Alienation Reconsidered: The Strength Of Weak Ties Analysis

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and his or her acquaintances comprises a low-density network (one in which many of the possible relational lines are absent) whereas the set consisting of the same individual and his or her close friends will be densely knit (many of the possible lines are present). The overall social structural picture suggested by this argument can be seen by considering the situation of some arbitrarily selected individual-call him Ego. Ego will have a collection of close friends, most of whom are in touch with one another-a densely knit clump of social structure. Moreover, Ego will have a collection of acquaintances, few of whom know one another. Each of these acquaintances, however, is likely to have close friends in his own right and therefore to be enmeshed …show more content…

Upon further reflection it is clear that this argument is closely related to certain classic themes in sociology. In the evolution of social systems, perhaps the most important source of weak ties is the division of labor, since increasing specialization and interdependence result in a wide variety of specialized role relationships in which one knows only a small seg- ment of the other's personality. (See the perceptive comments of Sim- mel, 1950, pp. 317-329.) In contrast to the emphasis of Wirth, and also Toennies, that role segmentation results in alienation, is the Durkheim- ian view that the exposure to a wide variety of different viewpoints and activities is the essential prerequisite for the social construction of individualism. In a provocative article, Rose Coser (1975) takes up some of these themes. She describes the complexity of role set-to use Robert Mer- ton's expression for the plurality of others with whom one has role relations-as a "seedbed of individual autonomy." In Simmel's view, she recalls, "the fact that an individual can live up to expectations of

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