Spatializing Social Networks (Radil et al., 2009)

Radil et al. (2009) analyze the social networks and social geographies of gangs in Hollenbeck and look at patterns of rivalry, territoriality, and violence. This paper fundamentally argues that a richer understanding emerges when social networks are analyzed geographically. This analysis combines social and geographic spatialities to reveal how gang violence is created by patterns of gang rivalry (a social network) and territoriality (a spatial network). Furthermore, the authors use this hybrid social/spatial analysis to comment on the social productions of space. While I haven’t read much of the literature in this field, the combination of social network analysis and geographic analysis seems quite original and appears to unite two fields which share many similarities but don’t typically interact.

In reading this article, I struggled with the many different ways that the concept of ‘space’ was being mobilized. In their efforts to ‘spatialize a social network’, the authors engage with both geographic space in Hollenbeck, and relational space within social networks between gangs. As a geographer, I am comfortable following along with analyses of absolute space, such as the Moran’s I to indicate spatial clustering of gang-related violence in Hollenbeck. Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with social network analysis, I was less comfortable following along with the authors’ discussion of the relative space present in social networks. The concepts of structural and relational embeddedness were useful to help me understand how an actor’s position in a social network and closeness to other actors could be spatially analyzed. After reading this paper, it now seems intuitive that social networks (and gangs particularly) are inherently spatial.

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