Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. "The Strength of Weak Ties." (R033) (Swint Shepherd)


Granovetter states social theory lacks insight to how micro-level interactions relate to macro-levelinteractions- in particular in his study the impact of (micro-level) social ties, the strength of personal ties, on community organization. The strength of personal ties is measured by the degree of emotional intensity, intimacy and reciprocal services (Granovetter). Granovetter proposes that if individuals A and B have tie the stronger their tie, the greater proportion C,D,E will be connected to both A and B. A-B sharing strong tie are likely to be similar and if A-C then  greater probability B-C are similar; in reverse weaker A-B and A-C ties= weaker B-C tie. Granovetter cites Heider’s theory of cognitive balance ties A-B and A-C, B-C want positive tie= psychological strain. Information is more widely dispersed through weak ties than strong ties, and so the removal of weak ties would do more damage than that of weak ties. Network ties within a community can facilitate or break organization. In community organization, transmission of mass media information is dependent on weak ties. Granovetter uses the example of  Boston’s West End working class, extremely fragmented community  of cohesive cliques. Two common sources of weak ties are work and formal organizations, both of which the West Enders lacked, yielding a poor organizational life. Granovetter concludes, the more weak ties (local bridges) per person, the more “cohesive” a community and the greater their ability for acting collectively. (DSwint)

In the “ The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Grannovetter, an impressive work about the structure of friendship and network before the likes of Facebook, he argues that weak ties can serve as bridges connecting two friends together therefore connecting two people or multiple groups of friends. Yet weak ties do not automatically become bridges the tie must be made locally, which means personally and requires the cognitive power on that part of the two friends to see the potential for shared friends between them. Grannovetter details the how the dyad becomes the triad due to similarity of interests or overlapping connection through the simple connection of knowing both friends. Furthermore, he expands the advantage of weak ties to community organization in the example of the West End and shows that it is necessary to have weak ties outside the family and network of support that is quick to mobilize.(KShepherd)

The Strength Of Weak Ties by Mark S. Granovetter in 1973 is an essay that attempts to gain enthusiasm for empirical research to evaluate strength and type of interpersonal ties, in an effort to use micro causes to explain macro trends. Within this preliminary theory of interpersonal ties, if A-B is a strong tie and A-C is a strong tie, then B is likely to have some tie with C. Granovetter explains that this is how cliques form because all members have strong ties to all other members but lack the necessary weak ties to remain involved with those outside the clique. Bridges are the given example of weak ties, in which B may not be directly connected to D but has an indirect or weak tie to D through a bridge created by C. These weak ties are fundamental in connecting tight knit groups with the rest of the community and networking different groups, thus allowing community strength and organization.

Participant observation is an ineffective way of studying this because it limits the researcher to the group and their strong ties, ignoring all weak ties to those outside the group. In order to understand the ways in which interpersonal ties or micro relationships create patterns that comprise the big picture, the researcher must use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to record both strong and weak ties of all community members to analyze the affect on the community at large in function. Granovetter proposes the idea that historically, communities unable to organize contained too many cliques that failed to pass information between one another due to their lack of weak ties, or bridges, linking them together. Meanwhile, other communities that had these weak ties succeeded. However, it is made clear in the essay that this hypothesis is unproven due to lack of empirical evidence, and studies should be conducted using sociometry to investigate the significance of interpersonal relationships (CMcNaughton)



Mark Granovetter is a professor at Stanford University. This excerpt is from the article, "The Strength of Weak Ties" published in the American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 78, No. 6 (May, 1973), pp. 1360-1380) (Also, HERE)

Leading Questions

1. What is a tie?

2. What factors contribute to the strength of a tie?

3. What does G mean by the "degree" of a local bridge?

4. What is the basic rule for how "stuff" flows on a network? (326.9)

5. An important concept is introduced, almost in passing, at 327.7: how much damage can be done by removing a particular tie. Elaborate.

6. G addresses directly the distinction between a network perspective and a conventional individuals/groups perspective in the section "Weak Ties and Community Organization" (328ff).

7. What lessons does G offer for those of us who do ethnographic or participant observation research?

8. What ethnographic observation in Gans' work supports Granovetter's idea that the West End community might have been fragmented?

9. The final point on ties in the West End is that even if there were weak ties, they might not have been bridges. He connects this to how the ties get made, to what opportunities the community offers for creating weak ties. Explain.

10. Ponder G's conclusion: "personal experience of individuals is closely bound up with larger-scale aspects of social structure, well beyond the purview or control of particular individuals. Linkage of micro and macro levels is thus no luxury but of central importance to the development of sociological theory" (330.4).


  1. Intro
  2. The Strength of Ties
    • Definition
    • Hypothesis
    • Evidence: time; sentiments; similarity
  3. Weak Ties in Diffusion Processes
    • DEF: diffusion = spread of ideas/practices through social space (see diffusion of innovations)
    • The forbidden triad
    • DEF: bridge = tie that is only path between two points in a network
    • H1: No strong tie is a bridge
    • H2: All bridges are weak ties
  4. Weak Ties and Community Organization
    • In this section, G grapples with the ethnographic evidence put forth by H. Gans in his book Urban Villagers.
  5. Conclusion

See also