Diversity in personal networks, different types of influence and biographical bifurcations

Martin Santos

Contact: msantos@pucp.edu.pe

We live in a world where practices, relations and even institutions become more and more ephemeral, plural and interactive. This is particularly relevant for younger generations, as their paths into adulthood are marked by uncertainty, unexpected events and turning points. Against this backdrop, this mixed-method project seeks to understand how personal networks matter to understand the trajectories of entry into adulthood. In particular, from a “networks in practice” and longitudinal perspectives, this research examines how the diversity (type and quality) of ties within personal networks gives rise to different types of social influence which, in turn, may play a crucial role in times of biographical bifurcations, that is to say, important life transitions, but also crisis or critical times in life when young people have to make life-changing decisions and modify, sometimes radically, their logics of orientation and action. The main research questions this paper seeks to address are as follows: 1)Are different types of ties (family, friendship, peer, acquaintanceship, college-related, job-related) associated with divergent types of social influence (advice, information, among others) in times of biographical bifurcations (for instance, the transition to higher education)? How so? 2)Are different types of social influence affected by alters’ structural location within the network? 3)What is the role played by culture and norms regarding different types of social influence? Regarding the Peruvian data, The School, Neighborhood and Facebook Study collected its first wave of data in five Peruvian High Schools in 2011. Nearly all the 12th grade students completed a survey, which provided a virtual census of students in each school (N = 714 students). As part of the survey, the name generator technique was used to collect students’ personal networks. Approximately fifteen months later, in the year 2013, a subsample of twenty high school graduates and their parents was interviewed. The in-depth interviews asked for demographic characteristics of respondents, the educational and occupational background of parents, household structure, economic trajectory of the family, parental networks, history and quality of the parent-child relationship, child’s college enrollment, field of study and academic achievement, child’s friendship networks (face-to-face and through Facebook), expectations about the future, among others. One year later, in 2014, the subsample was interviewed again to investigate changes in the socioeconomic situation of the family, the parental networks, and the friendship networks and educational trajectory of the youth. Both, in the year 2013 and 2014, the name generator technique was used to collect personal networks. Preliminary findings suggest that the diversity (type and quality) of ties within personal networks gives rise to different types of social influence in times of biographical bifurcations. For instance, divergent, and sometimes contradictory opinions, advice, and pieces of information about what to study and where, lead to complex decision-making processes on the part of Peruvian students making the transition to higher education. Also, these different types of social influence are crucially affected both, by alters’ structural location within the network, and by culture (meanings and norms).

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