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Kathleen Griesbach

Research Findings

The unequal reach of social networks at work

September 15, 2022

Social networks can be crucial for getting a job. Cue Mark Granovetter’s enduring sociological insight on the strength of weak ties, the crucial role connections beyond our close networks can play in connecting us to opportunity. Platforms and structures that facilitate professional networking—such as LinkedIn—are based on this insight that extended networks can link people to opportunities beyond their immediate circles.

Researchers have extensively conceptualized and described the ties people use to find work and move up in their field, uncovering a number of ties that transcend the strong-weak dichotomy. Other scholars have shown how those facing adversity—poverty, racism, social marginalization–often draw on strong, reciprocal ties to survive. This work, taken together, reveals how people form and draw on social ties in a range of different ways, and how the form those ties take and their capacity to help people get by—and get ahead–is deeply informed by structural constraints.

However, sociologists have paid less attention to how the spatial and temporal dynamics of work processes and industry structures affect how people form and use social networks over space and time. In a recent article, I draw on interviews with Texas-Mexico borderlands-based agricultural workers and Texas-based oil and gas field workers. Both groups describe forming strong ties with peers while working far from home and living in close quarters for weeks at a time.

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