goals as well as those of the parent organization?”

"Economics is all about how people make choices. Sociology is all about why they don't have any choices to make."

- James Duesenberry


II. economic sociology / social theory


Refactoring habitus, capital and field through dimensional analysis and interactive modeling: a treatise of “first principles" cultural economics

Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice, which includes thorough descriptions of habitus, field, and capital, is considered by many social theorists as anyone’s best attempt at providing empirical explanations for how social action is driven by a constant interplay between an individual’s structure and agency. However trepidation (or altogether, avoidance) to employ these concepts as analytical tools persists for what many attribute to the lack of an intuitive, repeatable framework for analysis. Here I propose a comprehensive framework aiming to provide more conceptual clarity to habitus, field, and capital by introducing modular illustrations and empirical examples of each. Graphical, topological simulations can more clearly visualize how habitus and capital take form via dispositions crafted by unique exposures within a given field, and show how people’s interactions with categories of work resultantly shape aggregate fields. 

While there are no attempts to upend any existent definitions of habitus, field or capital, rigorous attention is given to clarify facets of each. For example if capital is viewed as a dimensional object, we can break it down into three atomic parts including cultural, social and economic capital, which in turn can each again be broken into three parts. From here, we are able to codify these micro units of capital as to better understand point-values of an individual’s accrual of each and how they shape dispositions for action. Habitus too benefits from atomization, wherein we can break it down into an individual’s (1) sphere of exposure, (2) sphere of internalization and (3) sphere of possibles, each of which can again be broken down for more analytical codification and clarity. Then, similar to the integral calculus used to approximate the area or volume under a curve with increasing accuracy as more precise base measurements are made, taking finer-grained looks at both capital and habitus means that we can better explain how each affects end behaviors, actions and beliefs. We can then also better model how an individual accrues habitus and capital over time within the scope of her respective exposures and interplays with cultural fields.

The goal of this body of work is to produce a scalable, interdisciplinary analytical toolkit for empirical use of habitus, capital, and how each draw from and contribute to the formation of cultural fields. A successful refactor of these items means scientists can explain patterns of social and economic behavior with more precision and rigor. I believe sociological analysis is the microscope of economic analysis. So to improve sociology's analytical utility reflects how contributions to quantum physics have allowed more precise understanding of chemistry and biology, hence an inclusion of this project's first principles descriptor. Further, clearer illustrations of quantified relationships between structure and agency means people of any profession or background can enjoy simpler yet higher-resolution explanations for how personal dispositions develop alongside unique exposures to surrounding systems of power, influence, and opportunity.


Visualizing economic “weights” of information exchange in conversation and media: middle-range theoretical models analyzing relationships between content consumption and economic action

Content analysis is a research method growing in popularity among political scientists, economists and sociologists trying to make sense of how words in media emerge, transmit messages, and drive action. One common technique codifies transcripts from interviews or speeches to look at patterns of rhetoric and symbolism. My intuition is that similar approaches can be applied to study the relationships between the contents of media or interpersonal communication and how they affect our net spheres of knowledge, and thus, reservoirs for economic action.

The line between what is cultural (how we create and spread tastes, convictions, entertainment, etc.) and what is economic (things we do with money) is becoming increasingly thin. There’s a reason for the endurance of the adage “time is money”. Though, what's more often overlooked is that even while we're not directly working, as time moves, information sneakily builds, and we later use that information to make decisions with our limited amounts of knowledge which have social and economic consequence. There's a shortage of analysis on how contents of interpersonal communication and media consumption compound into hundreds of hours, and how those hours represent opportunity costs of real-world action. Everyone understands how taking two years of architecture classes differs from taking two years of botany classes. But what's more elusive in critical analysis is how 500 hours spent on Instagram (about the two-year average for a middle-class American teen) differs from 500 hours spent doing anything else. 

This study channels an inner Theodor Adorno: it claims that how people spend leisure time in aggregate has profound economic consequence. To make empirical measurement we can apply a middle-range framework for how relevant an hour or minute of media consumption is to "equipping ourselves with the tools with which to improve society." Analytical categories can differentiate types of content consumed and how information gathered is either potentially useful or not, as rated along a spectrum of informational value, relative to altruistric progress.

Everyone needs release valves, mental relaxation, pure entertainment and artistic fuel, but in aggregate,  what we consume media-wise also affects our personal knowledge and thus our collective ability to solve human-scale problems of hunger, exploitation, environmental degradation, etc. Hopeful takeaways from exposure to this study would be that media producers are filled with more conviction to create content which is both entertaining and socially enriching, and that consumers are more mindful of how engaging with various forms of content displaces time, and thus potential to solve meaningful problems. 


Select sources:

Section 1

Knowledge Networks as Channels and Conduits: The Effects of Spillovers in the Boston Biotechnology Community

Structural Holes Versus Network Closure as Social Capital

Social Networks, the Tertius Iungens Orientation, and Involvement in Innovation Author(s): David Obstfeld

Shared Cognitive– Emotional–Interactional Platforms: Markers and Conditions for Successful Interdisciplinary Collaborations

Social Structure from Multiple Networks. I. Blockmodels of Roles and Positions

The Strength of Weak Ties

Ahuja M, Galletta D, Carley K (2003) Individual centrality and performance in virtual R&D groups: an empirical examination. Manag Sci 49(1):21–38

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Canessa E, Riolo R (2003) The effect of organizational communication media on organizational culture and performance: an agent-based simulation model. Comput Math Organ Theory 9(2)

Cataldo M, Carley KM (2001) Modeling knowledge sharing in virtual organizations. In: 10th international conference on computational analysis of social and organizational systems, Pittsburgh, PA, July 2001

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Granovetter MS (1983) The strength of weak ties: a network theory revisited. In: Sociology theory. Wiley, New York, pp 201–233

Harrison JR, Lin Z, Carroll GR, Carley KM (2007) Simulation modeling in organizational and management research. Acad Manag Rev 32(4):1229–1245

Panteli N, Davison RM (2005) The role of subgroups in the communication patterns of global virtual teams. IEEE Trans Prof Commun 48(2):191–200

Ren Y, Carley K, Argote L (2006) The contingency effects of transactive memory: when is it more beneficial to know what others know? Manag Sci 52(5):671–683

Sproull LS, Kiesler S (1986) Reducing social context cues: electronic mail in organizational communication. Manag Sci 32:1492–1512

Unintended consequences of collocation: using agent-based modeling to untangle effects of communication delay and in-group favor

Generative Social Science: Epstein

Section 2

Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies
Ann Swidler
American Sociological Review, Vol. 51, No. 2. (Apr., 1986), pp. 273-286. 

Understanding individual human mobility patterns
Marta C. Gonza ́lez1, Ce ́sar A. Hidalgo1,2 & Albert-La ́szlo ́ Baraba ́si1,2,3 

'It's all becoming a habitus': Beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research
Article in British Journal of Sociology of Education · September 2004

Why do some countries produce so much more output per worker than others?
Robert E. Hall and Charles I. Jones

The Three Phases of Bourdieu’s U.S. Reception: Comment on Lamont
Omar Lizardo

A concise genealogy and anatomy of habitus
Loıc Wacquant