Interpreting the Meaning of Relational Data

While the meaning of ties may seem clear to researchers from the ways they were gathered, an increasing number of studies have turned to methods such as cognitive interviewing (Willis 2005; Bailey and Marsden 1999) to aid the interpretation of those data from the perspectives of the people involved in the relationships. For example, sought to understand what exactly comprises the relationships represented in the GSS-IM question. While their paper examined a number of questions, I focus only on two of their primary findings here. The first continues to delve deeper on the nature of reported isolation on this question. Cognitive interviews showed for those who reported no GSS-IM partners, that about half reported that they had no one to talk to about important matters, while the other half said they had such people, but hadn’t talked to them about anything important over the last six months. In other words, about half those who would have been labeled as “isolated” without further examination, are more accurately connected but “silent” (Bearman and Parigi 2004: 548). They also asked respondents do describe the nature of the important matters they talked with their partners about, finding these typically spanned several domains. For some of the domains, it was clear why people deemed them important (e.g., finances, relationships, or health), but others seemed potentially more trivial (e.g., the source of the title of the paper - cloning headless frogs). While the triviality of topics may seem to bring the motivation for the GSS-IM name generator into question, this measure (and many other similar “confidant” types of measures) are aiming to capture the close relationships people have and could potentially rely upon for social support, etc. (Burt 1984; Marsden 1987). Bolstering this justification for the GSS-IM approach is further investigation by that concludes that “the role of the discussant, but not the topic of discussion, predicts the availability of support from our discussion partners” (2014:493).