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Zachary Neal - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Zachary Neal

Associate Professor | Michigan State University


Zachary Neal is an expert in cities & neighborhoods, political & transportation networks, and measurement & analysis of social networks.





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Zachary Neal uses the tools of Network Science to explore social, political, and economic phenomena. His work on cities focuses on how networks shape the formation of cohesive neighborhoods and communities, as well as the development of global economic networks of trade and transportation. His work on public schools focuses on how communication networks impact administrators' adoption and implementation of evidence-based school programs. He is also active in developing new network analytic techniques, especially the use of bipartite graphs to infer social ties. He is the author of four books and more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, and this research has been covered by local, national, and international media outlets.

In addition to his research, Neal regularly teaches graduate-level methods seminars on network analysis and agent-based simulation models. He serves as an editor at the Journal of Urban Affairs, Evidence and Policy, Global Networks, and the Routledge book series Metropolis and Modern Life Series.

Areas of Expertise (8)

Public schools

Social Networks

Transportation Networks



Political Networks

Economic networks


Education (3)

University of Illinois, Chicago: Ph.D., Sociology 2009

University of Illinois, Chicago: M.A., Sociology 2005

University of Arizona, Tuscon: B.A., Philosophy and Classics 2001

News (2)

Are There More People Who Don’t Want Kids Than We Realized?

Psychology Today  online


In a study just published in Plos One, “Prevalence and characteristics of childfree adults in Michigan,” Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary P. Neal of Michigan State University distinguished childfree adults from childless adults, parents and people planning to be parents.

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Congress more divided than the nation

CNN  tv


Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology and global urban studies at Michigan State University, performed a unique study looking at political networking among all members of the House and Senate. He found that while thousands of bills are introduced each year, the average member of Congress co-sponsors only about 200.

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Journal Articles (5)

Well connected compared to what? Rethinking frames of reference in world city network research.

Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

2018 Claims about the strength of cities’ global connections have become commonplace in the world cities literature. Although such claims are inherently comparative, authors often do not specify the reference. London is well connected compared to what? In this paper, I adapt the stochastic degree sequence model from network analysis as a tool to derive a frame of reference that can be used to inform and substantiate such claims. Beyond providing a formal statistical method for deciding when the claim that “X is well connected” is justified, it also addresses a number of other challenges in this literature, including more explicitly casting firms as key agents in world city formation, providing insight into when and where global firms might be expected to locate their branch offices, and helping identify cases that warrant more detailed investigation. To illustrate, I apply the method to data on cities and firms from 2013, examining the results at five different scales, from the individual city and firm to the entire world city network. I conclude by considering how this approach allows researchers to ask different kinds of questions about the nature of world city status.

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Networked Community Change: Understanding Community Systems Change through the Lens of Social Network Analysis

American Journal of Community Psychology

2016 Addressing complex problems in communities has become a key area of focus in recent years (Kania & Kramer, 2013, Stanford Social Innovation Review). Building on existing approaches to understanding and addressing problems, such as action research, several new approaches have emerged that shift the way communities solve problems (e.g., Burns, 2007, Systemic Action Research; Foth, 2006, Action Research, 4, 205; Kania & Kramer, 2011, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 1, 36). Seeking to bring clarity to the emerging literature on community change strategies, this article identifies the common features of the most widespread community change strategies and explores the conditions under which such strategies have the potential to be effective. We identify and describe five common features among the approaches to change. Then, using an agent-based model, we simulate network-building behavior among stakeholders participating in community change efforts using these approaches. We find that the emergent stakeholder networks are efficient when the processes are implemented under ideal conditions.

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Disentangling agglomeration and network externalities: A conceptual typology

Papers in Regional Science

2016 Agglomeration and network externalities are fuzzy concepts. When different meanings are (un)intentionally juxtaposed in analyses of the agglomeration/network externalities‐menagerie, researchers may reach inaccurate conclusions about how they interlock. Both externality types can be analytically combined, but only when one adopts a coherent approach to their conceptualization and operationalization, to which end we provide a combinatorial typology. We illustrate the typology by applying a state‐of‐the‐art bipartite network projection detailing the presence of globalized producer services firms in cities in 2012. This leads to two one‐mode graphs that can be validly interpreted as topological renderings of agglomeration and network externalities.

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Transforming Social Cohesion into Informal Social Control: Deconstructing Collective Efficacy and the Moderating Role of Neighborhood Racial Homogeneity

Journal of Urban Affairs

2016 This study investigates the relationship between perceptions of social cohesion and informal social control within U.S. urban neighborhoods and adds neighborhood racial homogeneity to investigate the ways in which racial homogeneity may contribute to effects on informal social control, as theorized by social disorganization researchers. Data from the Annie E. Casey’s Making Connections initiative (level 1) and the 2010 decennial census (level 2) were used. In total, 3,868 household responses were nested within 75 different census tracts. Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression was conducted to model level 1 and level 2 effects on informal social control. Results indicate a positive relationship between perceived social cohesion and informal social control. The relationship between social cohesion and informal social control was moderated by neighborhood racial homogeneity, indicating that homogeneity positively influenced the relationship. We conclude by providing recommendations for future researchers and community builders with a particular emphasis on attending to neighborhood-level effects.

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Seeing and being seen: Predictors of accurate perceptions about classmates' relationships

Social Networks

2016 This study examines predictors of observer accuracy (i.e. seeing) and target accuracy (i.e. being seen) in perceptions of classmates’ relationships in a predominantly African American sample of 420 second through fourth graders (ages 7–11). Girls, children in higher grades, and children in smaller classrooms were more accurate observers. Targets (i.e. pairs of children) were more accurately observed when they occurred in smaller classrooms of higher grades and involved same-sex, high-popularity, and similar-popularity children. Moreover, relationships between pairs of girls were more accurately observed than relationships between pairs of boys. As a set, these findings suggest the importance of both observer and target characteristics for children's accurate perceptions of classroom relationships. Moreover, the substantial variation in observer accuracy and target accuracy has methodological implications for both peer-reported assessments of classroom relationships and the use of stochastic actor-based models to understand peer selection and socialization processes.

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