Structural Constraints in Intergroup Relations: A Contextual Approach to Polarization and Conflict in Social Networks

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Social network analysis is a powerful tool to describe and explain the dynamics of intergroup relations. Research using political and school networks illuminates the micro assortative mechanisms of social ties that directly contribute to the emergence of macro intergroup outcomes such as polarization and conflict. Yet these studies have not fully explored the ecological insights arising from considering how structural constraints—i.e., demographic distributions and emerging meso-group structures—contextualize tie formation, and thereby produce variation in macro intergroup outcomes. This dissertation examines the impact of higher-level constraints on tie formation and intergroup relations in the two contexts: political polarization in America and enmity formation in Adolescence. Studies 1 and 2 ask where the remarkably high level of political homophily comes from and how such relational antecedents affect opinion polarization. Drawing on macrosociological theory of network formation, I use agent-based modeling and the data from the American National Election Surveys to show the pivotal role that sociodemographic consolidation—the correlation between social positions across multiple dimensions—plays in the rise of political homophily in networks and the amplification of the echo chamber effects. Study 3 asks whether racial segregation is directly linked to conflict in schools. Constructing a unified model of friendship and enmity formation on network data collected in a racially diverse middle school, I find that the racial segregation-conflict link is not a direct one but complicated by status-group processes. Racial differences segregate friendships, but conflict is mainly triggered by the status demarcation between members and outsiders of “leading crowds” within racial groups. Combined, these three studies find that the contextual properties—consolidation and groups—condition the rates and effects of micro homophily that shape variation in intergroup conflict. In conclusion, I discuss how my contextual approach contributes to our understanding of intergroup relations in each of the substantive fields of study.






Lee, Jaemin (2018). Structural Constraints in Intergroup Relations: A Contextual Approach to Polarization and Conflict in Social Networks. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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