Spatializing Social Networks

In this week’s article, Spatializing Social Networks, researchers looked at gang violence in a section of Los Angeles. To understand the context of the violence they looked at to spatialities of gangs, firstly there geographic position and secondly there position within a network of rivalries. It was important for the researchers to start with a Moran’s I test. This showed them that there was not a significant spatial autocorrelation of gang violence meaning that a purely spatial analysis would be unhelpful to understanding gang violence. This was a good clear rationale for moving their study beyond just location and including network analysis as well. Using GIS they mapped the positions of gang territory as well as overlaying the network of rivalries. In their analysis they found a first split divided geographically between north and south of the freeway, and then a second split within each region divided by a core of dense rivalry linkages creating violence and a more peaceful periphery.

This study was interesting and shows how, as discussed in class, GIS can be used to improve knowledge for law enforcement. In this specific case, nobody outside of the LA gangs would argue this knowledge is a bad thing. The data was collected by survey from willing law enforcement and gang informants/experts. However it presents an interesting question for scientists who are developing methods of simultaneously analyzing social networks and geographic space. What are the implications now that all that data that can be gleamed from Twitter or Facebook users? Could law enforcement be made more efficient by predicting spaces of rivalry, or could it be used as an authoritarian tool? In a Ukrainian or Syrian uprising scenario, to what extent could governments use these same techniques to quickly quell dissent?


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