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Barry Wellman

2014 Canadian Digital Media Pioneer Award Recipient

Barry Wellman

Photo courtesy of NetLab (U of T)

Barry Wellman is a leading scholar in the field of sociology and a Canadian Digital Media Pioneer. As the author of seminal works in the area of social networks, founder of international organizations, and mentor to a growing and diverse set of media scholars, he has been instrumental in laying the intellectual groundwork for understanding the way that information and communication technology changes and supports social interaction.

Wellman began his career examining myths about the organization of urban life, particularly the "community lost" aspect of inner cities. His groundbreaking studies of the social networks of Toronto’s East York residents that began in 1968 found that rather than being isolated, individuals formed networks supported through the technologies of the telephone, automobile, and planes. These findings led him to further develop the "community liberated" model revealed by his data, which set the scene for his insight that social networks are not geographically bound. He was among the first to recognize the impact of digital media and the Internet on people's ability to maintain social relations. His seminal work in this area includes highly cited publications addressing computer networks as social networks, a 1996 review in the Annual Review of Sociology, and his 2002 The Internet in Everyday Life (with Caroline Haythornthwaite), which was one the first books, if not the first, to publish substantial empirical papers about the Internet.

Wellman has led numerous studies into social networks and digital media. He coined the term "networked individualism" to characterize how individuals in contemporary society interact through loosely knit, personalized networks that extend far and wide, online and offline. His most recent book, Networked: The New Social Operating System (with Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project), published in 2012, brings together many of the themes from his research. The book's most important contribution is to show how a "triple revolution" (the advent of broadband Internet access, the turn from bounded groups to social networks, and mobile technologies) has changed the ways people interact in their communities, families, work, creativity, and information gathering.

Beyond "networked individualism,” Wellman has explored such defining concepts as "network of networks" and "the network city" (both with Paul Craven), "the community question," "computer networks as social networks," "connected lives" and the "immanent Internet" (both with Bernie Hogan), "media multiplexity" (with Caroline Haythornthwaite), "personal community" and "personal network" and three with Anabel Quan-Haase: "hyperconnectivity," "local virtuality" and "virtual locality." In all, Wellman has written or co-authored more than 300 articles, book chapters, reports and books.

As an interdisciplinary leader in the fields of Sociology, Communication and Information Studies, Wellman founded the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) in 1976-1977, an organization that helped to establish social network analysis as the preferred methodology to study a wide variety of social networks including online social networks decades before Facebook and other social networking sites attempted to commercialize these concepts.

In recognition of his many contributions, Wellman has received career achievement awards from the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, the International Network for Social Network Analysis, the International Communication Association, and two sections of the American Sociological Association: Community and Urban Sociology, and Communication and Information Technologies. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2007. In 2012, Wellman was identified as having the highest h-index for citations to his work of all Canadian sociologists. It is for his many outstanding contributions to the study and understanding of digital media that Barry Wellman is recognized as a Canadian Digital Media Pioneer.


Barry Wellman was born and raised in the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road area of the Bronx, New York City. He attended P.S. 33 and Creston J.H.S. 79, and was a teenage member of the Fordham Flames. He gained his high school degree from the Bronx High School of Science in 1959. He received his AB degree magna cum laude from Lafayette College in 1963, majoring in social history and winning prizes in both history and religious studies. At Lafayette, he was a member of the McKelvy Honors House and captained the undefeated 1962 College Bowl team, whose final victory was over UC Berkeley.

His graduate work was at Harvard University, where he trained with Chad Gordon, Charles Tilly and Harrison White, and also studied with Roger Brown, George Homans, Alex Inkeles, Florence Kluckhohn, Talcott Parsons, and Phillip J. Stone. He received his MA in Social Relations in 1965 and a PhD in Sociology in 1969. His focus was on community, computer applications, social networks and self-conception. His dissertation showed that the social identities of African-American and White American junior high school students in Pittsburgh were related to the degree of segregation in their schools.

Wellman joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto in 1967 as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1972 and to full professor in 1980. He has held numerous visiting professorships and was one of the founding faculty research associates in the Knowledge Media Design Institute beginning in 1996. In 2006 he was named the S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology.  During this time he served as editor or consulting editor for multiple journals in a variety of areas related to his research. Wellman is currently Co-Director of NetLab at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.

Selected Works

Rainie, Lee & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The New Social Network Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Craven, P. and Wellman, B. (1973). The network city. Sociological Inquiry, 43:57-88 (Winter).

Hampton, K. and Wellman, B. (2003). Neighboring in netville: How the Internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb. City and Community. 2(3):277-311 (December).

Haythornthwaite, C. and Wellman, B. (1998). Work, friendship and media use for information exchange in a networked organization. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(12):1101-1114 (October).

Wellman, B. and Wortley, S. (1990). Different strokes from different folks: Community ties and social support. American Journal of Sociology, 96(3):558-88 (November).

Wellman, B. (1979). The community question: The intimate networks of East Yorkers. American Journal of Sociology, 84:1201-31 (March).

Wellman, B., Dimitrova, D., Hayat, Z., Mo, G. Y. and Smale, L. (2014). Networked scholars in a networked organization? Research in the Sociology of Organizations. (Eds.) Brass, D., Labianca, J., Mehra, A., Halgin, D., and Borgatti, S. 40:475-93.

Wellman, B. & Haythornthwaite, C. (Eds.) (2002). The Internet In Everyday Life. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Wellman, B., Hogan, B., Berg, K., Boase, J., Carrasco, J., Côté, R. Kayahara, J., Kennedy, T. and Tran, P. (2006) Connected lives: The project. In Purcell, P. (Ed.) Networked Neighbourhoods, 157-211.

Wellman, B., Mok, D. and Carrasco, J. A. (2010). Does distance still matter in connected lives? A pre- and post-Internet comparison. Urban Studies. 47(3): 2747-2784.

Wellman, B. (2001). Physical place and cyber-place: The rise of networked individualism. International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 25:227-52 (June).

Wellman, B. (1988). Structural analysis: From method and metaphor to theory and substance, In Wellman, B. and Berkowitz, S.D. (Eds.) Social Structures: A Network Approach, 19-61.