Abstract - The Information Society 21(2)

Weak Ties in Networked Communities

Andrea L. Kavanaugh, Debbie Denise Reese, John M. Carroll and Mary Beth Rosson

Communities with high levels of social capital are likely to have a higher quality of life than communities with low social capital. This is due to the greater ability of such communities to organize and mobilize effectively for collective action because they have high levels of social trust, dense social networks, and well-established norms of mutuality (the major features of social capital). Communities with ‘bridging’ social capital (weak ties across groups) as well as ‘bonding’ social capital (strong ties within groups) are the most effective in organizing for collective action. People who belong to multiple groups act as bridging ties. When people with bridging ties use communication media, such as the Internet, they enhance their capability to educate community members, and organize, as needed, for collective action. This paper summarizes evidence from stratified household survey data in Blacksburg, Virginia showing that people with weak (bridging) ties across groups have higher levels of community involvement, civic interest and collective efficacy than people without bridging ties among groups. Moreover, heavy Internet users with bridging ties have higher social engagement, use the Internet for social purposes, and have been attending more local meetings and events since going online than heavy Internet users with no bridging ties. These findings may suggest that the Internet – in the hands of bridging individuals - is a tool for enhancing social relations and information exchange, and for increasing face-to-face interaction, all of which help to build both bonding and bridging social capital in communities.

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