Places That Bond and Bind: On the Interplay of Space, Places, and Social Networks

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Places That Bond and Bind: On the Interplay of Space, Places, and Social Networks

  • Christoph van Dülmen Thünen Institute of Rural Studies, Germany
  • Andreas Klärner Thünen Institute of Rural Studies, Germany

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Abstract:  Social networks of socially disadvantaged individuals can help them in coping with everyday life and avoiding social exclusion. At the same time, social ties also have the power to bind an individual to their disadvantageous situation, perpetuating the risks of social exclusion. One mechanism through which ties can be established are “foci”: extra‐network structures around which common interactions occur (e.g., family, workplace, clubs) that usually have spatial anchor points (places) where joint interactions happen. To better understand this interplay of places and networks, we use a methodological novelty that connects a person’s everyday places with their ego‐centred network (two‐mode network). We analyse in depth two cases (elderly women living alone) from a mixed‐methods study conducted in rural peripheries in eastern Germany, and we combine data from GPS tracking, qualitative interviews, and egocentric networks. A central finding of our analysis is that tie formation in places is more successful if ego has certain resources (e.g., cultural, financial, or time resources) that allow them to utilise places as foci—hence, ego and places must “match” in their characteristics. Beyond that, the existing foci (and their spatial anchoring as places in everyday life) in which ego is integrated must be considered as structures. Even if a person has enough resources and easy access to places with characteristics that promote contact, this does not automatically mean that they will form ties in such places, as the person’s network plays a major role in whether they frequent these places and establish new ties there.

Keywords:  focus theory; GPS tracking; personal networks; poverty; rural areas; social inequality; social network analysis; spatial sociology; two‐mode networks



© Christoph van Dülmen, Andreas Klärner. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.