Living In/difference; or, How to Imagine Ambivalent Networks

Date created
2021-06-30
Authors/Contributors
Abstract
In a 1954 essay Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton coined the term homophily to describe similarity-based friendship. They based their findings on friendship patterns among neighbors in a biracial housing project in the United States, using a combined quantitative and qualitative, empirical and speculative analysis of social processes. Since then homophily has become a guiding principle for network science: it is simply presumed that similarity breeds connection. But the unpublished study by Merton, Patricia S. West, and Marie Jahoda, which grounds Lazarsfeld and Merton's analysis, and the Merton and Bureau of Applied Social Research's archive reveal a more complex picture. This article engages with the data traces in the archive to reimagine what enabled the residents of the studied housing project to live in difference, as neighbors. The reanimation of this archive reveals the often counterintuitive characteristic of our imagined networks: they are about removal, not addition. It also opens up new imagined possibilities for a digital future beyond the hatred of the different and online echo chambers.
Document
Scholarly level
Peer reviewed?
Yes
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