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weak and strong ties



According to what Granovetter argues in his essay "The strength of weak ties", among the basic problems of contemporary sociological theory there is the failure to link between the interactions that occur within smaller groups, at a micro-social level, and the structures of action at the macro-social level, for instance, political structure or community organization. In fact, even though lots of data have been collected on these two aspects, it is not possible yet to determine how relationships at micro level, by aggregating, can constitute the structures for action on a large scale, that is, at the macro level. Granovetter argues that what constitutes a bridge between the two social levels are the relationship patterns. One of the most important networks’ role consist in connecting the local and the global, that is, basic processes at the individual level can have complex effects on the whole society. These different parts are independent but at the same time are internally connected. Granovetter distinguishes two types of connection: strong and weak. What characterizes the strength of the tie itself is the combination of the amount of time spent together, the emotional intensity invested in the relation, and the degree of intimacy and reciprocal services. The strong ties are characterized by connections in which economic actors have strong trust, sense of cooperation, and respect between them. Strong ties are also characterized by greater involvement in time between the two parties and by higher similarity of social traits. Consequently, the weak ties are characterized by a lower time-sharing and less resemblance between the parties. The weak ties do not have the same strong values as in the previous case, but are still productive in order to establish cooperation. Moreover, in the strong ties, the information is redundant, there is a trend for the information to circulate always in the same way, whereas in weak ties information is always new, allowing benefits such as improvements in finding key information or possibilities of establishing links with new people. Granovetter noticed the importance of weak ties during his thesis research in the late sixties. While interviewing people who have recently changed job, he noticed that key information useful for discovering new ones was given by personal contacts, described more as acquaintances rather than as close friends.

Triadic closure property

Triadic closure.png

Easley D., Kleinberg J., (2010) Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. Cambridge University Press.

Triadic closure is the property at the basis of social network theory according to which, if two people have a friend in common, it is very likely that over time it will also establish a friendly relationship between themselves: if there is a strong tie between A-B and A-C, at some point in the future there will be a strong or weak tie between B-C. The term triadic closure refers to the fact that the highly possible relationship between B-C constitutes the edge that closes the third side of an imaginary triangle. Although this property is difficult to be observed in complex networks because of its oversimplified formulation, it can be useful to understand and predict formation of networks in a generic way. Overall, it is possible to affirm that given a certain networks configuration, after a certain period of time, a significant number of new edges will be formed between two people who had a common neighbour in the previous structure. There are three main reasons why triadic closure operates. One reason why B and C are likely to become friend is because of the high probability for B and C to meet each other, since A is a common friend and so spends time with both B and C. Another reason why two people with a friend in common are likely to become friends it is because they can rely on a higher degree of trust given by being both friends of A, trust that unavoidably lack among two people without any kind of connection. A third reason that prompts to establish a friendship, has to do with a psychological tension among the three nodes, due to the lack of a relationship between B and C that instead exists between A-B and A-C.

Weak ties and social capital

Furthermore, Granovetter states that these links between nodes can be of different types: on the one hand, there are edges that institute strong ties and are part of a closely knit group of nodes in which people tend to be exposed to similar opinions and similar sources of information. On the other hand, there are edges that represent weak ties, corresponding to acquaintances: they are the only route between its endpoints and offer an access to information one otherwise wouldn’t necessarily hear about. As for the first type of edge, through eliminating a direct link with one of these nodes, we still can join the other nodes through mutual friends, family members and so on. In this case, the broken relationship would hardly eliminate the indispensable bridge capable of holding together the social network. On the contrary, if one of the weak ties breaks up, we will lose the mutual contacts and it will cause the two endpoints to lie in different networks. Moreover, the principles at the basis of Triadic Closure that have been explained earlier (opportunity, trust, incentive) operate in a more effective way if the ties involved are strong. But, these kinds of ties, although they are more tight and more inclined to help, does not allow a great variety of information’s circulation because, within strong ties, the shared knowledge is more or less the same. New information is more likely to be acquired from people with who we don’t have everyday relationship, and also this kind of ties allow us to enter in contact with a group of people (friends or acquaintances of our acquaintances) which otherwise we would not be able to meet. Thus, although strong ties are more willing to form within a group of people linked by strong ties, weak ties instead give us more opportunities to gain new information as the type that allows us to know about a new job, according to Granovetter’s research. Granovetter's approach to economic sociology is based on two fundamental aspects. The first one explains that the action is always socially situated, and cannot be explained in reference to individual motivations. The second one is that social institutions do not arise out of nowhere but are socially constructed. These two assumptions are clearly incompatible with the logic of the neoclassical paradigm, according to which human behaviour is reduced to rational calculation aimed at maximizing the utility. Granovetter resumes the Polanyi’s thought, which affirms that self-regulation underpinning the market system is an unnatural property of the market economy developed in the nineteenth century. This has led to a misrepresentation of reality, has caused the cancellation of the human and natural substance of society, and has had repercussions on the social organization. In this case in fact, it was no longer the economy to be integrated and rooted in social relations, and then in society (embedded) but the social relations to be included in the economic system as accessories. Instead, the economy for Polanyi and Granovetter can only be embedded, or rather characterized by rootedness of economic activity in society. The great importance of interpersonal relationships for Granovetter and the related benefits obtained by individuals from being part of social networks, means that it is possible to establish a connection between the theory of weak ties and the theory of social capital, as it is also grounded in the relationships between individuals. In his theory on various types of capital, Bourdieu defines social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word. These relationships may exist only in the practical state, in material and/or symbolic exchanges which help to maintain them.” (Bourdieu P., 1986:248).


Bourdieu P., (1986) The Forms of Capital, in J. G. Richardson (ed), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York: Greenwood Press.

Granovetter M.S., (1973) The Strength of Weak Ties. The American Journal of Sociology, Volume 78, Issue 6, 1360-1380: University of Chicago Press.

Polanyi K., (1974) La Grande Trasformazione. Torino: Einaudi.

Easley D., Kleinberg J., (2010) Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. Cambridge University Press.