A social network consists of interactive patterns among individuals and groups that are created by transmitting and exchanging messages through time and space. A central feature of intergroup settings is that group members are embedded in multiple, previously established, as well as emerging, communication networks that vary in their structure, the nature of the relationships, and the diversity of the links. A network perspective extends and complements traditional social scientific approaches to intergroup communication. Rather than focusing on the attributes of individuals, a network perspective focuses on the causes and consequences of relations and connections between and among sets of people and groups. A network approach invigorates intergroup theory by focusing on the dynamic structures of connectedness, treating identity, social categorization, and representativeness as fluid rather than fixed factors within interactions. A basic principle of network theory is that behavior can best be understood socially; every social unit stands at the nexus of a multitude of constraining and enabling alignments. Structural network dynamics include, but are not limited to, density, diversity, clustering, equivalence, and centrality of the network. These structural configurations combined with the strength and multiplexity of specific network linkages strongly influence social identities, values, attitudes, experiences, and behavior. Using graph-theoretic models, network analysts are able to identify specific types of structures that are highly effective in predicting ingroup and intergroup attitudes and behaviors above and beyond individual-level characteristics. Structural dynamics can further amplify intergroup principles through exploring the degree to which ingroup boundaries are loosely or tightly connected and the types and nature of linkages and communication exchanges within and between groups. For example, network theory suggests that the greater ingroup overlap across social contexts, the more likely group members perceive higher status for that particular ingroup than for other social categories to which they belong. It is also more likely the boundary between groups will be linguistically marked. In organizations, intergroup conflict and the capacity for successful adaptation and intergroup cooperation are strongly related to the extent and the alignment of intergroup “weak” ties across traditional communication channels and online. Identifying network structures can help explain a large set of multilevel intergroup outcomes such as linguistic accommodation and stereotyping, group level conflict, organizational productivity and innovation, political attitudes, and community resilience.
Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller
There are more local news outlets operating around the world at any given moment than larger-scale metropolitan newsrooms, and yet it is the latter that have dominated journalism scholarship. As a specific area of inquiry, local journalism—often branded “community journalism” or “hyperlocal journalism”—is a relatively new but rapidly growing field of research in this period of digital disruption. Scholars argue that studying news at the local level can offer rich insights into the role and place of journalism more broadly and reveal much about why people engage with news. Local journalism has been highlighted for its distinct role in reinforcing notions of and building community and the importance of social and public connection among audiences. More recently, attention has shifted to business models sustaining local news given the turbulence facing traditional media and the rapid closure of long-serving local newspapers, especially in the United Kingdom. Scholars have also emphasized the importance of re-conceptualizing local news in a globalized and digital world, highlighting the continued relevance and importance of place to journalists and audiences. Sociology and political science have been the dominant lenses used to examine this sector; however, increasingly scholars are turning to cultural studies to understand the relationship between local news and audiences. Most recent research also indicates there is renewed optimism within the sector, especially among news providers who remain embedded and committed entirely to the local areas they serve.
Vincent Chua and Barry Wellman
“Networked individualism” represents the phenomenon that people are managers of their own personal networks. Networked individualism in an East (and Southeast) Asian context draws attention to the significant role of Asian social institutions and culture in the patterning of personal communities. When compared to Western situations—particularly American—East Asian personal communities are just as vibrant and supportive. They have woven seamlessly with digital media, extend both near and far, and are rich in social support. There are several differences that make East Asian societies unique, such as their strong focus on kinship, the salience of hierarchical social capital, the culture of mutual monitoring occurring through strong ties (e.g., guanxi), and the accelerated rise of digital media in everyday life.
When it comes to health and risk, “place” matters. People who live in lower-income neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by obesity and obesity-related diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes; asthma; cancers; mental health issues; etc., compared to those that live in higher-income communities. Contributing to these disparities are individual-level factors (e.g., education level, health literacy, healthcare access) and neighborhood-level factors such as the socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhood; crime, violence, and social disorder; the built environment; and the presence or absence of health-enhancing and health-compromising resources. Social determinants of health—for example, social support, social networks, and social capital—may improve or further complicate health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods. Social support is a type of transaction between two or more people intended to help the recipient in some fashion. For instance, a person can help provide someone who is grieving or dealing with a newly diagnosed health issue by providing emotional support. Informational support may be provided to someone trying to diagnose, manage, and/or treat a health problem. Instrumental support may come in the help of making meals for someone who is ill, running errands for them, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, those who may have chronic diseases and require a lot of support or who otherwise do not feel able to provide support may not seek it due to the expectation of reciprocity. Neighborhood features can enable or constrain people from developing social networks that can help provide social support when needed. There are different types of social networks: some can enhance health outcomes, while others may have a more limiting or even a detrimental effect on health. Social capital results in the creation of resources that may or may not improve health outcomes. Communication infrastructure theory offers an opportunity to create theoretically grounded health interventions that consider the social and neighborhood characteristics that influence health outcomes. The theory states that every neighborhood has a communication infrastructure that consists of a neighborhood storytelling network—which includes elements similar to the social determinants of health—embedded in a communication action context that enables or constrains neighborhood storytelling. People who are more engaged in their neighborhood storytelling networks are in a better position to reduce health disparities—for example, to fight to keep clinics open or to clean up environmental waste. The communication action context features are similar to the neighborhood characteristics that influence health outcomes. Communication infrastructure theory may be useful in interventions to address neighborhood health and risk.