Personal networks evolutions along coupling and uncoupling processes

Claire Bidart


The dynamics of personal networks reflect and accompany the transitions in the life course. Conjugal transitions have strong impacts on the composition and structure of personal networks. Specifically, settling in as a couple makes the size of the network decrease in a process of « dyadic withdrawal ». But which relationships are then abandoned, and why? Which of the remaining ones are connected to the partner, which ones are not? Conversely, when a conjugal break-up occurred, does the network "reopen" to new ties? What are the differences between lost/new ties when coupling and lost/new ties when uncoupling? Is the turn-over comparable in those two cases ? When breaking up, do people loose the same network members they had gained while coupling ? The structure of the personal network is also deeply transformed : coupling generally increases its centralization on the partner who makes the intermediary, with Ego, between its various components. Conversely, a conjugal breakup makes the network become less dense and more dissociated in several components. But does the network recover the shape it had before coupling, or is it different ? Does the structure change with the same alters, or with new ones ? How is turn-over combined with changes in structure ? The comparison between these two events may be enlightening. Does breaking up produce effects that are the reversal from coupling, does the separation "undo" what the couple installation had done to the network, or not? Such an analysis is made possible on the empirical basis of a qualitative longitudinal panel survey of a population of 87 young people, some of whom were followed over 20 years. The procedure for each survey wave combines the collection of biographical data and narratives of the respondents, the collection of their personal network by a procedure of name generators based on contexts, and the measure of the interconnections between their members from the respondent's point of view. The replication of surveys over time makes it possible to identify biographical transition sequences and to compare the personal networks of the same person before and after these transitions. The survey design allows qualitative and quantitative analysis. Thus it is possible to consider the way people talk about these processes and the explanations they give about these transformations. The very way people socialize, how they make specific arrangements in their new couple life, or in their new single life after breaking up, can help better understanding the formation and dissolution of couples and the diversity of conceptions of conjugal life that are involved in these transitions. The aim is to advance a little further in the understanding of the challenges that these transitions represent for personal networks… and for persons themselves.

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