Sociospheres in Maastricht




From our personal experience as students in Maastricht, we observed that there are cultural cleavages along the lines of nationality in the student body of European Studies. Dutch students remain among Dutch, while Germans remain among Germans. Consequently, we defined two main hypotheses. Firstly, we believed that students of European Studies with different nationalities interact very little across the barrier of nationalities. Secondly, we believed that the capability of speaking or not speaking Dutch is a very significant factor in preventing these interactions. In attempting to prove these hypotheses rather than to disprove the opposite, we opted for a positivist approach.

Our underlying theory is one of sociospheres as defined by Albrow (1997). He defines a sociosphere as the living environment and network of a person, maintained both by face-to-face communication on a local level and by electronic communication on a global level. As a result of increased possibilities of electronic communication which make face-to-face relationships somewhat obsolete, Albrow holds that “individuals with very different lifestyles and social networks can live in close proximity without untoward interference with each other” (p. 51). The authors assume that the theory could well apply to Maastricht.

To obtain results, we asked a variety of questions to determine in what way students may interact with other students and to what degree foreign students have attempted to learn the Dutch language. We consequently asked how ES students spend their free time, whether they are enrolled in student associations or fraternities, whether they use electronic communication like Facebook etc. to maintain their networks and which bars they prefer to visit in Maastricht. Likewise, we asked whether foreign students had taken language courses, and how they personally evaluate their understanding of Dutch.



Outline and critical reflection on your survey research design and the process of data collection



As the hypothesis eleborated on above indicate the survey focuses on the relationship between student groups of different nationalities. Being aware of the rather weak interaction between these groups it was necessary to find a medium by which we could reach students from all countries. Therefore, an internet based survey appeared to be the most efficient method in order to get results from all groups represented in Maastricht University. All data retrieved online can be directly analyzed without any further need of description. Nevertheless, as the survey focusing on the sociospheres in Maastricht demonstrated in practice, an internet based questionaire includes more advantages and disadvantages than generally expected.

First, the number of answered questionaires was far higher then commonly thought. As the survey aimed on a number of participants around 30 the total outcome was far above predictions. Therefore, one can assume that the topic as such as well as the online based survey attracted many students to give their opinion. However, with regard to the participation of all student groups the results are not proportionate. Since the German students are overrepresented whereas other nationalities are only partly or not at all one needs to be careful with respect to the validity of the results.

Second, as previously mentioned the general feedback to the questionaire was extremely high which consequently lead to a high amount of received data. Unfortunatly the instructions to the questions have not been read carefully by all students. Thus, some groups answered parts of the questionaire which had not been designed for them and subsequently the results have been changed. In general one can assume that a survey with parts addressing to different groups might be to complex for an only based survey. Baring in mind that the creator can not explain his questions afterwards it is necessary to accept that the same question can be interpreted differently.

Third, the transformation of the results into SPSS allowed a better in dept analysis of the answers of the online survey. While the different variables can be integrated into the system one can test the strength of the hypothesis in an effective way. Nonetheless, the outcomes of these tests were partly irretional as espacially the introduction of the intervening variable demonstrated. Even though it was easy to include it in SPSS the subsequent results should be seen critically.

Finally one can assume that the survey and its included hypothesis generated an high quantity and quality in terms of data output. Despite the fact that the degree of participation varied extremely between different target groups the overall outcome is highly useful for quantitative data analysis. As a critical researcher however it is highly necessary to double check the analysis by SPSS. Since the outcomes partly differ from our expectations one might assume that our hzpothesis were wrong. However, as a manual assessment of the questionaire demonstrate this is not the case.



Analysis of data throug SPSS


First hypothesis: Contact between nationalities is low- disproved


The central hypotheis of the questionaire was that contact between nationalities is relatively low. Judging from the results of  the survey it seems as if this hypothesis can not be held true. On the question “How much contact do you have with other nationalities?”, the vast majority of respondents answered with the highest category, “frequent”. The deviation is limited, too. This outcome is rather surprising and contrary to our expectations. What seems like a refutation of the basic assumption might be explained due to a weak formulation of the question. Instead of a ordinal question, it might have been better to use a scale measurement (e.g. “How many friends with a different nationality than you do you have?”) as the given question leaves much space for interpretation.



