Vice President for Research
University of Vermont
This Cultural Anthropology Scholars Award will support anthropologist Dr. Kirk Dombrowski for training in advanced techniques of the computer modeling now associated with Social Network Analysis. The particular application for the training is to a persistent question about HIV infection among Injecting Drug User (IDU) communities. IDU communities regularly demonstrate stable HIV infection rates well below network saturation levels, despite consistent changes in community members, the presence of new infections, and the realignment of internal, interpersonal connections. There is strong suspicion that social network features play a significant role in the stabilization process, but at present the nature of this role is largely unknown. Mentored by Dr. Bilal Khan of the Network Research Laboratory at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Dr. Dombrowski will develop a social network percolation model to try to better understand these lower than expected HIV rates. He will use random graph modeling to construct networks with topological similarities to those found in a well-documented study done in Brooklyn New York in the early 1990s. Various initial infection scenarios will then be iterated over these networks to uncover structural features that contribute to stable network infection rates (and those that do not). The research will make both methodological and public health contributions. The potential of these modeling methods for the integration of network simulation (including diffusion/percolation research and network modeling) into current research methods can potentially re-ignite social science interest in micro-structural factors. The results about the role of structural factors also may lead to direct study and intervention strategies for the prevention of HIV in IDU communities and the general public.