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Social Networks in a Sustainable Society

Research in Sociology: Five research lines, five themes

Research at the Department of Sociology in Groningen is well known for its focus on

Research findings and insights about societal questions often find their way back to society, e.g. in policy research. Read more about Sociology and society .

A research line comprises a number of related projects in which experts in the corresponding fields collaborate and meet regularly. In these lab meetings, research staff, postdocs, PhD students, or research master students discuss ongoing work, papers or research proposals in progress, but also literature of common interest.These themes link to topics of high societal interest and much of the research conducted in the research lines applies sociological knowledge to current societal problems.

Research activities of the department of Sociology are concentrated in five research lines:

  • Norms and Networks, Institutions;
    Understanding the classical sociological phenomena of social integration and segregation is key, in particular in culturally diverse societies, such as the Netherlands.
    In this research the conditions are studied under which cultural, demographic, and political differences can be overcome and collaboration and cooperation becomes possible.

  • Organizations, and Sustainable Cooperation
    Which institutional arrangements bring about and sustain cooperative relationships that create added value for individuals, organizations, and societies?
    In four interrelated research themes researchers attempt to answer that question.

  • Social development of young people
    In the lives of young people there are a lot of changes. "Young people are really looking for themselves. Who am I? What do I want? Where do I belong?"
    Childhood experiences can have a lasting influence. For example, children who are bullied early in life are more likely later on to suffer from depression.
    Therefore it is important according Veenstra to examine the social development of young people. His research focuses on positive outcomes, goals, friendships and romantic relationships, and negative outcomes, problem behaviour and bullying.

  • Healthy and happy ageing
    The ageing of the population is often being considered as a problem and as a cost for society. But it may actually be more important to examine how people can age in a healthy and happy way, and under which circumstances health and well-being can be maintained for as long as possible during the lifespan. The research group aims at contributing to this challenge with her research program on health and well-being over the lifespan.

  • Statistical methods for the analysis of social network data.
    Do high school students make their friends start smoking? Is a bully a central actor in the classroom? Is the ‘old boy network’ of chief executive officers just a myth, or can social network analysis help to prove its existence through interlocking directorates? ‘It is our job to develop statistical methods, models and software necessary for sociological research,’ The research group is a small group of researchers of statistical methods for social network analysis, statisticians and mathematicians.

  • Testimonial van Merlijn de Lange

    It is about solving social problems through the analysis of social networks.

    I came across this programme by accident. I went to an information session for prospective Master's students and was considering either a Research Master's or the Dutch-taught Crime and Security Master's programme. The presentation for Social Networks in a Sustainable Society was scheduled between those two, so I stayed and listened while I was waiting. It sounded so much more interesting than what I originally had in mind that I chose it.

    I'm very satisfied with my choice. I really enjoy the programme. The lecturers developed it from scratch, and it shows: they are incredibly enthusiastic. As we are a small group of students, there is plenty of opportunity for personal contact with our lecturers.

    We do less statistics than I had expected – our main focus is the theory of social network analysis. But that's very interesting as well. It's about solving societal problems by analysing social networks.

    For instance, one of the cases we studied was about HIV prevention in the homeless. A prevention method did exist, but it was expensive and didn't work very well. By examining the structure of homeless people's social networks and how these could be used to prevent HIV infection, the researchers were able to develop a much cheaper and more effective method.

    I'm currently doing a placement at the Court of Audit, which I'm thrilled with, because it gives me the opportunity to do research that really means something. The project I'm working on is about education for children with special needs. I'm investigating how schools work together with various organizations in order to provide this.

    This Master's programme could land you anywhere. My classmates have done placements at the Institute for Social Research in Friesland, with the police and at the Northern Netherlands Centre for Drug Rehabilitation. Social network analysis is a relatively new discipline and the demand for specialists in the field is high. That means this programme offers good career prospects. But most importantly, it's a really interesting programme to follow.


    – Merlijn de Lange
  • Testimonial van Student Aurora Krogh

    I am convinced that this Master's programme will help me make a difference in society.

