SOCIAL STRUCTURE IN A CHANGING WORLD:
Presentations in Honour of Barry Wellman
Monday, April 16, 2001
University College, Room 140
Anecdotes from Friends and Colleagues:
On Barry Wellman
We are in a new society, built around the interaction between social change and technological change. Yet, most researchers in social science seem indifferent to these changes, when they are not outright hostile to what they see as hype, fashion, or ideology. On the other hand, pop-sociologists are filling this obvious void by providing their subjective accounts and unfounded predictions of the trends reshaping people’s lives.
In between, a few social scientists are doing the hard work of bringing together theory and evidence on the basis of methodologically reliable, empirical research. In this sense, Barry Wellman is exemplary. The social dimension of the Internet, the fundamental communication medium of our age, has been misunderstood, and misconstrued. It is time for the world to take a hard, rigorous look at this new form of human interaction. Barry Wellman, and his legion of excellent collaborators, have, over the years, constructed what I would consider one of the few rigorous foundations for this intellectual enterprise. But he has been able to do it, because he built on his many years of studying social networks, and on a long familiarity with computers and technology, at the time many sociologists where busy deconstructing and reconstructing each other’s theories. Barry Wellman is, fundamentally a researcher, in the best tradition of social science, never surrendering to fashion, always skeptical to what his observations do not show, but always open to rethink, and reconsider, if the case is sufficiently warranted. If we start knowing something about the actual workings of the network society it is partly thanks to Wellman’s ongoing contribution.
I have sometimes disagreed in the past with Wellman’s interpretation of urban life, as he has with mine. But I never move a finger in an area of research where he has worked without checking what his findings and ideas are on the matter. And more often than not, my hypotheses are modified as a result of this reality check. Wellman’s work is the benchmark on what to measure the consistency of our narratives with the actual evolution of social interaction. His concept of networked individualism, for instance seems to be a major breakthrough in understanding the actuality of the confused world of virtual communities. In fact, it prolongs Putnam’s reflection on the transformation of sociability, while putting aside an excessively nostalgic view of the old world that is unlikely to come back. The real issue is not the disintegration of society as we knew it, but the emergence of new forms of sociability and civic participation, in a new technological environment, that we ought to be able to identify with the kind of research tools that Wellman has constructed.
In associating myself in thought with this most deserved homage to Barry Wellman, I do so on the basis of intellectual esteem, personal friendship, professional collegiality, and, most of all, with the conviction that his work is among those laying the ground for the sociology of the 21st century. This will be the kind of legacy to be taken up by the new generation of social scientist for whom Barry should be an intellectual role model.
~ Manuel Castells
Barry, Guanxi and Chinese food
About two months ago, Barry invited me to comment on his paper “Networking Guanxi”. (Guanxi is the Chinese word for social relationships, social capital and so on). He had just come back from Montreal that day and was quite tired.
However, when we sat in front of the computer and began to revise the paper, he got quite excited. His fingers flied on the keyboard, while he nodded his head and smiled. I already expected that he would sing an old song. OK, he didn’t. However, I was surprised to see that a man who so enjoyed and was absorbed by his work. After two hours back and forth, we finished that paper. Several days later, a Chinese sociologist, Bian Yanjie sent Barry an email, and I also got a copy of it. Prof Bian said he was “so happy to see a major network scholar, to engage in and to guide studies on Guanxi”. He invited Barry to serve as a discussant in the guanxi session of an international conference.
You know how Barry answered this invitation? “I am super-flattered and relieved. When I wrote the paper (last December mostly), I was terrified that old China hands would denounce me. Hence I carefully worded it to say that I don’t know much about guanxi, but I do know about network analysis, so I will bring my expertise to bear on my ignorance. Indeed, when I did a quickly revised version, using the suggestions of my students I said to them, ‘Now readers can’t say that only an ignorant foreigner wrote this: I can blame all of my mistakes on you!’ I am sincerely afraid that being a discussant will cruelly expose my ignorance about guanxi and China. One week in Taiwan, one in HK, one day in Guangdong, and 5,000 meals in Toronto restaurants do not make me an expert. Would you be satisfied if I agreed to attend and just comment from the audience?”
