Notes on : Bottero W and Prandy K (University of Cambridge) 'Interaction and social space: social distance measures of stratification'-- paper given at the BSA Conference 2001

 This paper explores 'social distance'  approaches in stratification research. It uses the notion that social patterns take place in social space -- this is not treated as a metaphor of hierarchy, nor is it structured by theory in advance. Instead, social patterns are mapped by interactions, producing clusters according to important dimensions of social differentiation. These patterns determine social structures. What we have is a technique to measure relations of intimacy between actors, which then leads us to provide social maps. 

Usually, there are two approaches. The American one involves the concept of gradational continuous status hierarchies, while the British one tends to favour discontinuous relational groups. These approaches have emerged from earlier studies, for example of interaction networks in Community Studies  [I can recall a famous one by Elizabeth Bott and others which examined networks among people in Banbury -- individuals were simply asked who they most commonly talked to in the course of a day, and these interaction networks were mapped on to categories such as neighbourhoods]. Apparently, Bourdieu has also developed this interactional approach in his concept of social distance. 

The usual approaches in sociology see social interaction as pre-determined by various sociological variables, but there is a tradition, associated with Max Weber, which also looks at associations. We need make no prior assumptions about ordering, distance, or even range when studying associations. We can examine various measures of association, including friendship and marriage. We end with proper social groups, rather than occupational units or socio - economic groups, as in the conventional approaches. 

One body in the field is the Cambridge Group, including a person called Rytina. This group attempts to extract regularities from patterns of association, mostly based on non-work activities. Friendship is taken as a measure, and then various connections are explored through marriage -- the occupations of spouses or of fathers in law, for example. Apparently, similar structures emerge and these different measures, leading to some underlying pattern of social distance. These patterns reveal the influence of experience and certain shared advantages, and influence both lifestyle and other matters. Economic, social and cultural factors are all linked together and revealed by this sort of analysis.

Bourdieu's work looks at relational notions of inequality, and shows itself in the emergence of various groups in his Distinction. Agents sharing similar positions in the social system also share tastes. Taste itself is widely defined to include matters such as choice of friends and marriage partners, as well as cultural preferences -- in this way, cultural and economic and social factors are intertwined again.

Measures of social distance are related to status, but cannot be reduced to them. Social relations involve more than just judgements of prestige -- that is why it is important to map actual social relations, rather than try to measure judgments. Social relations involve matters of social resources, such as market advantage, as well as cultural background, and existing social networks. They overlap to produce an underlying structure, and this then becomes a factor in its own right in future social relations. Social relations therefore reproduce social distance as well as reflecting it. When considering such reproduction, it is also important to move away from conflict and oppression as our sole interest -- social relations reproduce themselves in non-conflictual processes too -- [what are non-conflictual processes though? Are any social relations innocent of implication in oppression?].

[I also asked about other neo-- Weberian approaches to stratification, such as those developed by Murphy, Barbalet, or Parkin. I am not sure I understood the answer, but they seem to be running in parallel with this particular social distance approach -- where one theorist sees relations and distance, another would see closure. This does at least seemed an interesting way to develop such closure theories into an empirical dimension, however].