Barry Wellman - Community Sociology

Community Sociology

Wellman has been a faculty member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto since 1967. Until 1990, he focused on community sociology and social network analysis. During his first three years in Toronto, he also held a joint appointment with the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry where he working with D.B. Coates, M.D., co-directing the "Yorklea Study" in the Toronto borough of East York. This first East York study, with data collected in 1968, attempted to do a field study of a large population, linking interpersonal relations with psychiatric symptoms. This early study of "social support" documented the prevalence of non-local friendship and kinship ties, demonstrating that community is no longer confined to neighborhood and studying non-local communities as social networks. Wellman's "The Community Question" paper, reporting on this study, has been selected as one of the seven most important articles in English-Canadian sociology.

A second East York study, conducted in 1978-1979 at the University of Toronto's Centre for Urban and Community Studies, used in-depth interviews with 33 East Yorkers (originally surveyed in the first study) to learn more information about their social networks. It provided evidence about which kinds of ties and networks supply which types of social support. It showed, for example, that sisters provide siblings with much emotional support, while parents provide financial aid. The support comes more from the characteristics of the ties than from the networks in which they are embedded. This research also demonstrated that wives maintain social networks for their husbands as well as for themselves.

Although Wellman's work has shifted primarily to studies of the Internet (see section below), he has continued collaborative analyses of the first and second East York studies, showing that reciprocity (like social support) is much more of a tie phenomenon than a social network phenomenon and that the frequency and supportiveness of interpersonal contact before the Internet was non-linearly associated with residential (and workplace) distance.

Wellman has edited Networks in the Global Village (1999), a book of original articles about personal networks around the world. In 2007, he edited a special issue, "The Network is Personal" of the journal, Social Networks (vol. 29, no. 3, July), containing analyses from Canada, France, Germany and Iran.

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