A network science approach to social cohesion in European societies

ERC Advanced Grant, grant no. 101020038.

PI: Miranda Lubbers. 2021-2026.


Inclusivity norms to counter polarization in European societies

Volkswagen Foundation grant.

PIs: Maarten van Zalk, Eva Jaspers, Oliver Christ, Miranda Lubbers, Marcin Bukowski. 2021-2025.


A network science approach to social cohesion in Spain

La Caixa Social Research grant, agreement no. SR0587

PI: Miranda Lubbers. 2020-2022.


A network science approach to social cohesion in European societies (PATCHWORK)

As European societies are becoming increasingly unequal, diverse, and polarised, concerns about their cohesion are growing. In this light, it is surprising that social cohesion research has almost entirely ignored one of its core dimensions: relationships. Broad acquaintanceship networks, which connect each individual to hundreds of others through both intimate and superficial relationships, have long been assumed to bind societies together and provide a sense of community and solidarity. Nonetheless, they have hardly been studied empirically due to the technical complexity that the comprehensive study of society-wide networks involves.

This project develops a ground-breaking, network-scientific approach to social cohesion. After designing a theoretical framework for the structural cohesion of societies, it develops a new methodology to study structural cohesion empirically, hybridising two strands of network research in an unprecedented way. The methodology will be implemented in a large-scale, cross-national European survey administered to representative samples of the populations. The survey estimates are used to simulate society-wide networks, to explore resulting macro-level structures. These macro-level structures are then used to specify agent-based models to study in more depth how broad acquaintanceship networks influence subjective manifestations of cohesion. Along with the quantitative part of the study, we also use qualitative analysis at different points in the study to better understand what meaning acquaintanceship networks have to people, how they relate to acquaintances, how their networks evolve over time, and how they are related to the social contexts in which they participate and to their attitudes toward other social groups. The qualitative findings will also be used in ABM.

For the first time, we will know how cohesive broad acquaintanceship networks are across categorical fault lines of citizenship, social class, religion, and political orientation for five societies, how real-life inter- and intra-group relationships cluster to form network constellations that expose individuals in unique ways to other social groups, and how these constellations shape subjective manifestations of cohesion such as tolerance, trust, and acceptance of diversity.

PI: Miranda Lubbers

Start date: October 1st, 2021. End date: September 30th, 2026

Inclusivity norms to counter polarization in European societies (INCLUSIVITY)

The project team focuses their research on inclusivity norms, which are social group norms that promote equality-based respect, dialogue, and unity, to prevent the harmful consequences of polarization for the social tissue of European communities. The goal of the project is to advance research on current European challenges in three ways. First, it aims to provide an evidence-based approach to countering polarization in Europe. Second, it uses experimental and network approaches to inclusivity norms, which will uncover the relational nature of norm transmission, as well as the conditions under which inclusivity norms amplify tolerance, contact, and cooperation. Third, the project will result in open-access empirical data on similarities and differences in inclusivity norms between 16 European countries and groups within European countries, including EU separatist movements. The team will use an interdisciplinary and mixed-methods approach, which combines a cross-European survey, qualitative interviews, cultural consensus analysis, laboratory experiments, social network analysis, and an evaluation of school-based interventions to study how inclusivity norms can change individuals' attitudes and behavior toward opposing groups. With the project, the team intends to provide knowledge on how to optimize the transmission and adoption of inclusivity norms in contemporary Europe. The project team plans to transfer valuable knowledge to both stakeholders and the general public by creating an international hub of research on inclusivity norms, facilitated by implementing workshops, conferences, a multilingual website specifically designed for practitioners and non-experts, and ongoing collaborations with these and other stakeholders.

PIs: Maarten van Zalk, Eva Jaspers, Oliver Christ, Miranda Lubbers, Marcin Bukowski.

Start date: October 1st, 2021. End date: January 31st, 2026

A network science approach to social cohesion in Spain (BRIDGES)

As societies are becoming increasingly unequal, concerns about societal cohesion and democratic functioning are growing. In this light, it is surprising how little we know about the extent to which different social groups in terms of income, social class and origin are socially connected in Spanish society, and what can strengthen these connections. Broad acquaintanceship networks, which connect every individual to hundreds of others through both intimate and superficial relationships, have long been assumed to bind societies together and to provide a sense of community and solidarity. However, they are technically complex to study. This project will develop a ground-breaking methodology from the perspective of network science that can produce novel understanding about social cohesion. The method will be implemented in a large-scale survey in Spain to assess levels of cohesion and explore the conditions under which boundary-crossing relationships and heterogeneous networks form, as well as the conditions under which they contribute to (or conversely, deteriorate) intergroup solidarity, social welfare preferences, social and political trust, and political orientation. Agent-based models will help us understand the resulting macro-level patterns and how cohesion can be improved. The results will be used to design evidence-based policies aimed at increasing social cohesion in Spain, and particularly solidarity with economically vulnerable groups.

