mean girls, part deux

“There’s a literature on everything.” – Tyler Cowen

Yup, it turns out that not only is there is a network analysis literature on mean girls, but it has been published in the ASR. I quote from an article by Bob Faris and Diane Felmlee called “Status Struggles: Network Centrality and Gender Segregation in Same- and Cross-Gender Aggression:”

Literature on aggression often suggests that individual deficiencies, such as social incompetence, psychological difficulties, or troublesome home environments, are responsible for aggressive behavior. In this article, by contrast, we examine aggression from a social network perspective, arguing that social network centrality, our primary measure of peer status, increases the capacity for aggression and that competition to gain or maintain status motivates its use. We test these arguments using a unique longitudinal dataset that enables separate consideration of same- and cross-gender aggression. We find that aggression is generally not a maladjusted reaction typical of the socially marginal; instead, aggression is intrinsic to status and escalates with increases in peer status until the pinnacle of the social hierarchy is attained. Over time, individuals at the very bottom and those at the very top of a hierarchy become the least aggressive youth. We also find that aggression is influenced not so much by individual gender differences as by relationships with the other gender and patterns of gender segregation at school. When cross-gender interactions are plentiful, aggression is diminished. Yet these factors are also jointly implicated in peer status: in schools where cross-gender interactions are rare, cross-gender friendships create status distinctions that magnify the consequences of network centrality.

Highly recommended.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 18, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio, networks

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the plug–I’m a big fan of this blog! For those who are interested, look for our followup paper on victimization in the April issue of ASR.

    Bob Faris

    December 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

  2. Fabio: Thanks much for linking to this paper. I confess that I hadn’t read it when it came out, and am glad to have done so now. Very interesting.

    Bob: Three strands in other literatures that might be relevant for you:

    (a) Bruce Kapferer’s classic analysis of conflict in a Zambian zinc mine (see Kapferer, Bruce. 1969. “Norms and the Manipulation of Relationships in a Work Context.” Pp. 181-244 in J.C. Mitchell ed., Social Networks in Urban Settings. Manchester: University of Manchester Press. Happy to send you a pdf if you email me. The Kapferer piece is very related to the account in your ASR article. (I should know of work that has build on Kapferer, but offhand I somehow can’t think of any. I used to teach a module in a class based on a synopsis and analysis of Kapferer that Joel Podolny did. I should credit him for that.)

    (b) The literature on ‘middle-status conformity’ that Damon Phillips and I summarize in a 2001 AJS article. (Phillips, Turco, and I recently extended this framework in an article in AJS earlier this year). This lit has a related idea that those in the middle are most motivated to take action to assert their membership as an ‘insider’ to a desired category (I’m using loose language here to facilitate the theoretical link) because (or insofar as) they are on the boundary between membership and nonmembership.

    (c) One last literature note is that Gusfield’s classic analysis of “status politics” (developed in the context of the Temperance movement) is also broadly consistent in that it also suggests how battles over values enshrined in law reflect contestation at the *top* of the status hierarchy, with old elites feeling threatened by (the values associated with) rising groups.


    December 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm

  3. Ezra, thanks so much for noting those connections–my interests are not limited to adolescence and I’m eager to find parallels in other contexts. Indeed, I tend to think that much, if not most, of what we think of as adolescent behavior is in fact generated by the contexts in which they find themselves. I suspect free-range adults would act similarly if confined without formal roles vis-a-vis one another (and reality TV provides some colorful illustrations of this). I’ll follow up for that .pdf. Thanks again.

    Bob Faris

    January 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm

  4. Sure thing, Bob. I love the expression “free range adults”! -)


    January 6, 2014 at 3:12 am

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