Mark S. Granovetter contributes a fundamental element of social capital theory through an analysis of social ties in his paperThe Strength of Weak Ties. For Granovetter, understanding interpersonal ties is crucial for our appreciation of sociological macro phenomena such as diffusion, social mobility, political organisation and social cohesion. Essentially, interpersonal ties exist between family, friends and associates and can be roughly categorised as strong, weak or absent. The strength of an interpersonal tie is a “(probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterise the tie”. According to this definition of the strength of a tie it is evident that more frequent and protracted interaction between individuals will result in a stronger friendship.
Interpersonal ties are developed between various individuals and with varying strengths. Those ties that are strong create dense networks with familiarity, reciprocity and trust permeating between members of these networks. Such networks “form the primary building blocks of society, uniting nuclear and extended family members and neighbours. These relations, predominately based on kinship, ethnicity, and religion, are largely protectionist, defence mechanisms that form a safety net for basic survival”. Weak ties, in comparison, create less dense networks that are characterised by their networked and associational nature, for example, civic associations. It is Granovetter’s premise that weak ties between individuals represent bridges between those dense networks that are characterised by strong ties.
1.1 Bonding and Bridging Social Capital
Since the publication of Granovetter’s ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’ his notion of weak and strong ties, and what such ties represent for the network of which they are a part, has been developed to enable a more sophisticated understanding of social organisation. The strong and weak ties developed by Granovetter have been reconstituted into what is now known as bonding and bridging social capital. Bonding social capital is present within dense networks characterised by strong ties, the ties that bind – kinship, ethnicity, religion and profession, among others –, and is “by choice or necessity, inward looking and tend[s] to reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups”, while bridging social capital is characterised by weak ties – the bridges between networks, associations and communities – and is “outward looking and encompass[es] people across diverse social cleavages”. As such, “bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40”. Woolcock also makes the distinction between bonding and bridging social capital, although he terms them differently with intra-community ties being classified as ‘integration’ (i.e. bonding) and extra-community networks as ‘linkages’ (i.e. bridging).
* Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation and Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 1
** Dr Richard Bowd has seven years programmatic and research experience in the general area of post-conflict reconstruction working with a variety of interest groups. Dr Bowd’s experience spans the Europe, Africa and Asia.
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