Later I talked with a fellow student, “Some people say that Barry is arrogant. Look, he is, indeed, very humble. He knows who he is.” My fellow student said, “Yeah, if I were him, I would like to accept the invitation. Why not?” Then the student asked, “Wait a minute. How long has Barry been in Toronto?” I answered, “Hmmm, about thirty years, I guess.” This student is an absolute quantitative guy, “and he said that he had had 5,000 meals in Toronto’s Chinese restaurants? Wooo, he must be a big fan of Chinese food!” I was confused, “I don’t know. Maybe.” My fellow student said, “5,000 meals for 30 years! That means that Barry must have gone to Chinese restaurants almost every day!”
[Actually, it is 34 years this coming July. Which is only about 150 Chinese meals/year. Or one every other day. This guy needs to study more.]
~ Wenhong Chen
Greetings to the Barryfest! I am sorry that research takes me away from Toronto on this auspicious occasion. Barry has been a forceful presence at the Department of Sociology and beyond since before I joined the faculty. He pioneered network analysis here, and made the Department and the University a central node in the aptly named International Network for Social Network Analysis. He got an early Connaught grant to support the organization and newsletter (was it the first for the Department?), and I was delighted to be on the original board.
I watched with admiration as Barry created networks as much as studying them — did he create them in order to study them? Soon INSNA merged into continental and international networks, fully institutionalized into annual conferences, journals, and of course the famous collection, now in its second edition, of Structural Analysis.
Barry inspired me, and when that failed, literally stood over my shoulder late into the night, to make sure that my contribution was done. He is a hard taskmaster, but it worked.
Since then his work on IT, peering into the future, and mine on agroecology, reconstructing prehistory, have diverged, so I have lost touch with the details. I am confident that the same insight, perseverance, and energy are moving that area forward.
Congratulations to Barry on his well-earned recognition in the Department, the CSAA, and beyond. And thanks to June Corman for her energy in putting network theory into practice to make it happen.
~ Warm regards, Harriet Friedmann
Who is Barry Wellman? This is one of those questions that needs detailed elaboration because Barry is one of the most multifaceted people that I have ever met. He is a researcher who is curious about social networks, communities, social support, virtual work, and health related issues (I am sure I can expand the list).
Not only is he interested in many different aspects of all these areas, he looks at them in a very unique way: what I call the right brain way. I know this because when we work together, I often do not see how things either are related or how they make sense! I think with my left brain. These are the moments when Barry jumps in and after thinking it through one more time provides me with some new insight into how a relates to b and why everything in the world is somehow related. This is when I become aware of what it means to be a “real” networker.
A real networker is thus defined on two levels. One level is the social: someone who has many ties (weak and strong, bonding, bridging and linking) to friends, relatives, and co-workers. And someone puts these ties into action for the flow of important resources. But more important is the second level: someone who sees the world through relations, these can be relations of any type! This relational way of thinking extends beyond the academic realm:
a) Barry knows many people;
b) Barry is interested in how these people are related to one another; and
c) Barry makes inferences about what these relationships mean.
I myself enjoy listening to stories about who did what and when and why? By which I always create an image in my head about who is who (which is not always accurate I must say).
You might think now that this approach is a bit biased towards a social network perspective of the world. As I do not have any empirical data to either support this concern or refute it, I am just going to say: Maybe the world is organized in social networks and Barry is just making sense of reality. But, please take into consideration that I have been working with Barry now for 2.5 years, I might be slowly biased myself!
~ Anabel Quan Haase
Congratulations on your award. I am so pleased for you because it is so well deserved. I have often thought that if you were in a US university, you would have received any number of awards that distance and national boundaries seemed to exclude you from. So this is a very happy event.