PI: Miranda Lubbers

Start date: January 1st, 2020. End date: December 31st, 2022

Community dimensions, personal networks, and social exclusion (DIMCOM)

Spain’s recent economic growth helped it recover from the 2008-2014 crisis, but it has not benefited large sectors of the population. About 6 million people constitute the so-called insecure or precarious society (Standing, 2013) in Spain, i.e., people at risk of exclusion who do not have the resources to bounce back from a new crisis and have insecure income and housing. Despite the limitations of Standing’s proposal, his concept of the “social income” (2010) is of interest, as it identifies all resources available to citizens, including social capital. The social income consists of 6 elements, namely (Standing 2013), (a) self-production of goods and services, (b) wages, (c) the value of support received by the family and the local community, (d) the benefits granted by companies and organizations to their workers, (e) direct or indirect services financed by the state and (f) private savings and investment interests. In the words of Standing, what characterizes the precarious is not the level of wages or income at a particular time, but rather the lack of community support in times of need, the lack of guaranteed business or state benefits, and the lack of private benefits to complement the income (emphasis added, 2013: 5). In this project, we explore the contribution of this community dimension to the social income of sectors of the population that correspond to the “insecure society” emphasized by the VIII FOESSA Report (Foessa Foundation, 2019). The motivation is twofold: on the one hand, this group is at the prelude to social exclusion lacking the ability to cope with a new crisis, which justifies the need to know this reality in depth. On the other, the results of our previous research in this field highlighted both the key role of the community dimension to increase resilience and the erosion and deterioration of formal and informal support networks as a result of the crisis to the point that they became new sources of exclusion and formed a risk to mental health (Lubbers et al. 2020). Consequently, while the literature has amply shown the relevance of family relationships and friendships for well-being and mental health (Berkman, 1995; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Gottlieb, 1981), this is not applicable to the precarious. For this reason, it is important to identify successful community initiatives and the role that these initiatives play in people’s lives. In this project, we study what the contribution is of the community dimension to the social support these groups of the “insecure society” receive, how their distribution varies, what mechanisms are responsible for them, and what set of initiatives can strengthen their empowerment and sustainability.

PIs: Hugo Valenzuela García & Miranda Lubbers

Start date: June 1st, 2020. End date: May 31st, 2024


The role of transnational social fields in the emergence, maintenance, and decay of demographic enclaves (ORBITS)

Romanian enclaves in Spain have received little academic attention so far, but are nevertheless of singular importance locally. In this study, we investigated two Romanian enclaves located in Castellón de la Plana and in Roquetas de Mar. We wished to contribute to the knowledge base about ethnic enclaves by addressing two gaps in the literature. First, the functioning of ethnic enclaves has hardly been studied in tandem with the migration dynamics of the involved actors. Nevertheless, our prior research showed that the phenomenon of the emergence of ethnic enclaves should be conceptualized taking into account the transnational social fields that fuel it and not only the internal dynamics in the enclave and the country of residence. Therefore, we proposed to study enclaves from a transnational perspective, which allowed us to see how individuals in the two places coordinate their mobility patterns and care arrangements in order to benefit from the ethnic enclave. Second, prior research that measured transnational social fields quantitatively tended to focus exclusively on individuals as actors, ignoring organizational entities that may nevertheless greatly affect both migration patterns of individuals and the functioning of the enclave in labour market terms. To fill this gap, we combined an individual and an institutional perspective in a two-level social network model. This design gavewe us a more complete understanding of ethnic enclaves. Our objective, then, was to investigate how circular migration patterns are intertwined with the emergence, maintenance, and possible decay of enclaves, and how different individual positions in the transnational field are related to differences in outcomes such as labour market positions and the construction of the sense of community and identification.

Specifically, our research questions were the following:

  1. How can we conceptualize and measure the dimensions of transnational social fields?

  2. How can we identify the possible existence of specialized roles in these structures and what are their functions?

  3. What is the role that organizational entities play in transnational social structures?

  4. What is the relation between these transnational structures and the emergence, maintenance, and possible decay of enclaves?

  5. What effects do individual positions in these structures have on the insertion at the labour market, sense of belonging with Spain, Rumania, and Europe, and in general, with the social integration of Romanian immigrants?

We performed intensive, multi-sited fieldwork in the enclaves in Spain and the community of origin in Rumania (in the region of Dâmbovita), combining qualitative and quantitative data collection methods - the latter based on social network analysis. We used recently developed, innovative methods of data collection and data analysis to reach our goals.

PIs: Miranda Lubbers & José Luis Molina. Project coordinator in Romania: Gabriel Hâncean.

