Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Social Network Map as an Instrument for Identifying Social Relations in Deaf Research and Practice

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Social Network Map as an Instrument for Identifying Social Relations in Deaf Research and Practice

Article excerpt

SOCIAL SUPPORT has shown itself to be an important factor in many areas in regard to mental health development and conservation. Numerous empirical findings also document its significance in various areas of research into deafness. Questionnaires are only one means of gathering information when we are trying to gain access to the social networks of deaf and hard of hearing people, their families, and relatives. The social network map is an approach that provides qualitative access to insights into social relationships and has proven, in conjunction with a qualitative interview, to be a useful tool in allowing a more detailed description and in-depth understanding of the processes of both social support and stress. The special strength of the social network map lies in the combination of visualizing social relationships and reflecting them in an interpersonal dialogue. This article describes how to go about creating a network map and illustrates this with an example of a mother of a multi-handicapped, deaf child. It concludes with a discussion of the opportunities that the use of a social network map offers as well as its potential limitations.

A social network map is a tool used to demonstrate and describe human so- cial relations (cf. Freeman, 2006; Straus, 2002; Wellman & Berkowitz, 1998). So- cial network analysis goes back a long way (Scott, 1991) and has given rise to a great many different theoretical discus- sions in the course of its history Above all, it has generated a large number of different forms of visualization (cf. Free- man, 2000, for an overview). This arti- cle looks at the visual model of the so-called "ego-centered" network map (Straus, 2002; Wellman, 1993) and its potential contribution to research and professional services in the context of deafness. When an ego-centered network map is used to visualize social relations, one person (a parent of a deaf child, a deaf child, or a deaf adult, etc.) is always at the center of the network of personal relationships, and the social networking of this person is arranged around this person and described accordingly.

When it comes to the question of what makes social relations so important for human development, Gergen (1990) provides an example of the psychological dimension of social networking: "The Self is . . . nothing more than a node in the chain of rela- tionships. Each person lives in a net- work of relationships and is defined differently in each of these" (p. 197). If - in addressing the positive aspect of social relationships - we go on to ask what is so strengthening about such relationships, two essential func- tions become apparent. The first is the emotionally stabilizing function of social relationships. We have firm evidence in the meantime that social networks constitute a type of "chaper- one" providing us with safe passage through all the perils of life and can be understood as a "social cushion" (Keupp, 1992). To be liked by others, to have the feeling that we are not be- ing left on our own to cope with all our big or little problems, to be sure in ourselves that someone is there to listen to or comfort us, or even jump in and help in an emergency - all of this gives us subjective security and a feeling of being emotionally involved in the world; it makes us feel safe and also gives us strength. When the Beat- les sing "I get by with a little help from my friends," they are expressing this concept exactly. Equally important is the identity-giving function of social relations. People need social relation- ships, as Buber (1958) so aptly puts it: "With the word 'you,' a person be- comes I." We therefore always need other people in every phase of our lives - as a compass, so to speak, a niche for reflection and a fallback, as an impetus, a point of orientation - in order to realize who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to live. This is especially true of people in need. A central aspect of our identity work (which starts very early and stays with us all our lives) is "approval that increases with belonging" (Keupp et al. …

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