The Characteristics and Functions of Weak Ties
The primary purpose of this study was to identify dimensions of weak tie relationships including characteristics (e.g., distinctive qualities, traits, or properties), functions (e.g., outcomes, purposes, or meanings derived from the interaction) and determinants of engagement to gain insight into the weak tie exchange process and develop frameworks that can be used to operationalize the concept. Data were collected through stories provided by participants during face-to-face interviews. Respondents recounted a situation when someone they did not know well and to whom they did not feel particularly close provided them with assistance. Over 70 stories were collected from 50 adults aged 65 and older who were active in their community. Stories collected were analyzed using an inductive approach that was supported by the concepts of interpersonal tie strength, loose connections, social exchange theory, and social support. Findings suggest that weak tie relationships occur in a variety of community settings and in response to a variety of daily challenges. The exchanges occur more frequently with acquaintances than strangers and the initiator of the exchange is generally the person offering support. The types of support offered are broad-based and include instrumental, emotional, and informational support. Weak tie exchanges range from one-time brief interactions to intermittent exchanges over extended periods, depending on the circumstances. Findings also suggest that weak ties have a specific task or purpose, encourage awareness about the value and purpose of social interactions, and influence participants' future social interactions. Six factors were identified as determinants of engagement in weak ties: situational factors, personal characteristics, judgments of responsibility, attitudes about helping behaviors, personal network type, and exchange history. The findings from this study provide a foundation for further conceptualization of weak ties and a framework on which to develop instruments to measure tie strength and the potential for engaging in weak tie exchanges.