A network science approach to social cohesion in European societies (PATCHWORK). ERC Advanced Grant 2020. October 2021- September 2026.

Principal Investigator: Miranda Lubbers.

As European societies are becoming increasingly unequal, diverse, and polarised, concerns about their cohesion are growing. In this light, it is surprising that social cohesion research has almost entirely ignored one of its core dimensions: relationships. Broad acquaintanceship networks, which connect each individual to hundreds of others through both intimate and superficial relationships, have long been assumed to bind societies together and provide a sense of community and solidarity. Nonetheless, they have hardly been studied empirically due to the technical complexity of the comprehensive study of society-wide networks.

This project will develop a ground-breaking, network-scientific approach to social cohesion. After designing a theoretical framework for the structural cohesion of societies, it develops a new methodology to study structural cohesion empirically, hybridising two strands of network research in an unprecedented way. The methodology will be implemented in a large-scale, cross-national European survey administered to representative samples of the populations. The survey estimates are used to simulate society-wide networks, to explore resulting macro-level structures. These macro-level structures are then used to specify agent-based models to study in more depth how broad acquaintanceship networks influence subjective manifestations of cohesion. For the first time, we will know how cohesive broad acquaintanceship networks are across categorical fault lines of citizenship, social class, religion, and political orientation for five societies, how real-life inter- and intragroup relationships cluster to form network constellations that expose individuals in unique ways to other social groups, and how these constellations shape subjective manifestations of cohesion such as tolerance, trust, and acceptance of diversity.


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