The Research Group in Fundamental and Oriented Anthropology (GRAFO) aims to contribute to building resilient communities by studying and improving the living conditions of economically or socially vulnerable and culturally diverse populations in the digitized, increasingly unequal and polarized global society, endangered by anthropogenic climate change.
GRAFO’s unique perspective is on relationships. While the social sciences generally adopt an individualistic approach to study a population’s living conditions and their effects, such an approach almost entirely overlooks the complex interdependencies among individuals and how they contribute to or compensate for vulnerabilities. GRAFO focuses specifically on these interdependencies, that is, on individuals’ immediate social environments. The strong and weak relationships individuals have with kin and non-kin provide informal social support (or social capital) and collaboration, disseminate information, exert social control, shape identities and perceptions of society, but can also be conflictive or unsupportive. These relational dimensions affect individual outcomes and (dis-)integrate communities. GRAFO is uniquely positioned to study these intermediate and dynamic social structures from a holistic and exploratory anthropological focus, but also conducts mixed-methods personal network research and quantitative network science into these social structures. Questions that GRAFO has addressed in the past and has started to address are, for instance:
- Do personal relationships support individuals in poor households, or augment their marginalization in conditions of poverty? Why? (Lubbers, Valenzuela, Molina, Grau)
- How do family ties function in conditions of poverty? (Regnar Kristensen, Grau, Piella-Vila)
- How can homeless people maintain functional social relationships that provide social support? (Valenzuela, Molina, Lubbers)
- Can charity organizations supplement the functions usually carried out by individuals’ informal support networks? (Grau, Valenzuela)
- What care do informal support networks provide to adoptive parents? (Grau, Molina)
- How do migrants become more socially embedded in their societies of reception over time? (Lubbers, Molina)
- Do institutions affect the emergence of transnational social fields woven by the relationships in the countries of origin and residence that migrants maintain and create, and how do these fields affect the lives of migrants? (Molina, Lubbers)
- What social capital can small and medium social enterprises rely on? (Molina, Valenzuela)
- How does the intergenerational knowledge transfer of fishery take place? (Gómez Mestres)
- How can local social capital be efficiently employed to develop sustainable natural resource management? (Gómez Mestres)
- How do people manage political disagreement in their personal environments in the context of polarization? (Lubbers)
- Can social cohesion be measured by focusing on the broader acquaintanceship networks between individuals in a society? (Lubbers)
As these questions show, the social network perspective is far from just a methodological tool, a rich substantive research field into human relationships, and GRAFO is internationally well-known for its expertise in this field. It teaches about personal networks through its biannual summer school and fulfils key roles in the most important international professional associations and journal committees in the field.