Start date: January 1st, 2016. End date: December 31st, 2020

Strategies of survival of households in poverty: The role of formal and informal support networks

The global financial crisis of 2008-2014 increased the number of households in situations of poverty in Catalonia (as in the rest of Spain) and the severity of their problems. Studies of poverty tend to focus on identifying temporal tendencies and the profiles of the most vulnerable segments, but they typically do not analyze how people manage to survive situations of poverty. However, this analysis is essential for designing and reinforcing policies that can strengthen the roles of different types of support. Although it is assumed that households rely on formal and informal systems of support, the context of the crisis has two features: first, government support programs had been considerably reduced, and second, informal support networks of the poor had suffered a notable depletion and may no longer give adequate support. Given these facts, we proposed, first, to carry out an in-depth analysis of the survival strategies actually used by households in poverty, i.e. to analyze the source of formal (state, public and private institutions, etc.) and informal aids and its variability over time. Our second goal was to analyze the interaction between formal and informal support (i.e., both the influence of informal networks on the access and use of formal systems as the way in which charitable and civic organizations help to strengthen informal networks). For these purposes, we used a mixed-methods design consisting of quantitative (social network analysis and secondary databases, ECV2011 and ECVHP 2011 and 2014) and qualitative data (ethnographic techniques, case studies, and semi-structured and structured interviews) conducted by an interdisciplinary research team composed of academic researchers and key representatives of the third sector, particularly in the context of social exclusion and poverty. The project, funded by the RecerCaixa program of La Caixa, emphasized the transfer of results and applied research.

A second project, funded by the FOESSA foundation, focused on clients of one charity organization. Based on results of the first project, we investigated the relational mechanisms in processes of social exclusion.

Project 1:

Strategies of Survival in Poor Households: The Role of Formal and Informal Support Networks in Times of Economic Crisis. Recercaixa (2015ACUP 00145). PIs: Miranda Lubbers & Hugo Valenzuela García. Start date: February 28th, 2016. End date: February 27th, 2020

Project 2:

“I Live Between Four Walls”: Relational Vulnerability and Dignity in the Context of the Unipersonal Help Services of Spanish Charitable Institutions. FOESSA Foundation. PIs: Hugo Valenzuela & Miranda Lubbers. Start date: February 1st, 2019. End date: January 31st, 2020

The economic crisis and social cohesion in Spain (Special module of the National Barometer)

The economic crisis of 2008-2014 hit Spain hard, leading to high unemployment rates, evictions, and emigration. Research has amply shown that individual incomes and the national GDP affects individuals' social and institutional trust. However, research into trust typically ignores the effect of networks. We hypothesized that individuals are not only influenced by their own situation but also by what they observe in their social worlds. People who are well off are likely to observe fewer consequences of the crisis both individually and in their networks than people in the lower-income classes. While typical surveys only allow us to analyze individual effects, we proposed to assess, with this special module of the National Barometer (a national survey frequently conducted by the Center for Sociological Research in Madrid) to what extent the negative consequences of the economic crisis individuals observe in their social environments affect their social and institutional trust.

Specifically, we proposed to answer the following questions:

(1) To what extent is there a cumulative effect of various consequences of the economic crisis (unemployment, emigration, etc.) in the social environment of individuals? That is, how do people vary to the extent that their social environment is affected by the crisis? We will distinguish between the general social environment and various relevant sub-contexts such as family, friends, or the neighborhood.

(2) To what degree is the concentration of various effects of the crisis in the social environment of an individual related to the individual's own socio-economic markers? For example, will younger and more educated individuals know more people who have emigrated in recent years than older people?

(3) How does the concentration of effects in the social environment of the individual (total and by sub-contexts) affect the trust he has in his compatriots and in public institutions? Does this have an explanatory value added to the individual's own socio-economic markers?

The data can be accessed via the website of the Center for Sociological Research.

PI: Miranda Lubbers, in collaboration with the Center for Sociological Research in Madrid

Start date: 2014. End date: 2016

The migrant projects

This series of projects started out with an NSF investigation of Christopher McCarty and José Luis Molina of the personal networks of approximately 500 migrants from selected countries of origin residing in Spain and the US, to explore their social integration in the countries of reception and its relation with migration trajectories and personal attributes. A second project (IP José Luis Molina) reinterviewed 77 of the original respondents 1-3 years later, and the third project (IP Miranda Lubbers) reinterviewed 50 people from the two projects and a similar project on Peruvian migrants in Barcelona by Javier Ávila Molero 6-8 years after wave 1. In each wave, a personal network of 45 alters was elicited, and in the second and third wave, respondents were asked to identify which alters were already mentioned in former waves (after network elicitation), to track changes over time. Together, the projects showed the large variation in embedding patterns and processes as well as the importance of the life course in shaping these processes.

Project for Wave 1: 2004-2006: Acculturation and Personal Networks across Cultures. US National Science Foundation (BCS-0417429). PI: Christopher McCarty

Project for Wave 2: 2006-2007: Dynamics of Actors and Networks across Levels: Individuals, Groups, Organisations, and Social Settings. European Science Foundation (EJ2005-25683-E/SOCI). PI of Spanish project: J. L. Molina. PI of Overall consortium: T. A. B. Snijders

Project for Wave 3: 2012-2013 (data collection): Network Dynamics: Substantive Applications to Migration and Mobility in Europe. Ministry of Science and Innovation, Ramón y Cajal program (RYC-2010-06081). Project duration 2010-2015. PI: Miranda Lubbers