What We Have Learned So Far Using Social Network Analysis

This blog will summarise what we have learned so far using social network analysis with the ReSULTS project.

This blog will summarise what we have learned so far using social network analysis with the ReSULTS project. We are nowhere near done but have decided to provide an update.

One thing that became clear is that there is a considerable amount of interconnectedness in Orkney. This was not a big surprise. In social network analysis, we call this interconnectedness clustering and clustering is one of the indicators of a small world network. Examples of this clustering include the ties formed by local people helping each other out and ties formed at school that tend to last.

One person suggested that one of the drivers for clustering was communitarianism. Communitarianism is a system of social organization based on small self-governing communities which emphasises the responsibility of the individual to the community and the social importance of the family unit. An example of this would be a couple of winters ago when the wet weather led to a shortage of feed for the animals. A large group of farmers got together to make a bulk purchase of straw to provide an affordable replacement.

In this way clustering enhances social cohesion. Other examples would be the role of the National Farmers Union and school friendships. However, one factor does not always enhance social cohesion is incomers. Incomers are non-natives moving into Orkney. The transition from incomer to community member can be determined by the number of winters lived through in Orkney or the ability of incomers to recognise they need to volunteer to get involved in the community. If the number of incomers who have not made this transition is large enough, the social cohesion of the community diminishes and the small world network is not as effective.

On the sustainability of livestock farming in Orkney, there are two detrimental factors people are concerned about, young people and EU grants. A large number of young people leave Orkney after they graduate from secondary school. Some do return to Orkney later but few take up farming. Interestingly, these young people do tend to maintain their school ties outside of Orkney. As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, there is increasing worry about how Orkney’s farms will financially sustain themselves without the grants from the EU.

One interesting little fact came from looking at the transport network and the triangle formed by the three islands in Orkney. These three islands have no more than 300 people between them but they have five ferries between them on weekdays, four on Saturdays and three on Sundays. Other islands with more people on them do not have this level of ferry service. Triangles are interesting in social network analysis because they suggest there is a group norm that keeps it together. We have had suggestions from historical ties to business ties to explain this. We do not know how this affects social cohesion and sustainability in Orkney.

Information sources for farmers in Orkney include BBC Radio Orkney, the Orcadian, the Scottish Farmer and the SAC.

We had a short survey linked to SAC’s farmer Facebook page. Unfortunately, the answers proved to be inconclusive. One thing we wanted to confirm was the result of a previous study that said there was social pressure to conform in Orkney. This would not be surprising where there is a good deal of clustering. But, the results were too inconclusive to confirm this.

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