Monthly Archives: June 2009

Social and Civic Mobilizing in Iran

Iranian Protests: Flickr photo by John McNab

Iranian Protests: Flickr photo by John McNab

I commend Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed today, “The Virtual Mosque”, where he wonders whether Facebook can play the same role for Iranian moderates that the mosque played for more extremist Iranians in mobilizing voters.

Social capital (or social connections) have always played a strong role in politics worldwide.  Experiments in the U.S. show that that face-to-face mobilization is far more effective than phone mobilization, and churches have always played a strong role in political mobilization (especially in black churches, as American Grace, the new book by Robert Putnam and David Campbell will show [among many other interesting findings]).

These facts, in addition to the fact that the Iranian police state has guns (as Friedman points out) and is trying hard, and perhaps effectively to block and filter the internet, make me more skeptical of whether Facebook or Twitter can be as effective a tool in mobilizing Iranian moderates as the F2F connections at the mosque.  But for sure these e-connections are way more useful than not being able to mobilize social networks.   [And mark this as another example of how what appeared to be trivial technologies can be used as pro-democratic forces in repressive countries.] If you’re curious for a live and compelling updating of situation in Iran, see Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Note: the U.S. State Department even asked Twitter to defer maintenance for fear that this might adversely impact the protests!

Moreover, various news pieces have pointed out that the Guardian Council, which previously had maintained their infallability now looks a lot more fallable (after Khamanei initially immediately certified the results and now claims that there should be at least a partial recount).  That’s a hard genie to put back in the bottle.    It’s reminiscent of a conversation with a mother-friend of mine.  When her kids misbehaved, she was constantly counting to five and telling her sons, “you better do it by the time I count to 5, or you’ll be subjected to the wrath of Mom.”  I asked her what happened if her sons didn’t do something by 5 and realized that the consequences weren’t as dangerous as they feared.  She smiled sheepishly and noted, “I’m hoping we don’t get to that point…”  If people believe that the Guardian Council has no clothes, Iranian politics could change dramatically.

See Thomas Friedman’s “The Virtual Mosque” (NYT, 6/17/09)

See also the very interesting “Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned” (NYT, 6/21/09, Noam Cohen)

High turnover of close friends

(Flickr photo by psoup216)

(Flickr photo by psoup216)

An interesting Dutch study by Gerald Mollenhorst found that just over half of close friends turn over every 7 years. And only 30% of friends were discussion partners and practical helpers some seven years later.

Whether this applies to American friends is up for grabs, although one aspect of the Dutch study clearly doesn’t transfer across the Ocean.  Mollenhorst found that the size of close friendship networks remained constant over the last 7 years despite the volatility in the composition of these networks.  In the U.S., the best careful study of close friends-see below-  found that close friendship networks have collapsed between 1985 and 2004, although there has been no careful work on this subject of trends since 2000.  [To be clear, in the U.S., unlike in the Netherlands, the study was not longitudinal;  in other words, researchers were not tracking the same individuals over these 16 years, but nevertheless average close friendship networks were collapsing over this period.]

Mollenhorst was also interested in how the social context (whether you met someone through school, work, neighborhood, etc.) affected friendships.  He found, surprisingly, that the social context did not affect how similar friends, partners and  acquaintances were to each other.  In this sense, it was a somewhat deterministic view of the importance of social context on our friendship networks.

The survey interviewed 1007 people ages 18-65 and then reinterviewed 604 of these individuals 7 years later.

The relevant U.S. study on the collapse of our close friendships is as follows:  Two prominent sociologists, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Miller McPherson, and former critics of Bowling Alone found confirming evidence of social isolation in the General Social Survey data. From 1985-2004, the percentage of Americans lacking anyone to discuss important matters with has nearly tripled. Almost half the U.S. population now has either no one or only one confidante with whom to discuss important matters. See June 23, 2006 stories in Boston Globe, Washington Post, and an essay in TIME magazine by Robert D. Putnam.

For article on the Mollenhorst Dutch study, see “Half of Your Friends Lost In Seven Years” (Science Daily)

Gerald Mollenhorst, Utrecht University page.

Umbrella Project: “Where Friends are Made: Context, Contact and Consequences (Beate Volker)

Diversity impedes redistribution

(Flickr photo by Maistora)

(Flickr photo by Maistora)

It has long been noted that in more diverse countries, it is harder to sustain wealth redistributive efforts, and public support for such programs wanes.  It has always been hard to disentangle culture from national wealth and diversity in understanding what causes this. 

A recent paper by HKS colleagues Erzo Luttmer and Monica Singhal (using European Social Survey data) gains traction on this issue by looking at immigrants to developed countries and finds that immigrants bring with them their attitudes about redistribution.  So immigrants, controlling for their wealth, education, etc., and their receiving country’s attitudes towards redistribution are more likely to support redistribution if they country that they come from supports redistribution. 

As the Economist summarized this:

Even after controlling for income, education and other relevant economic and social factors such as work history and age, views about redistribution in an immigrant’s home country are a strong predictor of his own opinions. Indeed, this measure of “cultural background” explains as much as income levels, and three-fifths as much as income and education combined. These results hold even for immigrants who moved 20 years before they were surveyed; they cannot be attributed to people not having had time to adjust their views.

 

And the results can not be explained by self-selection — which immigrants choose to migrate as these impacts would favor immigrants moving to countries that are more similar to the immigrants’ own views about redistribution.

Luttmer and Singhal found that these differences fade over time: the culture of immigrants has only about 2/3 of the effect on second generation immigrants as foreign-born immigrants.

The findings are consistent with some research done by John Helliwell about immigrants and their levels of social capital (social and civic engagement).
Helliwell describes the fact that trust levels are lower among Canadian immigrants than non-immigrants and that these differences persist even controlling for factors like education, income, time in community, etc. Tom Rice and Jan Feldman have noted the importance of immigrants’ home country trust in setting their trust levels when they emigrate. ["Civic Culture and Democracy From Europe to America" (1997).] Using this framework, Helliwell finds that these trust differentials disappear in Canada when one controls for average trust levels in the home country of the immigrants. Helliwell also asserts that contrary to the “footprint of imported trust” which lasts for many generations in the U.S., there is starting to be evidence in Canada that this it may disappear within one generation. Helliwell thus asks whether there are generalizable lessons about the win-win benefits to integrative governmental attitudes toward immigration in promoting better inter-racial attitudes and higher trust.

These findings are also broadly consistent with work done by Daniel Elazar on political culture in American states (in American Federalism: A View From the States), where he found, remarkably, that differences in “moral political culture”, especially in the upper midwest, were explained by broad migratory patterns of immigrants decades earlier from highly civic and trusting Scandinavian countries.

See “In the Blood: Attitudes towards redistribution have a strong cultural component” (Economist, June 4, 2009)

And Culture, Context, and the Taste for Redistribution by Erzo Luttmer and Monica Singhal, May 2009