The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Interpersonal Communication

March 27, 2014
, Room SI-006,
Informatics Building, Lugano Campus

Professor Michael W. Macy, Cornell University

In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington challenged the prevailing consensus that the axes of international geo-political alignments reflect economic and ideological divisions. Based on a top-down analysis of the alignments of nation states, Huntington famously concluded, "The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural." On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Huntington's thesis, we revisit his analysis, taking instead a bottom-up view using hundreds of millions of anonymized email and Twitter communications among tens of millions of worldwide users to map the global alignment of interpersonal relations. We also extend previous research on spatial and geographic patterns by examining economic, demographic, historical, political, and cultural correlates of international communication densities. Results confirm the existence of the eight culturally differentiated "civilizations" posited by Huntington, with the divisions corresponding to differences in language, religion, economic development, and geo-location.
About the Speaker
Michael W. Macy left the farm in Tennessee where he grew up to attend Harvard, where he received his B.A. and later Ph.D, along with an M.A. from Stanford. He is currently Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Sciences and Director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York), where he has worked since 1997. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and Google, his research team has used computational models, online laboratory experiments, and digital traces of device-mediated interaction to explore familiar but enigmatic social patterns, such as circadian rhythms, the emergence and collapse of fads, the spread of self-destructive behaviors, cooperation in social dilemmas, the critical mass in collective action, the spread of high-threshold contagions on small-world networks, the polarization of opinion, segregation of neighborhoods, and assimilation of minority cultures. Recent research uses 509 million Twitter messages to track diurnal and seasonal mood changes in 54 countries, and telephone logs for 12B calls in the UK to measure the economic correlates of network structure. His research has been published in leading journals, including Science, PNAS, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, and Annual Review of Sociology. Additional information on Professor Macy may be found here: