Defining and Measuring Transnational Fields

by José Luis Molina / Sören Petermann / Andreas Herz

Working Papers WP 12-16
October 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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Transnational social fields and transnational social spaces are concepts used interchangeably in transnational literature. Although both of them refer to the complex of connections between borders, each of them represents a different – and complementary – perspective. In this paper, it will be argued that the adoption of the social networks approach by transnational studies actually inherited two different traditions for studying relational phenomena: the anthropological egocentric or personal network tradition and the sociological or whole network tradition. “Transnational fields” would reflect the former and “transnational spaces” would reflect the latter. In this way, transnational fields would be especially feasible for studying embeddedness in given places, whereas transnational spaces would be useful for studying dynamics between regions, representing two different levels of analysis of the same range of phenomena.

The operationalisation of the concept of transnational fields suggested in this paper involves a) the collection of ensembles of personal networks, b) the selection of a focal place, and c) the assessment of types and levels of embeddedness in the identified field using the method of Clustered Graphs, and the Index of Qualitative Variation. This proposal will be exemplified with the data collected in Barcelona from three groups (Chinese, Sikh and Filipino, N=25 in each group, 30 alters by ego). Finally, the pros and contras of the proposal will be discussed.

José Luis Molina is Director of egolab-GRAFO, Departament d’Antropologia social i cultural, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Sören Petermann is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Goettingen.

Andreas Herz is Research Fellow at the Institut für Sozial- und Organisationspädagogik, Stiftung Universität Hildesheim.