Compare "bonding" and "bridging" networking ties with respect to providing a sense of belonging and promoting integration in a society with a great deal of diversity. How might a person's identity be affected by these different types of network ties?
The fundamental distinction between bonding and bridging is one of homogeneity versus heterogeneity; in effect, the difference lies primarily in the degree or level of commonality that exists within the unit in question. Bonding is used to refer to social networks among groups that are essentially similar, whether in terms of ethnicity, profession, socioeconomic class, etc. Bridging, in contrast, refers to the process of forging practical or functional connections between diverse groups for a common purpose. An example of bridging could be the ties that develop between diverse ethnic groups for the purpose of confronting a common enemy. Bonding, in a positive sense, promotes a sense of unity among neighbors seeking to protect the distinctness or aggregate value of their neighborhood. The shared bond of living together in a community facilitates the formation of functional units with a common interest or goal, such as reducing crime in the community or working towards beautification projects to enhance the aesthetic value of the neighborhood. Bonding in a negative sense can involve the formation of criminal organizations based upon ethnicity, such as with most street gangs or organized criminal mafias.
In a society with a great deal of diversity, bonding and bridging both come into play, depending upon the nature of the objective and the scale of the challenge. The United States is a nation of immigrants. Historically, especially with the large-scale migrations of specific ethnic groups like Italians, Irish, Jews, Cubans, Vietnamese, and many others, bonding was a natural occurrence as each such group tended to coalesce into ethnically-defined neighborhoods, where language, culture and culinary preferences resulted in clearly-delineated communities. The bonds that existed within those communities were strong. With subsequent generations and opportunities for educational and professional advancement, the more prosperous members of such communities relocated to communities that were defined more in economic terms than in ethnic or cultural terms.
In countries with as much ethnic and cultural diversity as the United States and Canada, bridging across cultural and ethnic boundaries usually occurs in the context of the development of a sense of loyalty and patriotism to the nation in which these groups have found solace or refuge. While they become “American” or “Canadian” over time, however, they retain an emotional linkage to the countries from which they or their parents or grandparents emigrated. Bridging between countries of record and countries of origin exists among most ethnic groups, as with the emotional bond between Irish-Americans and Ireland, Jewish-Americans and Israel, Italian-Americans and Italy, and so on. This sense of dual-identity is a natural outgrowth of the immigrant experience. Once brought together in a new nation of ill-defined origin, however, the development of a shared sense of patriotism towards that new nation is crucial for the social bonding needed to the country to survive its divisions.
An individual’s identity is affected by the different types of social networks to which he or she belongs. As noted, bonds form among individuals of disparate backgrounds who share a common passion for certain types of activities or foods, or from a shared sense of national purpose. It is a basic truism that that sense of national purpose manifests itself most dramatically in times of crisis, for example, when attacked by an outside enemy. Depending upon the identity of the “enemy,” elements within society under attack may be forced to confront the ethnic and cultural bonds they maintain across borders, as was the case with Muslim Americans following the attacks of September 11, 2001, or with German-Americans during World War II. How well such groups assimilate into the broader culture and come to identify with the nation rather than with countries or origin or with those with whom they share a common interpretation of religion abroad determines the success that may or may have occurred in the forging of bonds within their communities.
Rightly or wrongly, advocates of English as the national language believe strongly that the commonality of a language is vital to the forging of a unified nation comprised of numerous cultures. The “Balkanization” of society – in other words, the fragility of a nation divided among disparate languages and cultures such as existed in the former nation of Yugoslavia (the operative phrase there being “former nation”) – would seem to argue for the unifying bond associated with a common language, but there are many opponents of such an approach to ensuring the notion of a common heritage.