Social Flows

Social Flows: Travel, Migration, Telecommunications, and Interpersonal Relationships in Geographic Space


A social flow is a connection between two places created by an agent-based decision to move, communicate or declare a relationship, including transportation/movement (Flights trains, traffic, commuter flows, migration, vacation, etc.), telecommunications (GPS on mobile phones, cell-tower phone activity, landline telephones, SMS, e-mail, mail, mass media, telegraph) and  stated connections / social capital (online geolocated social networks, self-report (interview/survey), institutional association).

social flow could be a commuter between neighborhoods, a telegram that joins two cities, or the digital version of either: a video chat meeting or a text (SMS) message. Social flows are not freight, river flows, or power grids, as the agents or material traveling along this infrastructure does not have the individual choice to do so. In the advent of large data sets, we would like to formally organize topics for social flow theory and practice. We invite you to submit your work pertaining to and using these origin-destination data sets.

Research Topics

  • Intercity or international migration flows
  • Area-to-area commuter flows
  • International commodity and trade flows
  • International remittance flows
  • Geo-located online social network friendship connections
  • Point-to-point telecommunications flows or friendship connections
  • Geo-located interpersonal interactions
  • Transportation statistics, such as inter-city flight magnitudes, or transit ridership
  • Survey data on daily movement trajectories
  • Places where people meet and socialize
  • Origins and destinations of out-of-town vacations, holidays and travel
  • Mobile or landline phone connections between places
  • Connections derived from multiple check-ins or WiFi usage
  • Or others!

Research Questions

  • What do inter-city systems of flows look like?
  • Are flow currents persistent over time and space?
  • What kind of places (e.g. dense urban, rural, etc.) are connecting?
  • How do we interpret results and leverage findings?
  • Methodologically, is there a systematic way to analyze and visualize spatial connectivity?
  • What data should we collect and how can we use it?
  • Etc.

Research Goals

  • Investigate flow systems
  • Describe best methods to unearth meaningful results
  • Facilitate the use of diverse large data sets
  • Communicate these results through visualization and description
  • Reflect upon the implications of these results for urban and regional studies, geography, urban planning, civil engineering, sociology and related fields.
  • and others

Example Methods

Spatial interaction models (e.g. gravity model), complex network analysis, data mining, graph mining, GIS models, complex systems analysis, system dynamics models, operations & logistics analysis, visualization, econometric and statistical methods, time series analysis, optimization methods, discrete choice models, and others.

We invite work that is especially exploratory, creative, fun, unconventional, thought-provoking, and new. Big ideas, data-driven and not data-driven, about how people connect space through their actions, not necessarily due to spatial nearnesss, are key.