Culture in network breaks: Tie dissolution as a vehicle of justice

Till Hilmar (2020)

Poetics. Online first

Abstract. Tie dissolution in non-romantic relations is commonly understood as a structural process. This article challenges this prevailing view by tracing agency behind dynamics of disassociation. It distinguishes between “natural” and “moral” tie dissolution and explores the “broken tie”, as a former positive tie turned negative, theoretically and empirically. Data comes from an interview and survey study with 41 respondents with first-hand experience of network change during the transformation from Communist-ruled East Germany to reunified German market society after 1989. A key finding is that accounts of broken ties may be a vehicle to express beliefs about justice in society. Examining breaks in strong ties allows to integrate culture and networks in fruitful ways.

Extract: “4.3. Content of conflict: justice orientations
The content of the conflict is an important element of the broken tie. It is necessarily specific to the case studied here. However, examining how individuals assign meaning to broken ties also reveals a theoretically pertinent insight: The broken tie is not only about interpersonal conflict, but also, potentially, charged with broader, societal grammars of justice (Boltanski & Thévenot 2006; Hegtvedt & Johnson 2000). In this material, a semiotic and affective charging of the broken tie can be found on two levels: in political, and in economic accounts of tie dissolution. Their dynamics are assortative (Rivera et al. 2010), as they are concerned with tolerating or rejecting another person’s beliefs and attitudes.”

Link to the review