The importance of timing and structure: modelling effects of interpersonal contacts on social cohesion in diverse groups
01 / 2005 - 01 / 2009
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
The way policy-makers and social scientists think about social cohesion is strongly influenced by the contact hypothesis: contacts between culturally different people improve their interpersonal relationships and thus foster social cohesion. A prominent example is the policy to assign schoolchildren from so-called ?black-neighborhoods? to mixed schools. However, empirical tests of the contact hypothesis in various realms show a complex picture. Various research lines study under which conditions contacts may foster cohesion. We aim to innovate this research through a systematic integration of three hitherto unrelated fields. Due to this integration we can identify previously unrecognized conditions under which contacts may foster cohesion in different empirical realms. In particular, we suggest that cohesion may be a matter of timing and network structure of contacts, conditions that can be utilized for policy design. We draw on formal computational models of social differentiation to generate precise predictions about the conditions and dynamics of social cohesion. Our innovations in this research line will be a systematic combination of positive and negative effects of social contact (assimilation and rejection) and an empirical test of underlying micro-level assumptions. We employ for the empirical test recently developed statistical techniques and datasets from studies of intercultural friendship networks. We aim to advance these studies by feeding their results about micro-level processes back into our formal analysis of the structural determinants of social cohesion. Finally, we incorporate a condition for group cohesion that was suggested by recent research on subgroup formation in work teams but has been overlooked by the other lines of study: so-called ?faultlines? caused by clustering of members? demographic attributes. Our new theory will first be tested in controlled group discussion experiments. Subsequently, field tests will be conducted on intercultural friendship networks in schools and on culturally diverse work groups.