How do local contexts affect people’s social networks and feelings of belonging?

Contextualizing oppositional cultures: The variable significance of gender and ethnic minority status across schools

2022, with C. Kroneberg

Social Networks 70: 64-76

Fig03and04Different lines of research have argued that specific groups, such as boys or ethnic minorities, are more prone to develop an anti-school culture than others, leading to group differences in the social acceptance of high performers. Taking an ecological view, we ask to what extent the school context promotes or prevents the emergence of group-specific oppositional cultures. Theoretically, we argue that group-based oppositional cultures become more likely in schools with low socio-economic resources and in schools where socio-economic differences align with demographic attributes. We test our hypotheses based on data from a large-scale, four-wave network panel survey among more than 4000 students in Germany. Applying stochastic actor-oriented models for the coevolution of networks and behavior, we find that group-based oppositional cultures in which students like high performers less are very rare. However, in line with theoretical expectations, the less resourceful a school is, the more boys tend to evaluate high-performing peers less positively than girls do. Moreover, the more ethnic minority boys are socioeconomically disdvantaged in a school, the more they tend to evaluate high performers less positively than majority boys do.

When Ethnicity and Gender Align: Classroom Composition, Friendship Segregation, and Collective Identities in European Schools

2021, with C. Kroneberg and A. Wimmer

European Sociological Review 37(6): 918-934

Figure 1

Using survey data on school classes in four European countries, we study how the social relations and identities of adolescents develop depending on the degree to which ethnic and gender boundaries align with each other. Minority students will have mostly same-ethnic friends, we find, when classmates of different ethnic origins tend to be of the opposite sex as well. Within such local topographies of boundaries, minority students will also end up identifying less as members of the nation. In contrast, majority students are not affected by the alignment of ethnic and gender boundaries, and gender identities of both minorities and majorities are less malleable as well: Neither friendship segregation along gender divides nor the development of gender role attitudes depend on the degree to which gender and ethnic origin align. We argue that gender boundaries and feelings of national belonging among majority students are widely taken for granted and thus less sensitive to attribute alignment at the local level. The article builds a bridge between the literatures on ethnic segregation of friendship networks, adolescent ethnic identities, and gender role attitudes by integrating them into a structuralist framework that identifies the conditions under which the local configuration of boundaries affects social life.

More Than a Sorting Machine: Ethnic Boundary Making in a Stratified School System

2019, with C. Kroneberg (pdf)

American Journal of Sociology 125(2): 431-484

This article examines the structural conditions that shape ethnic boundary making in the school setting. While previous work has focused on the ethnic composition of student bodies, this study places schools in their institutional and local contexts. The authors argue that the formation of identities and networks varies across local areas depending on the extent of ethnic stratification across schools. Empirically, the authors turn to the case of Germany, where the role of schools as producers of categorical inequalities is particularly obvious. The analysis links large-scale survey data on adolescents’ identification and networks with administrative geocoded information on local stratification across secondary schools. The authors find that minority students in schools with identical ethnic compositions show different inclinations to identify as a majority group member and to form friendships with majority peers, depending on the local extent of ethnic stratification across schools. To place these findings in a cross-national perspective, the authors identify scope conditions of these mechanisms of boundary making and discuss their presence in other countries and school systems. The results support recent theories of immigrant incorporation and offer a more contextualized understanding of ethnic boundary making in schools.

Ethnic Diversity, Homophily, and Network Cohesion in European Classrooms

2015, with F. Kalter

Social Cohesion and Immigration in Europe and North America: 207-227

In the rapidly growing literature on the empirical effects of ethnic diversity different indicators of social cohesion have been applied. Various types of trust, civic engagement, and attitudes supportive of the welfare state are among the most frequently employed variables. More seldom, but appealingly straightforward, is an understanding of social cohesion in terms of the actual ties that might exist between the members of a community, i.e., in a stricter, network-analytical way. When, in accordance with the overarching aims of this book, in this chapter we consider the consequences of ethnic diversity, we shall highlight this narrower aspect of “network cohesion.”