Research Report by Hannah Goodwin

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Research Report: "Race, School Integration, and Friendship Segregation in America" by James Moody


By Hannah GoodwinAffective Networks in Ensemble Character Dramas Team




This sociological study uses social network graphs to analyze interracial friendship formation at the high school level. It looks at same-race preference in friendship formation, or homophily, and investigates the degree of homophily in various high school situations. Factors Moody considers include a school’s degree of heterogeneity, whether or nor a school practices tracking (separating students into academic or non-academic tracks), availability of extracurricular activities to all students, and segregation of students by grade level. In a fully racially integrated school, he argues, interracial friendships would be just as likely to form as same-race friendships.




In this paper, Moody analyzes data from a set of 112 high schools, examining through social network graphing the effects of various factors on the formation of interracial friendships. These schools provided information about factors such as size, degree of heterogeneity, geographic location, tracking, busing (the active transportation of students to schools outside of their district with the aim of promoting integration), grade segregation, extracurricular mixing, and faculty heterogeneity. Meanwhile the students were surveyed about their friendships. They were requested to name up to five friends of each gender, and these reported friendships form the basis of Moody’s social network graphs, which he analyzes in light of the schools' reported conditions. Moody operates under belief that integration—characterized by equal formation of friendships within and between races—is an important part of high school education, and he examines factors that contribute to homophily and racial bias in friendship formation, with the goal of providing insight into practices that administrations can engage to increase their schools’ racial integration. He argues that individuals’ homophily may be difficult to alter, but that “organizational characteristics of schools” can directly “facilitate interracial friendship” (681).


Moody uses graphs of the schools’ social networks to represent racial segregation and integration visually. For example, he considers one school, “Countryside High School,” which this social network graph reveals to be overwhelmingly segregated:



The shaded nodes represent students of color, and the white nodes represent white students. The shape of the graph, divided into two largely racially homogenous clusters, indicates that friendships in this school are predominantly interracial; the number of edges between grey nodes or between white nodes far exceeds the number of edges connecting nodes of different colors to each other. This he attributes to a natural tendency towards homophily—a tendency schools must, he argues, work to overcome. This visualization of racial segregation differs strikingly from this next graph, of friendships at “Mountain Middle School,” where segregation is largely along the lines of grade levels rather than race:



Here, the grey and white nodes share many edges, while edges between different shapes—squares and circles, indicating grade levels—are fewer. This supports one of the conclusions Moody draws: that clear boundaries between grades, which he believes the administration can create through curricular structure, improves levels of racial integration, since students have a more limited set of potential friends with whom to forge relationships. He writes, “If . . . every person’s friendship choice is limited to the set of all people in their grade . . . the ability to further select friends on other dimensions (such as race or economic standing) is lowered” (686).


Other factors contributing to either segregation or integration are less visible in the network graphs, but nevertheless contribute to the forms the graphs take. He analyzes several factors under the umbrella of “contact theory,” the idea that the more contact any two races have, the more likely friendships are to form between them. One of these factors is the availability of extracurricular activities. Moody writes, “The most effective groups are those organized around a common goal that cannot be achieved independently. . . . According to contact theory, racial mixing in such groups ought to promote interracial friendships.” Interestingly, this study indicates that while contact theory holds to an extent—students are indeed more likely to form friendships with students of other races if they have more opportunity for contact with them, at least in some contexts—increased levels of heterogeneity in schools does not equate to decreased homophily or increased interracial friendship formation. Rather, homophily is highest in schools with a middling amount of heterogeneity, and lowest both in highly heterogenous schools and in schools with the smallest minority populations. With the relationship between contact and integration thus not entirely direct, Moody is unable to offer one simple solution to integration, but he does point to some ways schools can help students form friendships across racial difference, including, importantly for my project, extracurricular activities.




 This article offers a sociological approach to investigating racial integration through social network graphing, which I will be mimicking, to an extent, in my own project of networking the relationships between characters in Friday Night Lights. Moody’s article demonstrates the usefulness of considering social network graphs as visual tools for representing and analyzing interracial friendships and integrated (or segregated) communities, which is the primary methodology of my own project. These graphs make visible certain trends in the formation of friendships within and between races, which is also my goal in creating graphs to map characters’ relationships in Friday Night Lights.


Moody’s analysis of the factors that contribute to racial integration is intriguing, and while I cannot advise the administrators of the fictional school in Friday Night Lights to adjust their practices to encourage racial integration, I can take a look at how the social structures of this fictional school do contribute to the racial interactions the show depicts. The idea of contact theory, for example, is apt, especially since Moody advocates extracurricular activities—including sports—as venues for interracial friendship forming. One of the premises of my project is that the football team of the high school in Friday Night Lights serves as a microcosm for the kinds of interracial tensions exhibited in the school and in the show’s fictional town more broadly, but it is also interesting to consider that the team is one of the primary places where interracial interactions occur at all, and where interracial friendships form over the course of the show. The article also contributes some useful terms that will be useful to my work. Homophily, for example, is evident in the relationships forged between characters in Friday Night Lights, and it will be helpful to take it into consideration when examining the social networks I graph based on character interactions.


One major difference between Moody’s study and my own is that his investigates real-life situations, while I am looking at a fictional set of relationships. This means that while Moody is able to attribute agency to the “nodes” of his study—they choose their friendships based on certain biases, like homophily, and conditions, like contact with students of other races—the “nodes” of my study are characters whose relationships are entirely determined by the television show’s creators. This means that the factors influencing the relationships are of course different; relationships are influenced as much by desire for a compelling story line as anything else. Still, though the characters cannot choose their friends based on these biases, the creators’ desire to depict a realistic situation may mimic the real-life bias of homophily, or the possible effects of the school’s social organization. Furthermore, the relationship networks that emerge from the show may also reveal the homophilic tendencies of the creators themselves. Thus while Moody’s study necessarily diverges from my own, its terminology, conceptual background, and methodology still remain relevant to my project.


For Further Investigation:


Moody, James. 2001. “Race, School Integration, and Friendship Segregation in America.” American Journal of Sociology 107 (3): 679–716. Web. 9 May 2012.


Wimmer, Andreas and Kevin Lewis. 2010. “Beyond and Below Racial Homophily: ERG Models of a Friendship Network Documented on Facebook.” American Journal of Sociology 116 (2): 583-642. Web. 5 May 2012.


Crain, R. 1981. “Making Desegregation Work: Extracurricular Activities.” Urban Review 12 (2): 121–27.


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