JoSS Book Review: Volume 5

Barry Wellman (ed.) Networks in the Global Village: Life in Contemporary Communities. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999, 377 pp., $75 cloth.

Review written by Karl van Meter, LASMAS-CNRS, Paris.

If you are interested in community research or social networks, you have probably heard of Barry Wellman or read something by him. Here, in the edited volume Networks in the Global Village: Life in Contemporary Communities, his objective is to bring the two together and I find he has done rather well. Of course, researchers tend to discount "edited volumes" as just collections of various conference presentations or published articles "sewn together" to make a book. But even a cursory look at the table of contents below makes it obvious that "editor" Wellman is also soundly implicated in this work as coauthor of four chapters, besides his editor's introductory chapter. This gives the work an integrity and continuity often lacking in edited volumes.

Moreover, given the subject matter and its diverse milieus--going from mainstream North American-Western European themes, via Eastern Europe and Asia, to Developing World problems--a homogeneous and coherent edited volume on communities and social networks is not a hands-down effort. Even with this disadvantage, there is a coherent format of presentation whether it's surviving as urban poor in Latin America or getting a job in China. All chapters but one (network capital in Eastern Europe) present empirical data based on a survey, even in the case of China. Each chapter clearly presents a theoretical problem that is examined on the basis of the data, and data analysis methods are presented in such a fashion that non-specialists can follow what's being done and make up their own minds concerning the author's interpretation of the results.

The diversity of topics, settings and available data makes it impossible to produce a work where each chapter would have the same format. There are more than just circumstantial differences in researching neighbor networks of Black and White Americans, on one hand, and personal community networks in Japan, on the other. Wellman looks into these differences in his introductory chapter where he not only presents and describes the contents of each chapter but also provides four common criteria for analyzing diverse communities:"immediate kinship/friendship" (as distinct from extended kin or friends);"contact" (the level of interaction in a personal community); "range" (the combination of network size and heterogeneity that jointly increases the ability of personal communities to provide access to a variety of resources and to other social milieus); "intimacy" (special mutual relationships with a voluntary investment). These four criteria, in the introduction, become range, availability, composition, and densely knit kin/sparsely knit friends in chapter 2 but appear as a more-or-less simple recoding of the same variables.

These are the four "tools" that apply throughout the work and are fundamental in building up a solid argument that "community" cannot be identified with "neighborhood" but instead with social networks. In constructing this argument based on empirical data and structural analysis, the authors, and Wellman in particular, thoroughly demolish more classic and non-empirically-based theories of community and their often-pessimistic views of modern society. Indeed, the same tools that serve to demolish classic conceptions of community and to construct a new theory of community, prove their worth by being able to analyze "cyber" communities and show that "computer networks are social networks," which has now become the well-known motto or battle cry of editor Wellman ... and the subject of his last chapter with Milena Gulia.

The book is well constructed with a Preface for readers in a hurry that clearly presents the book's thesis--communities are social networks, not neighborhoods--and the contents of each chapter. Most of the chapters begin with the discussion of a problem and the relevant theory associated with the problem, followed by the presentation of survey data concerning the problem, and finally the interpretation of the data and confrontation with the theory. When you realize that this includes emigrating from Hong Kong, finding support in post-Communist Eastern Europe, surviving in a Latin American slum, or finding a sexual partner in France, the full extent of the project and the strength of the analytical tools becomes evident.

I know personally that Wellman was behind several of the coauthors, encouraging them to adopt a homogeneous approach to their subject matter and, at the same time, was working hard to serve as an example. This comes out in his particular manner of attacking a research problem and clearly defining the concepts and terms involved to bring the problem down to an empirical level where data can be collected and analyzed. This is best exemplified in Wellman and Gulia's chapter 2 on the analysis of social support using the data of the 1968 East Yorkers (Toronto) survey of 845 adults. In short, the volume should be on the required reading list of community researchersand social networkers, and is a "good read" for any research sociologist.

BarryWellman (editor), Networks in the Global Village: Life in Contemporary Communities (1999, Westview Press, Boulder CO, notes and references by chapter, index, 377 pp., ISBN 0 8133 6821 9) includes an introduction,The Network Community: An Introduction, by Barry Wellman (48 pp.), and ten chapters: 

1.  The Elements of Personal Communities - Barry Wellman and Stephanie Potter (35pp.)

2.  The Network Basis of Social Support: A Network Is More Than the Sum of Its Ties - Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia

3.  Neighbor Networks of Black and White Americans - Barrett A. Lee and Karen E. Campbell

4.  Social Networks Among Urban Poor: Inequality and Integration in a Latin American City - Vicente Espinoza

5.  The Diversity of Personal Networks in France: Social Stratification and Relational Structures - Alexis Ferrand, Lise Mounier and Alain Degenne

6.  Network Capital in Capitalist, Communist and Postcommunist Countries - Endre Sik and Barry Wellman

7.  Getting a Job Through a Web of "Guanxi" in China - Yanjie Bian

8.  Personal Community Networks in Contemporary Japan - Shinsuke Otani

9.  Using Social Networks to Exit Hong Kong - Janet W. Salaff, Eric Fong and Wong Siu-lun

10. Net-Surfers Don't Ride Alone: Virtual Communities as Communities - Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia