Small Worlds and Cultural Polarization

Andreas Flache*, Michael W. Macy

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Building on Granovetter's theory of the "strength of weak ties,'' research on "small-world'' networks suggests that bridges between clusters in a social network (long-range ties) promote cultural diffusion, homogeneity, and integration. We show that this macro-level implication of network structure depends on hidden micro-level assumptions. Using a computational model similar to earlier studies, we find that ties between clusters facilitate cultural convergence under the micro-level assumptions of assimilation and attraction to similar others. However, these assumptions also have negative counterparts-differentiation and xenophobia. We found that when these negative possibilities are no longer assumed away, the effect of long-range ties reverses: Even very small amounts of contact between highly clustered communities sharply increased polarization at the population level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-176
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Mathematical Sociology
Volume35
Issue number1-3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Keywords

  • agent-based models
  • cultural dynamics
  • micro-macro link
  • polarization
  • small-world networks
  • social influence
  • SOCIAL-INFLUENCE
  • COMPUTATIONAL MODEL
  • TEAM COHESION
  • NETWORKS
  • DYNAMICS
  • TIES
  • GEOGRAPHY

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