Sociologist has new ideas about why similar people are drawn together

June 4, 2013

Birds of a feather flock together. But why?

That is a mystery Arizona State University sociologist David Schaefer is trying to solve. Associate professor David Schaefer Download Full Image

His research, which focuses on defining the dynamics that govern how and why individuals choose their network associates, has earned him the Freeman Award from the International Network for Social Network Analysis.

As the recipient, Schaefer presented a one-hour plenary address at the INSNA’s annual Sunbelt Conference, held last month at the University of Hamburg.

The award is presented every other year to a distinguished, up-and-coming scholar “in the field of social networks for significant contributions to the scientific study of social structure.”

Schaefer is an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

His exploration of friend selection processes and the origins of social network structures leads him to a variety of outlying research topics, including issues of health and inequality. But at the core of his work is the desire to understand why people often associate with those like themselves, a phenomenon known as homophily.

While the widely accepted reasons for homophily are preference and availability, Schaefer has his own ideas. He suggests that people often have the opportunity and desire to associate with people unlike themselves, yet maintain homophilous relationships.

“I have developed two new explanations that emphasize the endogenous sorting process whereby the relationships individuals develop are not necessarily with their ideal partners,” he says.

In the first case, he points to individuals who withdraw from social activity and form friendships with peers who are also marginalized in social networks.

In the other scenario, individuals who are excluded by their peers based on a particular trait, such as obesity, tend to find friends who are similarly excluded based on the same trait.

Schaefer sums up, “Both processes lead to homophily, but in neither case is it sought by the individuals involved. I tested these mechanisms in one study and found evidence that the former explains depression homophily among adolescents.”

Schaefer investigates a variety of ways in which social networks affect health outcomes, particularly regarding adolescents. His work, much of which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, has led to a number of discoveries.

“In one study, colleagues and I found that adolescents in poor health were more likely to occupy isolated or otherwise marginalized social network positions over time,” he noted.

Schaefer’s work into peer influence processes indicates that adolescent peers are more important for smoking initiation than for smoking cessation.

In another study, he determined that obesity and friendships are related through both friend selection and peer influence processes.

His most recent research aims to understand how adolescents choose “negative” influences. In particular, he is looking at what may lead adolescents to select friends engaged in substance abuse.

“I draw upon theory in criminology that implies adolescents with weak attachments to conventional society, such as parents, schools or church, are more likely to choose deviant peers,” he explains.

“Findings suggest that these friendship patterns are present, but they do not place adolescents at greater risk for negative influence,” Schaefer says. “Rather, this selection process magnifies the tendency for substance users to select one another as a friend.”

Schaefer has published and presented widely. The INSNA Committee states that “his papers exhibit originality in the questions addressed and their elaboration, and show excellence in executing and reporting the research.”

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Students win research grants, earn certificates in religion and conflict

June 4, 2013

What role can music play in peacebuilding? What lessons can we learn from religious pluralism in India? How is education shaping opportunities for Muslim women in the Middle East?

These are some of the questions that students will be researching overseas this summer with scholarships from the Friends of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict research awards program. These funds are awarded annually by the center to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing research projects or advanced training in religion, conflict and peace studies. Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Download Full Image

“It is exciting each year to be able to help students travel around the world to conduct research or receive specialized training,” says Linell Cady, director of the center and Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies.

“All of this year’s projects will create opportunities for these students to gain real-world experience, which adds so much to their education.”

The 2013 winners of the Friends of the Center awards – two undergraduates and one graduate student – were honored at an awards ceremony held at the center on April 23.

The students, Galen Lamphere-Englund, Brittany Morris and Joon Sik Hwang, will use their grants for international study and research.

Galen Lamphere-Englund, a global studies major, will spend part of his summer in Ireland at the Galway University Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy. Lamphere-Englund’s previous international travels have given him fascinating insights into how music can be used to build communities and achieve social change. He aims to use those experiences and develop additional skills to create inter-religious and inter-ethnic peacebuilding programs that use music and film to build unity. In the future he hopes to apply his research on musical peacebuilding by working with or creating NGOs like Playing for Change, which globally markets street musicians’ songs and reinvests all profits in local education.

The other undergraduate winner this year is Brittany Morris, a journalism major, who is also pursuing a minor in Arabic studies and an undergraduate certificate in Islamic Studies. Morris was one of the Center’s 2012-2013 undergraduate research fellows.  She will use her research award to take part in a project this summer in Kuwait with Souad Ali, an associate professor of Middle East, Arabic and Islamic studies in ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures. Morris will help conduct ethnographic studies that will analyze women’s role in Muslim societies, with a specific focus on education systems. This follows research Morris did last summer on Muslim women’s attitudes towards the veil controversy in France.

Joon Sik Hwang, a doctoral student in religious studies with a specialization in Hindu traditions, will travel to Jaipur, India to work on an ethnographic study of religious practices in public places. Jaipur is a city where religious diversity coexists with a lively tourism industry, resulting in a wide variety of interactions between members of different religious traditions. His initial research will focus on a Hindu temple at a public intersection of five city streets where a wide range of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, tourists and locals interact. The social and religious activities at this location involve cooperation and conflict. This suggests ways that religious difference can be woven together to form an ethos of pluralism and tolerance.

Students earning undergraduate certificates in religion and conflict were also honored at the April 23 ceremony.

“The certificate program attracts students with diverse academic and career interests,” says John Carlson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and director of the certificate program.

“It is inspiring to hear about their experiences on campus and their commitments to creating a better future.”

Some of the students who were on hand to receive their certificates at the awards ceremony shared their post-graduation plans.

Bryan Eddy, a political science major, will spend a year in Ireland before pursuing a master’s degree in international relations. Evan Tieslink, a double major in history and religious studies, is also planning to pursue graduate school to study issues of religion, science and technology.

Nesima Aberra, a double major in journalism and global studies, will spend her summer working for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Her long term plans include pursuing a master’s degree in public policy. “The Center’s programs have been a really important part of my experience at ASU,” says Aberra.

“The certificate helped me focus my coursework in the directions I’d like to pursue in graduate school.”

The full list of students earning certificates in the 2012-2013 academic year includes:

• Nesima Aberra, journalism
• Marlain Arbeed, global studies
• Nathalia Biscarra, justice studies
• Ryan Cross, religious studies
• Bryan Eddy, political science
• Jane Ly, international letters and cultures
• Jose Magana, anthropology
• Masoud Mostajabi, political science
• Abel Muniz, journalism
• Chris Palfi, religious studies
• Evan Tieslink, history and religious studies
• Christopher Webb, religious studies

The certificate is open to any undergraduate student enrolled at Arizona State University in any major. It may be of particular interest to students pursuing careers in journalism, law, policy work, diplomacy, the military, public advocacy, publishing, education, ministry or other fields in which an enhanced understanding of religion and conflict is important.

There are over 40 students currently enrolled in the program. To learn more about the certificate, visit:

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is a research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the role of religion as a driving force in human affairs.