The Chinese concept of Guanxi is a form of social network theory that defines one’s place in the social structure and provides security, trust and a prescribed role. This essay argues that Eastern Guanxi and recently popularized Western Social Network Theory (SNT) overlap in three ways. First, both imply that information is essential to sustain a social system by prescribing a set of behaviors that regulate the flow of information and that define insider and outsider relationships (Guanxi), or strong ties and weak ties (SNT). Second, both offer a theory of change coupled with an ethic of sustainability where order is created by trust as a local, relative phenomena. Finally, both Guanxi and SNT characterize randomness and order as essential, though Guanxi favors certainty and trust over chaos. The implications of the comparison undermine the claims of ‘newness’ and primacy often associated with recent SNT literature. Furthermore, they suggest that Western network theorists can gain significant insight from traditional Eastern thought.
The complexity revolution that emerged from the work of Lorenz (Gleick, 1988), Prigogine (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984), and many others has certainly spread into management and organizational theory, with implications for economics (Arthur, 1994), human development (Senge, 1990), and organizational theory (Wheatley, 1992). Communication scholars have also recognized a tremendous explanatory potential in complexity (Anderson […]