My research combines insights from social networks research to understand how individuals’ social interactions affect their health-related decisions and health inequalities. Social relations vary in terms of intimacy, strength, roles and obligations, yet the variation in ties is often ignored in social networks research. My dissertation explores how different types of social ties in contemporary rural India influence households’ health-related investments, specifically household sanitation facilities. Increasing sanitation coverage is key to reducing the second leading cause of child mortality globally, diarrheal disease. Through analyzing rural Indians’ social experiences and decisions to install sanitation facilities using multiple methods and data sources, my dissertation considers how the distinct ties that compose individuals’ social networks exert different, and at times conflicting, influences. Specifically, I draw on large-scale household surveys, social network data of rural Indian villages, and qualitative interviews that I conducted in rural Tamil Nadu. My findings highlight the importance of both kinship networks, as well as neighborhood ties (which are often caste-based). I find that through these distinct ties individuals experience different and sometimes conflicting pressures regarding sanitation construction, as well as other housing investments. In addition to increasing scholars’ understanding of social network processes, my dissertation explores a pressing global health problem. The Government of India is currently implementing an intensive rural sanitation campaign (Swachh Bharat Gramin), and given this national and international attention, my dissertation provides a timely study of how individuals’ social experiences are both shaped by and influence investments in this private facility.
In my future research, I plan to use both qualitative interviews and multi-layered, ego-centric network analysis to further analyze how different types of social ties influence personal health-related decisions. I will examine how different types of ties provide encouragement, emotional support, information and financial resources that shape individuals’ decisions to engage with health care providers and seek health care. Through examining the various social influences on personal, health-related decisions, my research to contribute to scholars’ understandings of health inequalities.
I am currently a Digital Humanities - Asia/Mellon PhD Fellow. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, SEED, SCID and Stanford VPGE.
Check out my recent Letter to the Editor of the New York Times!