The Networked World


How do the networks you belong to alter your behaviour and identity? What connections do the elderly still have with society? Why are social networks and new media so popular? Communication and organization scientists, anthropologists and sociologists do research to answer these questions.

Personal networks of the elderly

Many people become widow or widower or have health problems later in life. VU sociologists at the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam investigate the importance of social networks in this period of life. It appears to be very important to invest in personal relations earlier in life, because the network can act as the main source of support and care in difficult times. For instance, children and friends look after an elder after the loss of a partner for a while to offer support, this shortens the time the elder is lonely. The network of relationships can also develop as a network of care as the elder has long-term health problems. The partner, adult children, friends and neighbours take care of the elderly together. How personal networks develop in later life and whether the elderly actually get the support they need, at the time they need it, are subjects of research at the Department of Sociology at VU University, within the research programme: Participation in Society.

Hindus in the Indian Diaspora

In both Suriname and the Netherlands live people of Indian origin: the Hindustani. They are the descendants of British-Indian contract workers who travelled from the North of India to Surinam in the period 1873-1916 to work on plantations. Research by anthropologist Ellen Bal shows that the importance of India for the Hindustani communities in Suriname and the Netherlands is far from unambiguous. For young Dutch Hindustani who want to distinguish themselves from other Dutch citizens, the successful "shining India" is an attractive reference point. At the same time they have mixed feelings about the country, because India presents itself as the primal native country, often assigning itself an (un)intended  superior position by claiming authenticity.
The research about the identity of Dutch Hindustani is part of the research programme of Social and Cultural Anthropology: Constructing human security in a globalising world.

Group norms determine behaviour

How people think about and act in an organization, can best be investigated by also studying the informal networks of employees instead of solely the formal organizational structures, such as an organizational department. That is the premise of research that is being conducted within the research programme of the Department of Organization Science: Organizations and Processes of Organizing in Society. Researcher Dick de Gilder says in the interview 'Self-interest is not an issue': "People act much less from an autonomous free will and personality than from the standards of the groups they belong to." Even at work.

Cooperation between parliaments in Europe

In the traditional thinking about democracy, the parliament embodies the sovereignty of the people, but in international political organizations more than one parliament is involved. Even if there is an international parliament, such as the European Parliament in the European Union, it still serves more in addition to the supervision of national parliaments then that it replaces them completely. Within the European project Reconstituting Democracy (RECON) Ben Crum and Eric Miklin examine the hypothesis that parliaments in EU decision-making processes do not act in a strict hierarchical order nor as a totally flexible network. Instead, he and John Erik Fossum (Oslo University) propose that EU parliaments should be regarded as a multilayer parliamentary “field” in which all parties are involved in one and the same decision but hold different roles and different power positions. This perspective leads to new questions. How can parliaments use each other's expertise? Why do some parliaments or political parties have more influence in the field than others? This research is part of the research programme of Political Science: Multi-layered governance in Europe and beyond.

The attraction of support via the Internet

The anonymity, the fact that you need to type instead of talk and the ability to expand your network are three features of health forums that attract the forum users. Martin Tanis discovered in his research that people who suffer from a stigmatized disease especially appreciate the anonymity, while people who are less mobile are more committed to an expansion of their network. The research is part of the research programme of Communication Studies: Communication Choices, Content and Consequences: new media, new methods.