Thursday, 31 January 2013

Making friends: The hidden structures in social groups

I am priviledged in the sense that I am part of the establishment of a new campus -- one that will become the new University of Mpumalanga. My gaze, however, is less on the promise of a new university and the voids it will fill, but more on the first intake of students for the Foundation Phase.

We don't know the students, and they don't know us. They don't know each other, either. So, apart from leaving it to themselves to come to know each other, institutions all over the world use all kinds of activities to ensure that individuals settle into their new environment. Above all, the aim of these activities is for people to learn how to start functioning as a group -- as a collective.

My gaze remains fixed on the actions - the individuals who stop participating and choose to become onlookers; the energy and the rhythm of the games - traditional games that I guess many city dwellers have forgotten about. I was surely reminded of a few games I use to play when I was small. That's another bonus for Foundation Phase. Its our job to play since in Grade R to 3 children learn predominantly through play.

Which brings me back to networks: the groups we form, the associations we make, the ties we form all serve a purpose. And another point. At some point in school we stop playing and learning becomes boring, tedious and difficult. Why not focus more on edutainment? And what about the workplace. If we learn new things, when we get challenged and need to solve a problem -- why not play more? Solutions are crafted when minds are challenged and what better way to do it than through play.

... so, when making new friends, or forming alliances... finally energy resides in the network and behaviour will shape the network as much as the network will shape individuals and their behaviour. Luckily we have Social Network Analysis to unearth the characteristics of networks, which aids with our understanding of dysfunctionalities within groups. It also shows who holds power and influence... Can't wait to start charting the ties between nodes.

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