~ Maureen Hallinan, (former President of the American Sociological Assocation, Notre Dame)
Please accept my heartiest congratulations on the occasion of your Festschrift! This is certainly a most deserving honour. You have represented your discipline well and have made many splendid contributions which will be your legacy into posterity. You have also made a wonderful contribution to Canadian sociology, and I wish you many more productive years.
~ Harry H. Hiller (University of Calgary)
Remembering and honoring Barry
Barry Wellman aka boy wonder, is a connector pare excellence. Promoting positive vibes, he has linked people loosely and tightly throughout the globe. I have known Barry from 1970 and am always enthused to follow his ideas and
meanderings. He is a warm friend, who fights for what is right and just. I wish I could be in present to honor Barry, and to enjoy the festivities with him, Bev, and other carers.
Enjoy the day and evening from the other end of the globe, affectionately, Janet.
~ Janet Salaff
Four score and seven years ago. . . Oh, excuse me, it can’t have been that long. But long ago Barry Wellman showed up in Harvard Yard (the same week that I did), ready to take on the Sociological establishment, faculty and student, and he has worked, and networked, and schmoozed, and connected colleagues, faculty and student, ever since.
Barry had many of the characteristics of the World Wide Web before it was invented, wide-ranging, encyclopedic, detailed, with an operative Search function on an amazingly wide range of topics. He could be counted on to inform you of everything going on in any intellectual area you had ever expressed interest in, and juicy gossip on the people in that area to boot. He and Beverly know everyone, link everyone, and are the first people one turns to when there is a problem.
Over the years I have turned to Barry and Bev when a paper was rejected, when the plumbing sprung a leak, and when I needed a good murder mystery with a vicar in it. His skills are broad but he didn’t have a plumbing wrench when the need arose. He did, however, bring a good single malt Scotch, and a lot of sympathy with my woes while we waited for the plumber. A shared experience like that cements a friendship forever.
So best wishes to you, Barry, on this auspicious occasion (I’ve always wanted to say that but auspicious occasions don’t come that often). May you and Bev continue your productive and valuable contributions to the discipline, to the University, to the Department and to your many friends for many years to come.
~ Nancy Howell
What a wonderful occasion! The program itself demonstrate the making of community via non-geographic connections, though the Wellman circles seem to suggest the power of having once been in the same place at the same time. So my alleged “analysis” “proves” the importance of both face-to-face contact as well as Community Found through means of the Internet, thus establishing once again the fallacy of Community Lost.
~ Charles Kadushin (CUNY Graduate Center & Brandeis University)
Wish that I could be there on Monday for the Barryfest. I know that it will be a wonderful success and an enjoyable event. All the very best with it! I shall be thinking of you from the sunny west.
~ Warm regards, Susan McDaniel (President-Elect, Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association; U of Alberta)
Thanks for your kind invitation to attend the BarryFest in celebration of Barry’s significant contribution to sociology. Unfortunately, due to both my professional responsibilities (conducting research for the RCMP on organized crime) and my domestic responsibilities (keeping my children from acting like organized crime), it is not possible for me to attend. I will, however, ask for the Mountie’s to give him undercover protection during the story-telling part of the banquet (so you won’t know who they are among the guests).
While I do not have any embarrassing stories to relate, I am able to say how greatful I am to have had the honour of being Barry’s first PhD student. While we were both new at the roles of supervisor and PhD student, Barry’s brilliance as an outstanding scholar provided the light which guided me through the foreign territory of the East York Community Ties project as well as the mysteries of passing Comprehensive Exams and surviving other challenges designed – for our own good, of course – to make us far “better” sociologists. Barry was always patient as I learned the local customs, folkways and mores, including how to pronounce “social networks” correctly rather than saying “social nitworks,” as my Kiwi accent compelled me.
I always found Barry’s advice to be sound and have passed on much of it to my own students in criminology at Carleton University and University of Ottawa. But I will always treasure his most sage wisdom when, as a somewhat delinquent dissertation writer, he advised me to:
“Save the best parts for the footnotes”
“Always make sure there is an error in the tables so the external examiner will have something on which to comment”
“Save it for the Book”
… and, as a desperate resort…”Don’t think – Type!”
Please pass on my warmest regards to Barry, Beverly, their friends and colleagues, and my very best wishes for the BarryFest.
~ The other Barry, Barry Leighton
Please convey to Barry our regrets, but Joanne and I are unable to attend the Barryfest conference and celebration of Barry’s outstanding contribution to Canadian and international sociology. We have both long treasured Barry as scholar, colleague, friend and supporter and are sorry to be unable to make it to this festival. It promises to be a good party as well as a good academic event. Needless to say, he is well deserving of the honour bestowed upon him by the CSAA award and by the department.
~ Victor Marshall
When Professor Wellman accepted me as one of three students into the Mentorship Programme for high school students, the experience opened up a whole new world for me. I was from the ‘burbs of Durham Region, so to be exposed to U of T and people who pursued academia all their life was a wonderful opportunity.
Prof. Wellman was the first person who suggested that I consider universities beyond U of T and others in Southern Ontario. He mentioned American colleges, for example, which up to that point I had only read about in biographies about famous people! While I ended up at Western (and later Saint Mary’s for my Masters), I never forgot this lesson: there is a whole world outside your own environment. As I left to pursue various contracts abroad, I rarely worried that no one I knew had been where I was going, or had worked for the same organization. Prof. Wellman encouraged me at a time when I needed it most, and I am happy to report that I will join the Foreign Service this fall. Thanks Professor Wellman. You were my first prof and made a big impact!
~ June Shinagawa (Mentorship student 1989/90; Foreign Service appointee)
Things off the top of the head about Barry, most gleaned from the years in the chair:
- Barry is not only a devoted student of networks, he also Mr. Network Builder, especially among those who study networks. The po-mo people would call this reflexivity. He is the champ of network reflexivity. (Is he also symmetric and transitive, thus forming a Barry equivalence set? Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
- He has many, many devoted students. They are devoted because he takes time to be a real help to them and provides good advice, academic and professional.
- There was a time in the life of the department when there was a real need to push the department as a research machine. This need had a lot to do with enhancing the image of the department so we could keep claims to resources on the front burner. Barry’s string of peer-reviewed research grants (SSHRCC) was an enormous help in my ‘campaign’ to ensure that the dean and other officials understood that we were a serious research place.
- Finally, as a Presbyterian there is a question that has always been on my mind: Barry, What was a nice Jewish boy like you doing at a place like Lafayette College? My very best regards to all gathered to honor and celebrate the achievements of our colleague, Barry Wellman.
~ John Simpson (who unfortunately could not attend due to an OCGS meeting)
For Barry Wellman on his festive day –
At first, when he reached a chasm, he would simply flex his legs before leaping it at a single bound, then proceed jauntily on the other side. That left the next voyager no choices but to a) do the same, b) climb down a steep cliff before clambering up the other side, or c) abandon the journey. One day at a ravine he stopped to reflect, took out his sturdy bow, fitted it with a slim, straight arrow, tied on a strong wire, attached its end firmly to a tall, thick evergreen, shot his missile across open space, then leaped again to secure the other end around a twin to the first robust evergreen. In those days he gained fame as a daredevil high wire walker, transiting caverns step by step without a net, swaying perilously midway simply to thrill his viewers. (How about a moment of silence for those who tried to follow his example, but fell?) For timid spirits, he rigged a breeches buoy, cranking passengers through the void in his own horizontal approximation of a ski lift. Then began the great innovation: instead of a single strand, he threw across another, and another, before weaving warp and woof together in a web just as tough as any bridge across the Harlem. Using the same technique, he added well-braided side rails to prevent accidents, plus a protective roof, thus completing a reliable overpass. Of course he took tolls, but from his booth at the bridge’s beginning he also dispensed travel advisories, designs for building bridges elsewhere, wise counsel, and self-deprecating tales.
~ Chuck Tilly, New York, April 2001