Challenges for social flows

Clio Andris, Xi Liu, Joseph Ferreira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Social and interpersonal connections are attached to the built environment: people require physical infrastructure to meet and telecommunicate, and then populate these infrastructures with movement and information dynamics. In GIS analysis, actions are often represented as a unit of spatial information called the social flow–a linear geographic feature that evidences an individual's decision to connect places through travel, telecommunications and/or declaring personal relationships. These flows differ from traditional spatial networks (roads, etc.) because they are often non-planar, and unlike networks in operations systems (such as flight networks), provide evidence of personal intentionality to interact with the built environment and/or to perpetuate relationships with others. En masse, these flows sum to illustrate how humans, information and thoughts spread between and within places. Amid a growing abundance and usage of social flow data, we extend formal definitions of this data type, create new typologies, address new problems, and redefine social distance as the manifestation of social flows. Next, we outline challenges to fully leveraging these data with commercial GISystems by providing examples and potential solutions for representing, visualizing, manipulating, statistically analyzing and ascribing meaning to social flows. The goal of this discussion is to improve the dexterity of social flow data for geographic, environmental and social research questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-207
Number of pages11
JournalComputers, Environment and Urban Systems
StatePublished - Jul 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecological Modeling
  • General Environmental Science
  • Urban Studies


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