    My name is Aurora Krogh. I'm Norwegian, and I am a Master's student in the Social Networks in a Sustainable Society track. I did my Bachelor's at the University of Oslo and came to Groningen two years ago as an exchange student in Sociology. Back then, I chose Groningen because the level of the subjects taught appealed to me and because Groningen as a city has so much to offer.

    During my stay here I found out about the Master’s track in Social Networks. I decided that I wasn’t done yet in Groningen! I was delighted to meet Professor Rafael Wittek, who explained the structure of the programme and convinced me of the relevance of the field.

    What I love about this Master’s track in Groningen is the unique focus on social networks. It does not exist anywhere else! The social network approach provides a method for analyzing and solving societal problems. We study problems from real life and apply our knowledge of social networks to create successful interventions. The social networks theory enables me to take into account the context people live in.

    In the course units, I can work on topics which interest me most, namely integration and cross-cultural communication. I have the opportunity to focus on these themes in the assignments and discussions in class. The choice of where to do my placement is also up to me, and the programme provides support for finding a suitable placement position. I hope to find a placement where I can work on integration issues, for example with an NGO such as Amnesty International or at a refugee centre. These would also be great places to work once I have graduated.

    Learning about integration is not something I do only in class. Being in an international environment has been very educational, too. The intercultural environment has made me more reflective. For example, as a Norwegian I am used to a careful and hinting communication style. Living here for a while, I encountered the Dutch directness. This was a bit shocking at first, but now I value it as a way of being honest and transparent.

    Future students should be aware that this is a challenging programme! But it is well worth the effort. I am convinced that this Master’s programme will help me make a difference in society.

    – Student Aurora Krogh
  • Testimonial van lecturer Francescia Giarini

    lecturer Francesca Giardini – Assistant professor in Sociology

    I started teaching at the UG a year and a half ago. Before that, I was working in Italy – my home country – at the CNR, the National Research Council of Italy, which is the largest public research institution in Italy. There were no teaching opportunities in Italy, and when I realized I really liked teaching I started looking for a new challenge in a different country. I came across the opportunity of working at the UG and went for it! Best choice ever!

    I am one of the lecturers in the Sociology English Master’s track ‘Social Networks in a Sustainable Society’. The main goal of this track is to teach students how to apply social network theories and methods to solving collective and societal problems. We make students look at social realities and problems by showing them how to put on ‘network glasses’. Networks are usually very important and they can be found all around us: we have networks of friends and colleagues, we are part of clubs, associations and communities. In this track we focus on the effects of these relationships, and students learn to evaluate when a relational approach is useful and how it can be used to provide individuals, groups and organizations with incentives for sustainable cooperation. However, in this track we are not only concerned with organization networks but also with personal networks and their effects on individuals’ wellbeing, job satisfaction or even healthy behaviour.

    This Master’s track fits within the broader range of sociology in multiple ways. First, as sociologists we are interested in explaining why some families, groups, communities or organizations are successful in creating and maintaining high levels of collaboration whereas others fail, and we believe that social networks can offer interesting explanations about this link between the individual (micro) and the societal (macro) levels. Social network theories and methods are contributing a lot to research and teaching in Sociology, offering insights into the way in which a specific set of relationships may affect individual behaviours, but also how these structures are the result of personal choices and actions. Second, this is a very theory-oriented Master’s and we build on several classical sociological theories, in combination with more network-specialized course units. Last but not least, this programme is very focused on the policy implications of network studies, offering a unique combination between policy and relational approaches.

    Future students can expect to be trained as general policymakers. This is quite special because in the Dutch-taught track, for instance, students have to choose between different trajectories from the start. In our track this is not necessary because students learn methods and theories which can be applied in all kinds of sectors, from criminality and antisocial behaviour to healthy ageing. Students will acquire a general understanding of how relationships can promote sustainable cooperation in a society, and they can choose a more specialized path for their internship and for their thesis.

    – lecturer Francescia Giarini
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