Academic Profile

People Feature

Cohen R. Simpson

Non-Stipendiary Research Fellow
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Welcome. I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and a Research Fellow here at Nuffield. Prior to returning to the OII, I had the pleasure of serving as a post-doc in the Department of Sociology here at Oxford and 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 (Department of Methodology). Before joining the LSE, I completed a MSc in Social Science of the Internet at the OII as a Clarendon Scholar.

My research is built on a simple question: where do networks come from?

Understanding of the origins of human social networks is integral to both the academic study of social systems and any applied research hoping to detail how networks impact individual and group outcomes (e.g., substance abuse, successful job search, conflict in schools). Scientists regularly explain the formation of these structures by invoking intuitive dynamics. These include, for example, our tendencies to establish mutual ties (reciprocity), befriend friends-of-friends (transitivity) and connect to similar people (homophily). Curiously, systematic comparisons of these dynamics are virtually non-existent, making untangling their relative impact on tie formation a major challenge for network science. Consequently, my primary scientific aim is to determine which of those dynamics repeatedly found to play a role in network formation may be expected to chiefly govern individuals’ decisions as they establish their ties. Drawing on a long line of sociological work, I maintain that this is fundamentally an issue of agency and choice. However, for this work I am increasingly interested in insights around human cognition, network recall and perception. Empirically, this work is based on novel data on face-to-face friendship amongst virtually all adult residents of two rural villages in India (approx. 800 individuals), a representative sample of adolescents in the Netherlands (approx. 3000 kids) and all adult residents of a rural isolated neighbourhood in Ethiopia (approx. 200 individuals).

Efforts to bring about, or prevent, social change are riddled with choices. In this respect, the existence of advocacy organisations — those entities with goals aimed at changing the state of society or protecting the status quo (e.g., NGOs, social movement organisations, think tanks) — is one characterised by great uncertainty. Historically, sociologists have implicitly assumed that these organisations decide on strategy independently of one another. In a second line of research I break with this tendency to argue that: (a) advocacy organisations are embedded in webs of relations through which they watch one another to learn about the viability of strategic choices; and thus (b) a network perspective is uniquely poised to aid understanding of how these organisation mitigate risk. This research is also deeply concerned with the emergence of networks. However, network formation is used as a lens to explore how advocacy organisations: (a) copy one another in an attempt to manage uncertainty; or (b) avoid cooperation with one another in the face of competitive pressure. 



Simpson, C. R.. Human social networks are fundamentally multidimensional in their formation. (Under Review)

Simpson, C. R. (2016). Competition for foundation patronage and the differential effects of prestige on the grant market success of social movement organisations. Social Networks. Issue 46, p. 29-43.

Simpson, C. R. (2015). Multiplexity and strategic alliances: The relational embeddedness of coalitions in social movement organisational fields. Social Networks. Issue 42, p. 42-59.

Simpson, C. R. Social media hold limited potential for solidarity amongst collaborating NGOs: Evidence from the UK. (Under Review)