Stacy Torres. Where Everybody May Not Know Your Name: The Importance of Elastic Ties

Monday, March 14, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Monday, March 14, 2:00-3:00pm in Barrows 402

Where Everybody May Not Know Your Name: The Importance of Elastic Ties

Drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork among older adults in a gentrified New York City neighborhood, this talk will present empirical data that challenge standard survey measures of social isolation and push our understanding of social ties beyond weak and strong by analyzing relationships that defy binary classification. Usual survey items would describe this study’s participants as isolated and without social support. When questioned, they minimize neighborhood relationships outside close friends and family. But ethnographic observations of their social interactions with neighbors reveal the presence of “elastic ties”—relations in which they spend hours each day and share intimate details of their lives with people whom they nonetheless do not consider what most network analysts would call “confidants.” These findings show how people’s accounts of their social ties may not accurately reflect the character and structure of their networks. Furthermore, they demonstrate how a single social tie can vary between strong and weak depending on the situation. This study also contributes to sociological understandings of social ties by identifying a type of relationship that allows elders and other marginal groups to connect and to secure informal support while preserving their autonomy.

Stacy Torres is a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the sociology department at UC Berkeley. She earned her PhD in sociology from New York University in 2015 and holds a BA in comparative literature from Fordham University and MFA in nonfiction creative writing from Columbia University. Her dissertation, an urban ethnography of older adults living in a gentrified New York City neighborhood, is under contract with the University of California Press. Her research and teaching interests include gender, health, the family, urban communities, aging and the life course, and qualitative research methods. Torres’s research has been supported by fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the American Sociological Association (ASA) Minority Fellowship Program and has received awards from the ASA sections on Family, Urban and Community Sociology, Aging and the Life Course, and Sociological Practice and Public Sociology. Her articles, essays, and op-eds have appeared in Contexts, Reuters, The New Republic, Slate, and The New York Times.