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Sari sellers and the strength of weak ties

In class, we discussed how many people found pertinent information relating to their present jobs through acquaintances instead of their close friends. This is at odds with what we may commonly believe as it is assumed that we know our close friends better and that they are more likely to offer help as compared to mere acquaintances. However, Mark Granovetter resolves this seeming inconsistency through his theory of the strength of weak ties: even though our close friends (strong ties) are more likely to help, they tend to also share the same knowledge as us and thus new information is best gained through someone not from our own circle but instead from an acquaintance (weak ties).[1]

Hence, as I was interested in learning more about the potential social and economic implications of such a network analysis in information flows, I looked into the application of the strength of weak ties to microfinance and found a paper by Cornell Jackson for his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Greenwich.[2] In it, he defines microfinance as the provision of financial services such as credit, savings, insurance and remittances for the poor and tested Granovetter’s theory by carrying out an empirical study on sari sellers in India.

In his study, Jackson found that the average sari seller relies on her family, friends and loyal customer base for market information. The implication of only having strong ties is that there is less transfer of new information. For instance, a sari seller and her close group might not be aware of untapped markets where she can hawk her wares in the neighboring town, while an acquaintance from there might know of.

Furthermore, Jackson highlighted a few examples of how information was transferred via the introduction of new acquaintances to the networks of sari sellers and how it translated into economic opportunities. These include microfinance institutions encouraging sari sellers to band together to purchase saris in bulk to lower costs and new contacts introducing sari sellers to new customers. The study also found that microfinance institutions could also organize platforms for their clients, the sari sellers, to trade information and share training opportunities. This is in hope that by introducing new weak ties into the network of these sari sellers, they will be empowered by the knowledge and resources to grow their businesses and this will in turn improve their economic well-being.


[1] Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited.Sociological theory1(1), 201-233.

[2] Jackson, C. A. (2012). Strength of weak ties in microfinance (Doctoral dissertation, University of Greenwich).


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September 2014