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The cultural meaning of personal networks for the inner city elderly.

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Jay Sokolovsky

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While network analysis has come to be a regularly used methodological tool, especially in urban anthropology, the data produced are often of heuristic rather than empirical value. Most studies avoid measuring the total size of egocentric networks, neglect to distinguish between levels of multiplexity, and fail to consider temporal fluctuation. Failure to derive such data can lead to misinterpretation of simple participant observation and to making inappropriate linkages of network variables to other indices of behavior. In such a way the literature on the urban elderly, especially those residing in America's decaying inner cities, has portrayed this population as socially "isolated" and with personal networks of little significance. The current study provides conflicting data regarding the degree of isolation of the urban elderly as well as the cultural meaning of their social linkages. It is suggested that for an anthropologically based network analysis to be valuable in studying the problems of urban aged populations it should be able to produce both empirical comparative data and qualitative behavioral information on total personal networks. It is shown how network characteristics of (1) structural dispersion, (2) highly selective intimacy, and (3) variable activation of ties link this population to their urban environment in a culturally meaningful way.


Abstract only. Full-text article is available through licensed access provided by the publisher. Published in Urban Anthropology, 7(4), 323-339. Members of the USF System may access the full-text of the article through the authenticated link provided.




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