April 8, 2003

· Personal

Henry Farrell and I just exchanged a few emails where we went through a standard Irish process which we can call Placing You. Very much like me, Henry’s an expat Irish social scientist teaching in North America. Yesterday on his blog, he mentioned in passing that his great-grandather was Eoin McNeill, a major figure in Irish political history.

This immediately led to an email from me, where I semi-politely tried to figure out which branch of the family he was from (it has other illustrious members). In doing so, reciprocity demanded I reveal my own connections to Irish political life. These are more modest than Henry’s, but it turns out that my father and uncle would know a couple of his uncles pretty well.

The upshot is that, even though we’ve never actually met, we have now Placed Each Other. This is standard operating procedure for Irish people everywhere, especially when abroad. Roughly the procedure is, (1) Meet in bar. (2) Buy a few pints. (3) Conduct extensive exploration of family tree and social network until some connection is found. (4) When connection is inevitably discovered sit back with satisfaction and think “Ah, now I know who you are.”

This process amuses non-Irish people no end, not least because there always does seem to be a connection. Irish people are appallingly good at navigating their small-world networks.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.

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