Home » The people we know: Social network diversity among urban Malaysians

The people we know: Social network diversity among urban Malaysians

Vol. 11, No. 2 (2015), 61–92


Social networks are an important source for individual social actors to access critical resources (e.g., information and support) and can be variably associated with tolerance, social harmony and nation building, also under conditions of rapid urbanisation. The purpose of this paper is to provide much-needed factual and quantitative details regarding the social networks of urban Malaysians. The approach includes self-report questionnaire data obtained in the first half of 2014 from a representative sample of 808 respondents, aged 31 to 55, living in five major cities/towns across the Klang Valley, Malaysia. Findings show that urban Malaysians function within social networks that are racially, culturally and socio-economically heterogeneous, interacting with all major groups in Malaysian society, including neighbours. For the vast majority, however, the observed degree of network diversity is medium to low. The analysis also suggests that social network diversity is no indication of the closeness or importance accorded to the social relationships involved. A final finding is that social network diversity weakly correlates with respondents’ sex, race and religion but not with their age or employment status. Overall, this study seems to point to the existence, among urban Malaysians, of a dual social network system: a more closely knit homogeneous network based on family ties versus a looser and more heterogeneous network of non-family contacts. Among the non-family contacts, the observed diversity can be hypothesised to be a diversity of necessity rather than one by choice. Potential political and social implications will be discussed.

Author’s bio

Antoon De Rycker is an associate professor at the School of Communication, Taylor’s University, Malaysia. He holds a PhD from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and a Master’s degree from the University of Reading, United Kingdom. His research interests include recontextualisation and discourse (especially the [mis]representation of research activities among postgraduate students), the material and semiotic aspects of “doing crisis” as a social practice and more recently, the complex interactions among urban Malaysians’ online activities, their participation in traditional local settings and the diversity of their social networks. With Zuraidah Mohd Don (University of Malaya), he edited Discourse and Crisis: Critical Perspectives (John Benjamins, 2013).

Yang Lai Fong is a senior lecturer at the School of Communication, Taylor’s University, Malaysia. Currently she teaches Communication Theory to undergraduates, and Political Communication and Advanced Communication Theories at graduate level. Her areas of research include media and ethnicity, media and diplomacy, political communication, and media sociology. Her publications can be found in the Asian Journal of Communication, International Journal of Communication, Ethnicities, International Journal of Asia Pacific Studies,South East Asia Research Centre for Communication and Humanities (SEARCH) andMalaysian Journal of Communication. She is also the sub-editor of SEARCH Journal, which is published by Taylor’s University Malaysia, and indexed in SCOPUS since 2012.

Ramachandran Ponnan has been a practicing broadcaster with the national Radio Television Malaysia, and now he has joined the academic fraternity imparting knowledge he gained over 33 years. At Taylor’s University, Malaysia, he teaches communication and media-related modules. He has conducted training for Tun Abdul Razak Institute of Broadcasting and Information (IPPTAR), Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) and Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), and has been a broadcast trainer for the Laos Media Training Centre, Vientiane. His research areas are audience studies, new media and film studies. He was a research fellow at Chunam University, Kwangju, South Korea.

Lokasundari Vijaya Sankar is an associate professor at the School of Communication at Taylor’s University. She is the founder/advisor of the South East Asia Research Centre for Communication and Humanities (SEARCH) and is the editor-in-chief of the centre’s journal. She also organises a biennial international conference for the centre. She teaches research methodology at the postgraduate degree level and also supervises theses. She is especially interested in research investigating the social factors that influence language use especially in minority communities. Her current research interests include the power of language as a social and political tool and identity issues when language is lost.

Catherine Lee Cheng Ean is a senior lecturer at the Department of Communication and Liberal Arts, Sunway University, Malaysia. She obtained an MA in Communication Studies in 2002 from Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Arts (Hons), majoring in Media Studies, in 2000 from University of Malaya, Malaysia. Catherine is currently a PhD student at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. She has presented at local and international conferences and has published articles in national and international journals. Her research interests are social media, public relations and organisational communication.


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