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

Over the past three decades, social network researchers have studied communities as loosely bounded, far-flung networks – social rather than spatial phenomena – which provide their members a range of specialized services and support. Networks in the Global Village extends this line of inquiry by bringing together analyses of communities from around the world which consider the implications of community networks for the societies in which they are embedded.

Wellman introduces this global tour with a historically-informed overview of sociological thinking about communities as networks. The tour itself begins in the “personal communities” of Toronto’s East York district studied by Wellman and his associates in the late 1960s and 1970s. Wellman and Potter derive factors that suggest fundamental elements or building blocks of community, such as frequency of contact and intimacy and draw theoretical links with Parson’s AGIL formulation. Wellman and Gulia then build on this analysis by studying how characteristics of community networks affect the kinds of support they provide.

Still within North America, Lee and Campbell find that African-American neighborhoods in Nashville are marked by more intense, spatially focused social relations than are white neighborhoods, a finding which runs counter to the thesis that a range of disadvantageous social forces have undermined cohesion among African-Americans.

In a study of the urban poor in Santiago, Chile, Espinoza reveals a world of territorially bounded, survival-oriented networks whose basic units are nuclear families strongly related to each other. The social isolation of such communities is a response to economic conditions wrought by the authoritarian Pinochet regime, with profound implications for social mobility and participation in decision-making.

Ferrand, Mounier and Degenne next examine the principles by which systems of ties in French society are interrelated or “articulated”. They show that these structural principles are dynamic, shifting over the life course, and they explore how ties of various kinds are mapped within and among socio-occupational categories according to the principle of homophilia (similarity).

Two chapters focus on the effects on community network processes of shifts from communism to capitalism. Drawing on case studies from Eastern Europe, Sik and Wellman argue that network capital - people’s connections with others and with organizations - was a crucial resource amidst both the structural pressures and opportunities of communism and the uncertainties and disorganization of postcommunism. Similarly, before the changes toward marketization in China in the early 1990's, strong ties, or quanxi, permeated both direct and indirect contacts between job seekers and those who controlled jobs. Bian notes that while governnment job control has changed dramatically in recent years, the web of quanxi continues to be important.

Otani continues the Far Eastern leg of the global tour in a comparative analysis of personal communities in Japan, the U.S., and Canada. Despite notable differences that reflect the continuation of traditional forms of personal networks in Japan, many of the characteristics of personal networks observed by Western sociologists also exist in contemporary Japanese society.

The book’s final two chapters examine personal communities whose strands span the globe. In a study of Hong Kong residents, Salaff, Fong and Siu-lun find that social class position influences whether the presence of relatives or friends awaiting a potential emigrant in a new country is more important in decisions to move abroad. Finally, Wellman and Gulia marshall available systematic and anecdotal evidence in support of their argument that virtual, “online” communities resemble in-person communities in many respects, and often help to sustain offline relationships.

Networks in the Global Village is partly successful in meeting its goals. In an era of globalization, the book is a welcome addition to a literature which until now has been preoccupied with community networks in North America. The first half of the basic “community question” -- how the structure of large-scale social systems affects interpersonal networks -- is addressed systematically in virtually every chapter. By itself, this represents an outstanding contribution to modern structural analysis. Answers to the second half of the question – how networks affect the social systems in which they are embedded – are less evident (notable exceptions include Espinoza on networks and citizenship and Ferrand et al. on network integration and decoupling of socioeconomic strata).

A global village offers many opportunities for comparative analysis across social systems. These opportunities are realized by contributors who present cross-national data about community networks (e.g., Otani on personal communities in Japan, Canada, and the U.S.), as well as by others who set their results in a cross-national perspective. Certain comparative claims are either not supported by comparative data (e.g., Sik and Wellman on the extent of network capital under communism and capitalism) or are based on very limited evidence (e.g. Bian on quanxi relations in pre- and post-marketization China).

Wellman is an appealing guide for this global tour. His own contributions (preface, introduction, and four co-authored chapters) are lively and full of droll humour.The other chapters are similarly inviting; the chapters by Espinoza and Wellman and Gulia prompted lively discussions among the advanced undergraduate students in my social networks course. Pre-tour summaries in the preface help to orient readers to the coming attractions, and provide useful comparisons among chapters. Like any tour guide, Wellman sometimes repeats himself (e.g., p. 27 and p. 11). At certain points when the tour becomes more abstract (e.g., Ferrand et al. on “articulation”) or seems to take a side road (e.g., are Sik and Wellman’s networks among managers of firms “personal community”?), tourists may wish that their guide had waved his flag and blown his whistle more often. A concluding reflection on the two halves of “the community question” in light of the preceeding ten chapters would have been helpful. Despite these problems, the quality of the analyses and of the exposition in this book are very high.

To sum up: Networks in the Global Village represents an important contribution to a basic issue that is as old as the discipline of sociology -- the nature of community and its transformation in association with large-scale social changes.

David Gartrell
Department. of Sociology
University of Victoria

July 1999
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