Social Capital Theory

Social Capital Theory

Hossam Ali-Hassan (York University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-659-4.ch024
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Social capital represents resources or assets rooted in an individual’s or in a group’s network of social relations. It is a multidimensional and multilevel concept which has been characterized by a diversity of definitions and conceptualizations which focus on the structure and/or on the content of the social relations. A common conceptualization of social capital in information systems research consists of a structural, relational and cognitive dimension. The structural dimension represents the configuration of the social network and the characteristics of its ties. The relational dimension represents assets embedded in the social relations such as trust, obligations, and norms of reciprocity. The cognitive dimension represents a shared context which facilitates interactions and is created by shared codes, language and narratives. For a single or multiple members of a network, social capital can be a source of solidarity, information, cooperation, collaboration and influence. Social capital has been and remains a sound theory to study information systems in research areas affected by social relations and the assets embedded in them.
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The term “Social Capital” originated from the areas of sociology and political science and originally appeared in Hanifan (1916) study of rural schools community centers. It appeared later in community studies where networks of strong personal relationships provided the basis for trust, cooperation and collective action which were key for the survival and functioning of city neighborhoods (Jacobs, 1965). Then at the individual level, Loury (1977) studied the resources intrinsic in family relations and community social structure and their role in the development of young children. The concept was then applied to a wide range of social phenomena such as the development of human capital, economic performance of firms, geographic regions, and nations (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). Now it can be found in a wide range of social science disciplines, such as sociology, political science, and economy (Adler and Kwon, 2002), in addition to organizational and management sciences (Huysman & Wulf, 2004).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Capital: Resources found in social relations that would benefit individuals and communities in the form of support, solidarity, access to information and influence.

Tie Strength: Defined by the amount of time, the intimacy, the emotional intensity and the reciprocal services between two network nodes

Structural Dimension: Represents the configuration and characteristics of the ties of a social network

Open Structure: A social network characterized by a low number of ties between nodes

Relational Dimension: Represents the assets rooted in the social network such as trust and reciprocity.

Social Network: The network of ties which represent relationships between individuals (nodes) in the form of friendship, business relationships or other social relations.

Network Closure: A social network characterized by a high number of ties between nodes

Cognitive Dimension: Represents the shared context and understanding necessary for sharing information in a social network

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