Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Returns to Social Capital I
Those of you who actually bothered to read my paper, "Distance and Social Capital: Can Isolation be Good?", will recall that I use some data from facebook.com for part of my analysis. I was the first person to obtain this data, and I can say with some certainty that I likely would not have been able to get this data had I not been nice to my students while TFing at Harvard (that is, had I not invested in my social capital). I tried for several months to obtain Harvard's facebook social network from Mark Zuckerberg in a variety of ways. This didn't work. So I used his own creation to help me out. I went through his facebook profile and found former students of mine in his facebook profile, and then I emailed them to ask if they could connect me with him. The two students I emailed were roommates with one of Mark's close friends. They happily forwarded my request and vouched for me (which, interestingly, meant describing me as a former TF who was "actually pretty cool and laid back") . Within an hour, Mark had agreed to help me out.
Come to think of it, that whole paper is a testament to social capital. The main data I used came from Harvard's Senior Survey. I had forgotten that they initially didn't want to give it to me. I think only got it because Jeff Wolcowitz (who was the Dean in charge of it at some point) convinced Dean Kirby to let me have it. He did this because, as an economist, he was interested in the topic, but also because I TF'd 1010a for him back in 2000. Further, the person who keeps and analyzes the data, Harvard's Director of Institutional Research, is married to a professor in the economics department. She knew my advisor very well and was extra helpful in providing me with the data that I needed.
Finally, much of the information about student life, activity locations, etc. that I relied on was provided by several former students who I pestered quite frequently for information.
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