Saturday, March 26, 2005

Homophily Bias

Among the many intriguing ideas offered by Ronald Burt in the chapter draft of "Social Capital of Structural Holes," (PDF) from Brokerage and Closure, homophily bias--or the echo chamber effect--returned me to some questions I was thinking about at CCCC in San Francisco last week.  We're reading Burt's chapter for CCR711 this week, taking it up alongside a chapter on postmodern mapping as research methodology from Porter and Sullivan's Opening Spaces.  Earlier this semester, we read about homophily parameters in Duncan Watts' Six Degrees; commonly framed as echo chambers, the concept circulates in correspondence to like-mindedness, absolution of dissent, or the kind of diminished, unproductive parroting bound to stagnate--an abundance of closed-group gestures.  Homophily bias, then, is the orientation of a particular network structure toward such a closed-ness. 

And so I find the connection to CCCC in the structuring of Special Interest Groups or SIGs--the interest-defined clusters that form around a particular issue, cause, political imperative or specialization.  SIGs meet each year, and, of course, they make possible a forum for collegiality, perhaps even solidarity, organizational focus and expert niche.  Variously, they serve social, political and professional needs; as defined structures (form-alized with the petition to be listed in the program), they give us one way to imagine the field--embodied in the annual flagship conference--as a clustered topology.  Fair to say?

If we apply Burt's analysis to these clusters, however, we might begin--productively--to find vocabulary for understanding the rules, roles and power dynamics enforced in a particular SIG.  The groups have membership rosters, but what would happen if we started to differentiate the members as connectors (people who have multiple ties across special interest groups) and brokers (people who, because of their multiple ties, are able to pitch the group's interest to other, perhaps larger, bodies in the organization)?  Should the SIG accumulate too high a homophily bias, it would stand to disconnect from the more active channels in the organization.  Through particularly well-connected agents--active connector-brokers capable of bridging structural holes in the organization's topology--might the SIG sustain itself beyond a kind of isolation and connect meaningfully with the organization at-large, provided, of course, that such broader persuasions are mutually valued to the SIG's members.  For what it's worth, I'm not thinking about any particular SIG; instead I'm trying to reconcile Burt's terms with network formations related to CCCC.  Furthermore, I'm interested in exploring what it might mean to convene a heterophily-biased interest group--maybe something that would have different interest groups co-mingle for fruitful partnerships and cooperatives.

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 26, 2005 8:53 PM to Networks