Kinship in establishing social networks

In Dobe Ju'/hoansi’s society, the complex nature of kinship system serves the functional role to fulfill several functions of their daily life such as social support, distribution of scarce resources, forming of alliance through marriage to gain security or resources etc. Seeing kinship as a construction of tie is an interesting way of viewing the kinship system. It is important to differentiate strong ties and weak ties in their social networks as the resources provided can vary substantially in some scenarios.

In different cultures, strong and weak ties have varying levels of importance. Take for instance China, where people emphasize on ‘guanxi’, which means having a close relationship and a high level of trust in a person, as those commonly found within a family. In this case the large population, along with the increasing competitiveness of the society, strong tie is seen as crucial for survival. The element of trust which exists in strong ties is crucial for security as well as safety in maneuvering around the arena of work and politics, especially in country where there is a strict rule imposed upon the nation. On the other hand, Mark Granovettor commented on the strength of weak ties, stating that strong ties are redundant whereby they share the same resources with the ego. News of job opportunities or certain resources are often provided by people sharing weak ties with the ego. Family members, having a strong tie with the ego, have already exhausted all their resources available. Hence, it is important to establish social networks especially those of weak ties in life as these will lead us to new resources and opportunities which will otherwise not be available or known to us.

The construction of social network can be seen in how Dobe Ju/’hoansi form groups by placing siblings at the core of the group, thereby slowly extending the group to include spouses of siblings of spouses of core siblings. Going down the list, we examine a decreasing continuum of intensity of the strength of ties. The Ju/’hoansi’s kinship system serves as a brilliant means to construct social connections. The inclusion of varying degrees of weak and strong ties enhances their chances of survival due to exposure to different kinds of resources or capital. This kinship system is amazing in the way that even though huge emphasis is placed on strong ties among family members, methods such as formation of a group are taken into account to locate weak ties. In the past where the Ju/’hoansi society relies largely on kinship system for survival, the kinship system indeed serves a functional role for them to source out resources otherwise not available for them. For example, the Ju/’hoansi will often travel miles of distance to visit their family or extended kin and during such visit, they will often bring back a huge amount of resources which are necessary for survival, such as food etc.

In their groups, the presence of a continuum of weak and strong ties allows them to source for comfort and support from family members falling on the continuum of strong ties, such as those of their siblings and spouses. Referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where high level of trust is present among the kinship, this is where some of the basic human psychological needs of safety and love/belonging are being fulfilled.

On the other hand, the establishment of weak ties within their own groups of community allows them to source for resources otherwise not available to them and these resources may be crucial for one’s survival or to give one’s an edge over another. For example, when distributing meat, extra care will be taken to make sure that everyone has exactly the same portion of food. However, in order to receive this portion of food, ties have to be forged first. In this case, even weak ties will get one a chance to receive the portion of meat needed for the nutritional value especially when their activities require a high amount of energy to sustain them throughout. Hence, through the forming of groups, the Ju/’hoansi are able to establish both strong and weak ties whereby different types of resources are being made available for them to increase their chances of survival.