Reading Review

In their article, “Structural Cohesion and Embeddedness: A Hierarchical Concept of Social Groups,” Moody and White aim at providing a clear and unambiguous definition of the widely used concept of social cohesion. The matter is that the latter lies in the core of various sociological researches and at the heart of the discipline in general, yet its interpretation is frequently vague and complicated concerning its operationalization, comprehension, and use. Developing a clear and comprehensive explanation of this concept will facilitate research not only on social cohesion but also on social embeddedness. The article under consideration develops such a definition based on the notion of network node connectivity and provides two empirical examples to prove the authors’ viewpoint. Thus, the work is highly useful as it gives an intelligible and comprehensible specification of structural cohesion and defines social embeddedness. Empirical applicability of the definitions is proved by discussing drastically different examples of settings, including school and business ones. Overall, the article significantly contributes to the field of sociology. It eliminates vagueness and ambiguity relating to the key concept of the discipline, namely social cohesion, thereby clarifying the notion of social embeddedness and explaining nestedness.

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The entry under consideration is structurally subdivided into several coherent sections which present different essential issues relating to the overall topic. Hence, the main chapters include Introduction, Background and Theory, Two Empirical Examples: High Schools and Interlocking Directorates, Theoretical Implications of Structural Cohesion, as well as Conclusion and Discussion with some of the sections being further subdivided into smaller parts (Moody and White 103–123). Such structural segmentation of the paper facilitates navigation and comprehension since each particular issue relating to the overall topic is discussed separately. However, together, the sections present an intelligent and well-written narrative of social cohesion and social embeddedness, which expands existing knowledge on the topic and contributes to the understanding of the key sociological concepts. Below is given a brief overview of each section of the article.

Introduction presents the topic to be discussed and justifies a necessity to study the issue of social cohesion despite the presence of various studies of this concept. In fact, Moody and White emphasize that this representation has been instrumental in the field of sociology for decades as evident from keen interest of Durkheim in the notion and its applicability to real-life networks. However, there is still no clear and unambiguous definition of social cohesion, which is frequently confused with solidarity. Nonetheless, various sociologists interested in different directions of studies use this concept in their works. They stress on significance of cohesion in real life; for instance, by specifying its importance for promotion of democracy (Moody and White 103). In fact, introduction of the article provides a brief yet comprehensive literature review of the field. The latter relates to the concept to be studied with a view to noting that there is an apparent gap in knowledge that needs to be addressed, thus justifying a necessity to conduct further researches. Moody and White (104) indicate that they rely their study on theories of Simmel and Durkheim as well as use insights from the classical graph theory. Based on these theoretical understandings, the authors “extend a definition of structural cohesion in its most general form, applicable to large-scale analyses in a variety of settings, and provide an algorithm for its use in empirical analyses.”

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The Introductory is followed by the section titled Background and Theory, which is subdivided into subsections such as Scope, Defining Structural Cohesion, Cohesive Blocking, Relation of Cohesion to Social Embeddedness, and Alternative Approaches to Structural Cohesion (Moody and White 104–113). In Scope, the authors explore the notion of solidarity as defined by Durkheim and move away from this wider issue. Instead, they focus on a narrower question of structural cohesion, which is a dimension of the wider concept of social solidarity’s relational component. Hence, they emphasize that most ambiguity relating to the concept of cohesion has been caused by differences in scales in previously conducted studies with most researchers studying small groups, thereby ignoring large-scale cohesion. Moody and White (105), in turn, intend to develop a definition of structural cohesion that would be applicable to groups of all sizes. Thus, it will contribute to existing literature both on large-scale social networks and small-group structures. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the way the studied groups relate to the population in general, which necessitates researching the concepts of nestedness and embeddedness in addition to cohesion.

The most significant part of the subsection, Defining Structural Cohesion, is the definition of the concept that present in stages, thus explaining the process of clarifying the initial draft interpretation. Hence, the researchers give a preliminary definition developed from previous theoretical works. However, the authors find it lacking and vague, which necessitates a lengthy discussion of its main shortcomings and addressing of these shortcomings. Based on the aforementioned theoretical insights and observations of social groups, Moody and White (109) suggest amending the initial definition as follows: “A group’s structural cohesion is equal to the minimum number of actors who, if removed from the group, would disconnect the group.” They complement it with the following note: “A group’s structural cohesion is equal to the minimum number of independent paths linking each pair of actors in the group” (Moody and White 109). These statements are followed by extensive discussion of their components and applicability to groups of different sizes.

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The other three subsections of this section consider essential elements relating to the definition and concept. Hence, Cohesive Blocking presents an algorithm developed by the authors to identify structurally cohesive groups through recursive process. Consequently, two types of subgroups may be observed, including groups that “calve away” from the rest of the population and the ones resembling Russian dolls, which means that they are nested within each other (Moody and White 109). The discussion of the algorithm is complemented with several figures that display the process of the algorithm application. Further, the Relation of Cohesion to Social Embeddedness subsection elaborates on the relation between the two concepts (Moody and White 111). This subsection refers to previous works of well-known sociologists who have studied embeddedness and claims that there is a direct link between cohesion and embeddedness. Thus, one of the most significant components of structural embeddedness in this respect is nesting, which denotes the depth of an actor’s involvement in a cohesive structure. The final subsection of this section discusses alternative approaches to the concept of structural cohesion as suggested by its title. The main issue raising therein is node connectivity and its relation to cohesion.

The following section, namely Two Empirical Examples: High Schools and Interlocking Directorates, is subdivided into subsections such as Structural Cohesion in Adolescent Friendship Networks, Nestedness and School Attachment, and Cohesion among Large American Businesses (Moody and White 114–119). They provide empirical examples aimed at proving relevance and validity of the developed and defined concept of social cohesion and the algorithm of cohesive blocking. In order to study cohesion in high schools, the authors use data on friendships among students obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Moody and White 114). Having applied the algorithm to the obtained data, the researchers come to a conclusion that students are attached to the school on the whole to varying extent. It means that “the school is differentially united, through structural cohesion” (Moody and White 116). Another drastically different setting explored by the authors is American business and the unification of large firms. Having obtained data from previous researchers, Moody and White apply their algorithm and conclude that most American firms are a part of strongly cohesive groups. Moreover, they reveal that multiple paths between different pairs of linked actors facilitate transfer of information between groups, which can assist with coordination of their activities, including the political one (Moody and White 119).

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In the section titled Theoretical Implications of Structural Cohesion, the authors discuss such aspects as Resource and Risk Flow, Community and Class Formation, as well as Power (Moody and White 119–121). Hence, based on the analysis of the empirical examples, it is evident that if some actors are removed from the network, social solidarity is still maintained through alternative links between other members. The aforementioned concepts and algorithm, therefore, have theoretical implications for broad sociological questions such as power, community and class formation, as well as resource and risk flow. Moody and White’s analysis of structural cohesion contributes to comprehension of these issues. Finally, the authors conclude that the discussed concepts are central in the field of sociology, which is the reason their new definition of structural cohesion is essential for the scope. Nonetheless, further researches are needed to understand social cohesion better and reveal how strength or type of relations inside networks affect cohesion of structures.

Withal, the article under consideration significantly expands knowledge about social cohesion and is highly useful in terms of providing a new clear definition of the concept. This interpretation assists with understanding the concept of social embeddedness and helps to develop an algorithm that can be used to study structural cohesion of groups of various sizes. The authors present an in-depth and insightful observation of the issues raised and suggest topics for further studies. Tables and figures facilitate comprehension of the information presented. In general, the article is definitely informative and useful and contributes to the field of sociology.

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