Nearest neighbor analysis as a method of measuring potential interaction with emphasis on the housing rehabilitation program in Elgin, Illinois
Chevalier, James K. (Student of sociology)
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The purpose of this study is to introduce sociologists and other social scientists interested in analyzing social interaction phenomena to a quantitative tool, called nearest neighbor analysis. The nearest neighbor analysis tool has been used exclusively by plant ecologists, biologists, and geographers. However, this tool can be used beneficially in analyzing social interaction. Interactional contact between discrete social units can be seen as a function of locational arrangement. Using various examples at three levels of scale; 1) the macro-level (metropolitan-wide data), 2) the medi-level (community-wide data), and 3) the micro-level (small group data), this study demonstrates the technique, the limitations, and the potential of nearest neighbor analysis. The technique is computationally simple and, when used conscientiously, may yield meaningful insights into spatial dispersions and potential interaction of social phenomena. An in-depth assessment of the technique is achieved by focusing on the interaction characteristics at the medi-level, exemplified by the housing rehabilitation program administered within the city of Elgin, Illinois. Social interaction characteristics of participants involved in the federally funded housing program are described by using the nearest neighbor analysis. The most severely clustered households included: Blacks, female heads of household, and low income participants in the rehabilitation program. Employed and higher income participants were found to be randomly dispersed within the city of Elgin. Nearest neighbor analysis assesses randomness or lack of randomness for a distribution pattern of social units. The analysis also assigns any lack of randomness to either regional environmental space influence or to individual point interaction influence (social behavior among individual units). Nearest neighbor analysis addresses the need in sociology to measure and explain the interaction of social units in physical space.