Skip to content

Brokering the closure

April 6, 2010

And so I moved to wordpress.com. The website is up and running. Some links may be broken, sorry for that. I will be fixing these in due time. I also still have to update the old website which will hold most of the static content, including R repository.

Perhaps a word (or two) about the title: Brokering the Closure. In sociology, already for some time, people are researching why, when and how it is beneficial for an individual to know others, and who those others should be. This is usually encapsulated in the term “social capital“. While there is a lot of fuzziness and contradictions around that term, perhaps partly because it is defined by its function, the chief paradigm of addressing the problem is that of (social) networks.

One of the bigger questions in social capital research is related to the clash between the two hypotheses regarding the shape of the social network structures, and individual’s position therein, that facilitate higher social capital. One is due to Ronald Burt and his concept of structural holes (SH). The other is due to James Coleman and his concept of network closure (NC). In short, according to the SH it is beneficial to connect otherwise unconnected others because you can gain by brokering the interests of your peers who are not in direct contact with each other or, in perhaps different context, impose some sort of an informational toll on the flow of information in the network. On the other hand according to NC it is beneficial to be located in the neighborhood in which everybody knows everybody else so that it is easier to form “coalitions” through which one can exert pressure on those who misbehave etc. For example it is good for parents to know the parents of their children friends so a kind of indirect monitoring can take place.

The apparent contradiction is that it is impossible to have both in full at the same time. A lot of effort is put into identifying when which hypothesis applies. For example, according to Buskens & van de Rijt (2008) brokerage opportunities quickly disappear if everyone is looking for them. So there must be some closure in the network to be a successful broker, at least for a moment.

To some extent explaining both SH and NC together seems like  Squaring the Circle. Hence Brokering the Closure. Squaring the circle, was proven impossible, at least in exact way. I hope a more positive solution to SH vs NC dilemma will be found.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: