The Role of Space in the Formation of Social Ties

Mario L. Small & Laura Adler

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Small, M. L. & Adler, L. (1). The Role of Space in the Formation of Social Ties. Annual Review of Sociology, 45(1), 111–132.

network analysis , propinquity , social ties , space , spatial analysis

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the relation between networks and spatial context. This review examines critically a selection of the literature on how physical space affects the formation of social ties. Different aspects of this question have been a feature in network analysis, neighborhood research, geography, organizational science, architecture and design, and urban planning. Focusing primarily on work at the meso- and microlevels of analysis, we pay special attention to studies examining spatial processes in neighborhood and organizational contexts. We argue that spatial context plays a role in the formation of social ties through at least three mechanisms, spatial propinquity, spatial composition, and spatial configuration; that fully capturing the role of spatial context will require multiple disciplinary perspectives and both qualitative and quantitative research; and that both methodological and conceptual questions central to the role of space in networks remain to be answered. We conclude by identifying major challenges in this work and proposing areas for future research.

Main finding
Spatial context forms social ties through spatial propinquity, spatial composition, and spatial configuration, affecting both opportunities for interaction and the frequency and character of those interactions. Empirically, the importance of propinquity, or physical proximity, has been revealed in a large body of research. The literature studied finds that spatial composition, i.e., the presence of social and public spaces, and spatial configuration, i.e., the connective network of streets, blocks, or hallways, both play central roles in forming social ties. The authors focus their review on the neighborhood and organizational levels. Important challenges remain in the research, including incomplete evidence, establishing causality, and unsolved conceptual issues.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted an interdisciplinary review of predominant literature on networks and spatial context.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Theoretical (Delete me)
Physical types
Geographic locations