Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Private Schools and Weak Ties

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, August 03, 2006 | Category: |

One of the main thrusts of my thesis is towards an idea, attributable to Mark Granovetter (1973), called ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’. The idea here is that if you take an individual and the people to whom they are connected, friends and family constitute strong ties and acquaintances constitute weak ties. To give a brief review of the idea, if I have a strong tie to an individual, it is likely that we have similar friends, tastes, motives, etc – we belong to what is called a Gemeinschaft or community which has similar mores and values. The thing is that this can constrain me as an individual if I want to tap into social resources, if I have specific resources it is quite likely that others to whom I have strong ties, or who are in my Gemeinschaft, will have access to similar resources. What this then implies is that if I have weak ties that connect me to other social contexts, or other Gemeinschaften, I can then tap into other social resources.

While reading a later paper of Granovetter’s, a 1983 review of the decade of work after his seminal work in ’73, he narrows his idea, stating that it is not only weak ties that are important, but weak ties that bridge social groups – basically giving further emphasis to the original idea he had. Moreover, what he and others have subsequently showed is that education often plays a role in providing one with the bridging weak ties necessary for things such as labour market participation (finding a new job through a weak tie), or other such activities. In addition to this idea on education level was one about wealth level – those at higher wealth levels seem to have more bridging weak ties than those at lower wealth levels.

This got me to thinking about schooling, specifically schools like Bishops – private schools with the rumoured ‘Old Boys Clubs’ that provide for individuals in the school. My intuition is that schools like Bishops not only provide individuals with strong ties in their friendship groups, but they also provide tacit weak ties to people who aren’t even acquaintances. What this means is that even if you have not met someone, because of a shared experience (i.e. having attended Bishops, or other such schools) you share a bridge weak tie with that individual. This then means that social mobility for these kinds of individuals can be much swifter and much easier than it is for others who don’t have this kind of historic resource. Not only do you garner more actual acquaintances who can act as bridge weak ties, you collect others who you do not even know.

This is not to say that the strong ties that one cultivates at school are not going to be useful in fact, in a wealthy environment, Granovetter asserts that institutions such as private clubs, elite schools and such will be created by the upper classes in order to facilitate the growth of such strong ties. There are additional reasons for this to do with class sociology and frequency of interaction, etc. But what made more of an impact to me was the possibility of the exploitation of bridging weak ties that could exist because of these institutions’ existence.

The one word that comes into my head is ‘Gnarly’ (like a tree). Anyway, the random thoughts that one has while working on a dissertation hey?

Currently have 2 comments:

  1. what about academic ties? and service ties?


    but I enjoyed the post. :)

    love and metta

  2. Those weak ties are exactly why those exorbitant school fees were paid by loving parents Simon - besides the fact that you also look good in a tie.....weak or strong. As for gnarly, that is often how I look (and feel) these days.