The Strength of Weak Ties

Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology 78(6): 1360-1380.

I will argue, in this paper, that the analysis of processes in interpersonal networks provides the most fruitful micro-macro bridge. In one way or another, it is through these networks that small-scale interaction becomes translated into large-scale patterns, and that these, in turn, feed back into small groups. (Granovetter 1973: 1360)

Phatic communication is one of those processes in interpersonal networks. In the modern social network perspective phaticity pertains to the establishment, maintenance and expansion of interpersonal networks. In simplest terms, making new acquaintances expands said networks.

Most intuitive notions of the "strength" of an interpersonal tie should be satisfied by the following definition: the strength of a tie is a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie. Each of these is somewhat independent of the other, though the set is obviously highly intracorrelated. (Granovetter 1973: 1361)

It is too early for me to bring Aristotle to bear on this but it may be noted that NE book IX "On Friendship" deals with all of these aspects. The more immediate source to back up these aspects is early Malinowski: "It may be taken for granted that the sentimental side most essentially determines in a given society any kind of personal relationship. And in the same society the character of a given personal relation - be it parental kinship or anything else - varies with the intensity of the feeling and is essentially defined by the latter." (Malinowski 1913: 191-192)

Ties discussed int his papr are assumed to be positive and symmetric; a comprehensive theory might require discussion of negative and/or asymmetric ties, but this would add unneccessary complexity to the present, exploratory comments. (Granovetter 1973: 1361; ff2)

Aside from communization and consummation, which represent the main features of La Barre's and Jakobson's conceptions of phaticity, respectively, I think that the main feature of Malinowski's phatic communion is incommunication, the effect of giving off the impression that communication has taken place when it actually hasn't. In this aspect it is Jean Piaget who caught Malinowski's drift most accurately: when people engage in small talk they're performing a collective monologue. "For in this use of speech the bonds created between hearer and speaker are not quite symmetrical, the man linguistically active receiving the greater share of social pleasure and self-enhancement." (PC 5.5) - but bringing this to bear on modern conceptions of phaticity does add "unnecessary complexity" to the matter.

Included in "absent" are both the lack of any relationship and ties without substantial significance, such as a "nodding" relationship between people living on the same street, or the "tie" to the vendor from whom one customarily buys a morning newspaper. That two people "know" each other by name need not move their relation out of this category if their interaction is negligible. In some contexts, however (disasters, for example), such "negligible" ties might usefully be distinguished from the absence of one. This is an ambiguity caused by substitution, for convenience of exposition, of discrete values for an underlying continuous variable. (Granovetter 1973: 1361; ff4)

By definition, this "nodding" relationship is not phatic because it does not include speech as a mode of mutual action. In contrast, the looser contact-oriented conception of Jakobson would consider this "nodding" relationship phatic because there is a (nonverbal) channel and an undefined psychological connection operative in the nodding, as even "a look is a means of contact" (Durkheim 1915: 203).

The hypothesis which enables us to relate dyadic ties to larger structures is: the stronger the tie between A and B, the larger the proportion of individuals in S to whom they will both be tied, that is, connected by a weak or strong tie. This overlap in their friendship circles is predicted to be least when their tie is absent, most when it is strong, and intermediate when it is weak. (Granovetter 1973: 1362)

This tends towards Jurgen ruesch's communization: mutual acquaintances help frame the ongoing interaction, offers some common "social" ground. Note that the hypothesis here is explicitly aimed at a micro-macro bridge, and these days it is possible to chart these kinds of overlaps within a social network like Facebook by automatically processing ties as data points.

Implicit here is Homan's idea that "the more frequently persons interact with one another, the stronger thir sentiments of friendship for one another are apt to be" (1950, p. 133). (Granovetter 1973: 1362)

This is an older insight: constant companionship makes for a stronger bond of fellowship.

Bott argued that the crucial variable is that of whether one's friends tend to know one another ("close-knit" network) or not ("loose-knit" network). (Granovetter 1973: 1370)

Terminological finding relevant for distinguishing social media (loose) from co-presence (close) network studies.

Information and ideas thus flow more easily through the specialty, giving it some "sense of community," activated at meetings and conventions. Maintenance of weak ties may well be the most important consequence of such meetings. (Granovetter 1973: 1373)

This has to do with professional and technical specialties.


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