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Consultations on social network analysis by specialists from University of Groningen

Intensive seminars on social network analysis (SNA) held by specialists from University of Groningen, Netherlands, took place at the Sociology of Education and Science Laboratory (SESL) in the middle of April.

Intensive seminars on social network analysis (SNA) held by specialists from University of Groningen, Netherlands, took place at the Sociology of Education and Science Laboratory (SESL) in the middle of April. A part of the lessons was devoted to the presentations made by the seminar’s participants. They demonstrated their projects where SNA is used. 

The dean of Sociology department, Olesya Koltsova, presented a joint project on studies of Russian blogosphere about Islam and Muslims with application of the SNA method. The main goal of this work is to understand the bloggers’ attitudes to Islam and to reveal the way this subject is conceptualized in Russian blogs. By means of SNA an attempt will be made to define groups of blogs, for example, pro-islamic and islamophobic. The uniqueness and complexity of the project is in a large data set, which is supposed to be processed.   A sample of 10 000 blog texts will be derived from 7 million texts provided by the Yandex team. Due to the great data volume a problem of software choice has occurred.

Vera Titkova is studying international conflicts and their settlement. She has presented her research about the influence of different parameters on the parties’ relationships in conflicts, namely on the entry into conflicts or their evasion.   The analysis is conducted with the use of SNA methods. As a conflict always means a dyadic relationship, Vera works with network databases by adding non-network parameters basing on the rational choice theory. The latter includes economic characteristics such as trading volume, presence of diplomatic contacts, etc. Will the countries, which trade with each other, enter a conflict? The project by Vera Titkova will help to answer this question and many others. There are separate databases on conflicts and interventions. Each of them was created for solving different problems: network databases on alliances, international intergovernmental organizations, network databases on diplomatic and trade relations. Vera combines different network databases in one for her project. Such work is not only complicated, but also valuable, because the new unique database might be used by other scholars for their research. The importance of the project is also that the databases include data on countries from 1817 to 2009. This makes it possible to study the dynamics of conflict and mediation networks. 

Irina Khvan, Alexei Gorgadze and Egine Sukiasyan have presented the first results of the research on ethnic groups in “Vkontakte” social network. There are three main topics in the study: educational migration, ethnic student communities, network analysis of ethnic groups. The educational migration research revealed, which cities are popular among students arriving from the post-soviet countries. The study of student ethnic communities demonstrated that the majority of ethnic student organizations is founded by Armenians in Moscow in such universities as Plekhanov Russian University of Economics and People’s Friendship University of Russia. The SNA was applied in this work in order to compare the connectivity of ethnic groups by analyzing the “groups of friends”. When the social networks were constructed, almost all ethnic groups were equally connected. However, the Uzbek ethnic communities appeared to be an exclusion, because they have very few “groups of friends”. The young sociologists are going to develop the research topics involving not only “Vkontakte” website, but also other social networks.

Alexander Pronin has told the seminars’ participants about his experience in studies of youth solidarities, their types and shared ideas. He presented the results of one of “The new youth solidarities” project’s phases. The project was held by the Center of Youth Studies.   A survey of the youth solidarities’ most outstanding representatives using a special questionnaire took place.  Structured descriptions of these social groups were made according to the results of the survey. The key world-view ideas peculiar to the youth groups  were derived from these descriptions. They underlay the map of Saint-Petersburg youth’s values. By using the SNA method, Alexander Pronin has revealed the central ideas which unite different youth communities. The next research phase was comprised of a survey in order to find out to what extent the youth solidarities’ most popular ideas are shared by so-called “civils”, namely youth as a whole.

Inessa Tarusina has presented the project “School and society”. Its goal is analysis of the way the social interaction of a school and local community is organized. The study implies the analysis of the interaction between the rural settlements’ leaders (the representatives of different social institutions) and the role of schools in society. The practical significance of the project makes the researchers face a lot of questions such as: which social institutions are there in a rural settlement and how they interact with each other? Which role do the communities’ leaders play in this process and which functions a school as one of the basic local community’s organization has?  One of the hypotheses is that a principal’s personal and business qualities might influence the “successfulness” of a school. It would be interesting to find out whether the variety of a settlement’s institutions positively affects the schools’ and other structures’ functioning. It is taken into account that the presence of different kinds of institutions extends access to various resources and types of support. The research is being held with the use of mostly qualitative methods, but the research group is currently mastering the SNA methodology in order to investigate the features of social interactions in the community more thoroughly.

Svetlana Savelieva and Daria Khodorenko brought their project on formation of students’ scientific and educational interests, habits, practices and their dynamics during studies at university up for discussion. The project proposes to track the scientific interests’ development depending on different factors, e.g. the scientific adviser’s influence, activity of participation in the university’s scientific life, etc. Much attention will be given to the influence of the same year students. Communication with the students of the same year is a complex category, as it can be different. It might mean asking for advice, emotional or instrumental support, friendship. For example, an organization was investigated in a paper called “Friends Don't Make Friends Good Citizens, But Advisors Do”. It was shown that “friends” and “advisors” belong to different groups of people and that the “ethic” influence is spread by “advisers”, but not “friends”. A questionnaire has been developed and a pilot survey is planned. The discussion of the projects was an interesting and useful part of the seminar. The colleagues from Groningen have given us a lot of valuable comments about them and organized individual consultations on each project.

The method of diving into SNA has proved its value. Two days of talking about reciprocity, transitivity, Wasserman and Faust, modeling and probability were really useful for the laboratory’s researchers and opened new academic opportunities to most of the participants. The seminars came to the end, but the researchers will continue their studies of SNA at SESL.

By Ksenia Medvedeva