Second hypothesis: Interaction between nationalities in electronic communities is limited – disproved


As it can be observed from the crosstab Dutch and Belgian students are more likely to join a German internet based social network as the other way round. In relative figures this means that 50 % of the Dutch and 66 % of the Belgians signed up in the German community StudiVZ whereas not a single German joined the Dutch platform Hyves. This becomes even more striking when talking in absolute figures. Out of 37 German participants not a single one decided to enter Hyves even though it is also offered in English while StudiVZ is completely in German. The American based platform Facebook appears to be attractive to all students independent of their nationality. Consequently, interaction between nationalities also takes place in electronic communication. Moreover, cultural integration happens not from the side of the guest culture, but from the side of the host culture.



Hypothesis: Students of Dutch nationality feel more home than students of other nationality - disproved


As we can derive from the data set spite the lack of interaction between students of different nationalities all groups feel home at Maastricht. Germans have an average value of 7.26 followed by the Dutch with an average 7 and the Belgians with an average 5. Notably the two biggest groups feel both home at Maastricht whereas the smaller Belgian one only gives an average 5 which is clearly lower.

Therefore, one may conclude that the degree of feeling home is highly dependent on the presence of students with same nationality rather than an integration into the Maastricht local culture.



Hypothesis: The higher the capacity to speak Dutch, the higher the affiliation with the city, Intervening variable: Going home to city of origin



In evaluating the degree to which students feel at home in Maastricht and engage in interactions with others, we also took into consideration an intervening variable. Thus, not all students live in Maastricht all the time. Many students of all nationalities go back to their city of origin on a regular basis. We can say that the degree to which students feel home in Maastricht varies negatively with the frequency of return to the city of origin: the higher the number of returns, the less the affiliation with Maastricht. Of those going home three times or less per half year, 88,5 % or 23 students feel home in Maastricht at least to a degree of 5 of 10 points (Fig. 1). Meanwhile, 50% of all students going home seven times or more per half year feel home in Maastricht to a degree of 6 or less.


 If we control for the capacity to speak Dutch, we find that the degree to which students feel home in Maastricht does not depend very much upon their language proficiency. Thus, Fig. 2 shows that 87,8% of those speaking Dutch to a degree of five or less feel home in Maastricht to a degree of five or more (underlined). Meanwhile, however, only rarely do students who speak Dutch not feel home in Maastricht: only 17,6% of those speaking Dutch to a higher degree than five feel home in Maastricht to a degree of five or less (bold).


The conclusions of the previous exercise are reinforced in Fig. 3. A bivariate correlation analysis shows that across nationalities, a mere 13% of the affiliation to Maastricht can be explained with the capacity of speaking Dutch. This is a very weak relationship. In addition, the significance of this correlation can be doubted: There is a 37% probability of error, meaning that language capacity and feeling home do not influence each other much.


However, when controlling for the frequency with which students go home to their city of origin once again, the correlation changes. Accordingly, the intervening variable of going home strengthens the relationship between affiliation and language proficiency by four base points to 17% (Fig. 4, see bold). The significance level of this correlation also rises: now the probability of error drops by 12 base points to 25%.

Ironically, this means that the affiliation to Maastricht increases for those students who speak Dutch well, the more frequently they return to their homecity. However, given the low significance of both correlation tests, we can dismiss this assumption alltogether.


The relationship between the places that students visit in Maastricht and their nationality is not very strong. Only 23% of one variable explains changes in the other and vice versa. After controlling for the amount of contact with other nationalities as an intervening variable, it could be possible to find out whether people of one nationality who have more frequent contact with other nationalities tend toward specific bars, while others tend to other bars. However, the goodness-of-fit only increases by one base point to 24%. This is not a very strong relationship. It cannot explain whether there is a strong tendency toward a certain bar at the expense of another. In addition, the significance test shows that the results of the regression analysis do not produce reliable results. The hypothesis that certain nationalities tend to certain bars, thereby reinforcing the argument that cultural faultlines run along national lines, can not be upheld.




In conclusion it can be said that the model of sociospheres does not seem to apply to the world of ES students. There is considerable interaction between students of different nationalities, whether via electronic communication or in face-to-face communication. Likewise, it can be said that language does not appear as a barrier for cultural integration into the city of Maastricht; a high proportion of students feels home in Maastricht although they do not speak the language. In contrast, as has been argued, cultural integration happens in the inverted sense to some degree, with Dutch students joining the German internet community StudiVZ and thereby enter into the sphere of German language and culture.





Albrow, M. (1997). Tavelling beyond Local Cultures: Socioscpaes in a global city. In J. Eade, Living the global city. London: Routledge.