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Guanxi as Sociology Network

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 4 months ago

Excerpts from "Networking Guanxi" by Barry Wellman, Wenhong Chen and Dong Weizhen. In Social Networks in China: Institutions, Culture, and the Changing Nature of GuanxiEdited by Thomas Gold, Douglas Guthrie and David Wank. Cambridge University Press.

From the Introduction:

My intention is to show how some of the toolkit of my specialty, social network analysis, could lead to new understandings of guanxi, both as a phenomenon in itself and in relation to other aspects of Chinese societies. This is not just the case of using an available hammer to fit all nails: The fit between network analysis and guanxi is tight (see also Lin forthcoming). Although scholars of guanxi often talk about “the social network” as a useful, organizing metaphor, social network analysis – like guanxi analysis – has developed beyond the metaphor.... Where area specialists argue for the particularity of their field, paradigm mongers such as me argue for the generality of their approach. I join with many of this book’s authors in belunivieving that social network analysis can provide useful ways to study both dyadic, two-person guanxi ties, and multi-person guanxi networks. Social network analysis can help identify more precisely different aspects of guanxi and provide techniques for studying it. Its approach can help develop the analysis of guanxi and place it in the perspective of interpersonal relations and exchanges elsewhere in the world (see the articles in Wellman 1999b). Although China is different from Western countries, we should be able to use the same tools to address similar intellectual challenges.

From the Conclusion:

Our group's findings fit the nature of loosely-coupled communities and organizations that are not enveloping, binding solidarities. The authors of this book have convinced me that this is as true in China as it is in Canada. Their chapters all portray a significant shift from bureaucratic power to market power (see also Nee 1996; Keister 2000). Both bureaucracies and markets entail social networks to operate. Social network analysis provides analytic tools to move the debate about state power and entrepreneurial markets beyond an either/or discussion. Bureaucracies need interpersonal work-arounds to avoid rigidities (Sik and Wellman 1999) and to make sure that high-status people get “properly” treated. Markets need the social stability and trust-enhancing qualities of interpersonal ties (Cohen 1969; Fong and Dong 1999; White 1981). This suggests that, contra Guthrie, guanxi will flourish in China’s evolving market society.

Interpersonally, in China as well as the Western world, people are members of multiple networks, and they enact specific ties and networks on an hourly, daily, monthly and yearly basis. They invest in close ties with immediate kin and good friends, rather than in weaker ties with neighbors and workmates. They can – and do – change ties and networks in response to opportunities, difficulties and changes in their personal and household situations. Rather than being externally imposed by social control, ties are valued for what they can do instrumentally as well as enjoyed as sociable ends in themselves. (Gold 1985; Wellman, et al. 1997, Wellman 1999a, 2001).

Under these circumstances, network phenomena can only be facilitating and partially constraining – and rarely dominating or controlling. Even though people no longer inhabit solidary groups, they do not function alone. Even though personal networks are fragmentary and loosely- coupled, support is given to clusters within a network as well as to an ego. Ties do not operate in isolation. Ties contribute to networks; networks encourage and potentiate ties. The guanxi relationship is social in another sense. Support is often given for the general benefit of a household or a network rather than for the specific benefit of the individual. Just as investment is not just zero- sum but builds a fund of capital, guanxi can also contribute to the network of which both are members. The network’s provision of guanxi adds to the fund of network capital circulating in a community as well as benefiting the individual. Guanxi is rarely a zero-sum game.

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