I’m Cohen


I am a quantitative social scientist specialising in the mathematical study of face-to-face human social networks.

Sitting primarily within the tradition of analytical sociology, my core focus is network formation (i.e., Where do networks come from?). And I am especially interested in the emergence of networks that span small-scale, traditional human populations — i.e., microcosms wherein supportive relationships (e.g., friendship, advice, financial aid, food provision, and physical assistance) facilitate day-to-day survival by offsetting the challenges of poverty, subsistence-based living, and limited access to protective institutions (e.g., state welfare). I also have a deep interest in sociological and evolutionary theories of cooperation (e.g., kin selection theory; structural balance theory; social exchange theory) as well as ecological arguments around how variation in individuals’ social and physical environments shape their relational behaviour. When appropriate, I also draw on zoological research on the social networks of non-human animals.

Broadly speaking, sociologists tend to study the formation of networks in advanced economies in settings such as school classrooms and organisations (e.g., private firms, not-for-profits), leaving anthropologists to tackle traditional human communities. This division strikes me as deeply unfortunate as there is much for sociologists to contribute to the study of non-romantic social relationships in subsistence populations (e.g., advanced quantitative methods of social network analysis, theories of network formation).

Along this line, in a recent paper of mine in the journal Social Networks wherein I summarise a study on friendship amongst rice farmers in 162 villages in rural China, I have tried to raise awareness of sociologists’ over-reliance on network data from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic (i.e., WEIRD) societies (e.g., the U.S., the U.K., and the Netherlands) which are globally atypical. I ultimately call for studies of network formation using more diverse sociometric data (e.g., those from from villages in low- and middle-income countries), where another recent paper of mine in Social Networks accessibly discusses some aspects of how such data might be collected, focusing in particular on social support.

Currently, I am on the academic job market, although I maintain an Associate Membership of Nuffield College, Oxford. Prior to this, I was a Research Fellow and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and a Non-Stipendary Research Fellow at Nuffield College. Prior to joining the OII, and after my departure in 2020, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology at Oxford. And, before joining Oxford, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

I received my PhD in Social Research Methods (Applied Social Statistics) from the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE; Department of Methodology). Before enrolling at the LSE, I completed a MSc in Social Science of the Internet at the OII and St Cross College as a Clarendon Scholar. In a previous life, I completed a BA in Communication Studies with a focus on print journalism at Clemson University.


Introduction to what I am currently writing.