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BOOK LAUNCH and RECEPTION: ‘Someone to Talk to’ – ‘Loneliness, social isolation and public policy’.

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Tuesday 6th November 2018 | 5.30pm | Seminar Room 4, Judge Business School, Simon Sainsbury Centre

Professor Mario Luis Small (Harvard University, Department of Sociology)

Chair: Professor Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Scientist with the World Bank’s Development Research Group, and a (part-time) Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government

Mario L. Small, Ph.D., Grafstein Family Professor at Harvard University, is the author of award-winning books and articles on networks, poverty, organizations, culture, methods, neighborhoods, institutions, and other topics. He is currently using large-scale administrative data to understand isolation in cities, studying how people use their networks to meet their needs, and exploring the epistemological foundations of qualitative research. His latest book is Someone To Talk To (Oxford). A study of how people decide whom to approach when seeking support, the book is an inquiry into human nature, a critique of network analysis, and a discourse on the role of qualitative research in the big-data era.

omeone to Talk to: Overview

When people are facing difficulties, they often feel the need for a confidant-a person to vent to or a sympathetic ear with whom to talk things through. How do they decide on whom to rely? In theory, the answer seems obvious: if the matter is personal, they will turn to a spouse, a family member, or someone close. In practice, what people actually do often belies these expectations. In Someone To Talk To, Mario L. Small follows a group of graduate students as they cope with stress, overwork, self-doubt, failure, relationships, children, health care, and poverty. He unravels how they decide whom to turn to for support. And he then confirms his findings based on representative national data on adult Americans. Small shows that rather than consistently rely on their “strong ties,” Americans often take pains to avoid close friends and family, as these relationships are both complex and fraught with expectations. In contrast, they often confide in “weak ties,” as the need for understanding or empathy trumps their fear of misplaced trust. In fact, people may find themselves confiding in acquaintances and even strangers unexpectedly, without having reflected on the consequences. Someone To Talk To reveals the often counter-intuitive nature of social support, helping us understand questions as varied as why a doctor may hide her depression from friends, how a teacher may come out of the closet unintentionally, why people may willingly share with others their struggle to pay the rent, and why even competitors can be among a person’s best confidants. Amid a growing wave of big data and large-scale network analysis, Small returns to the basic questions of who we connect with, how, and why, upending decades of conventional wisdom on how we should think about and analyze social networks.

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