Contemporary Social Media Implications of Embeddedness (spatial social networks)

In his article “Spatializing Social Networks: Using Social Network Analysis to Investigate Geographies of Gang Rivalry, Territoriality, and Violence in Los Angeles”, Steven Radil uses the idea of embeddedness—or the idea that there are “structural constraint[s] on social action” (Radil 309)—to describe the occurrence of gang-related violence in the Hollenbeck Policing Area of Los Angeles. Although urban geographers have long been attentive to natural barriers (e.g.: rivers, topological features, etc.) and physical barriers (e.g.: highways, major bridges, etc.) as major features that can affect socio-economic phenomena of a city, the theory of embeddedness draws attention to other less visible structures that affect human and institutional behaviour. In describing the relative isolation of the gangs in Hollenbeck from the rest of the city, Radil explains that the areas surrounding the Hollenbeck are “served by different public school districts” which greatly “restricts across-place social interactions” between youth in Hollenbeck and areas adjacent to it. In other words, the social networks arising from contact in schools forms a sort of wall around the neighbourhood, in the same way that natural features such as the Los Angeles River isolate the neighborhood. Combined with natural and physical barriers, the fact that youth in Hollenbeck are socialized with other youth in the same school system, and not with those of other areas “restricts” their behaviour insofar as they will not attempt to recruit youth outside of Hollenbeck as the simply don’t come into contact with them. Resultingly, there are “no are spatially proximate gangs” (312) to the Hollenbeck area.

Embeddedness—which Radil credits to the work of sociologist Mark Granovetter in the 1980s—may have first been discussed three decades ago, but the potential applications for predicting institutional behaviour may never have been greater. Notwithstanding concerns regarding legality and ethics, social media and mobile phone communication records may hold great potential in predicting the behaviour of criminal institutions, such as gangs. Today, much research into online social media interaction has revealed some of the restraints on social behaviour inherent to a person’s embeddedness. For instance, Facebook researchers found that the rate of virtual interaction between two people in a declared relationship held statistically significant correlations with the probability of the couple’s likelihood to break up. In a similar fashion, the interactions between members of the same or rival gangs might be used to predict turf war or intra-gang conflict. As the gangs of LA and many other cities have a “strong attachment to turf, or the territory under the direct control of a gang” (312), online interaction between two rival gangs or simple triangulation mapping the gang’s movement through the city might be used to predict likely coalitions, turf war, or fractions and, therefore, justify heightened enforcement or police department visibility in those areas.


Comments are closed.