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What is Structural Social Capital?

Structural social capital is a dimension of social capital that relates to the properties of the social system and of the network of relations as a whole[1]. The term describes the impersonal configuration of linkages between people or units. It is the configuration and pattern of connections between people and includes the roles, rules, precedents, and procedures that are expressions of this configuration[2]. Structural social capital is tangible and can be more easily observed than the other dimensions of social capital.

Structural social capital is one of three dimensions of social capital, the others being cognitive and relational social capital. The distinction between structural, cognitive, and relational social capital was made by Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal[1] and forms the most widely used and accepted framework for understanding social capital. These dimensions are conceptual distinctions that are useful for analytic convenience but in practice social capital involves complex interrelations between the three dimensions.

Structural Cognitive Relational
Social structure Shared understandings Nature and quality of relationships

Structural social capital is the network of people who an individual knows and upon whom she can draw for benefits such as information and assistance. It is typically considered the density, connectivity, hierarchy and appropriability of the network of relationships in any given context such as a group, organisation, or community[3]. Important aspects of structural social capital are the number of ties a person has, with whom and how strong the tie is[4].

Structural social capital is often studied using a network approachStructural social capital is normally studied using a network approach. In research using the network approach the frequency of contact and resulting social distance among actors in a particular firm or organizational field are plotted to form a web-like diagram illustrating actor interaction patterns[5]. It has been analysed from different perspectives  that include tie strength and centrality, network stability and size[6].

The structural dimension of social capital relates to the properties of the social system, the various forms of social organisation that make up society. It is the network relationships but not the quality of these relationships since the quality of relationships is the relational dimension.

Within the context of structural social capital many scholars have identified the distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital (for example Putnam, 2000[7]; Svendsen and Svendsen, 2003[8]) to describe different types of network ties[9].

Structural social capital facilitates conditions of accessibility to various parties for exchanging and transferring knowledge, and for increasing the exchange opportunity[10]. It provides opportunities for people to gain access to relevant peers with desired sets of knowledge or expertise[11]. It makes it easier for people to engage in mutually beneficial collective action by lowering transaction costs and improving social learning[2].

Footnotes

  1. Nahapiet, Janine and Sumantra Ghoshal. 1998. “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage.” Academy of Management Review 23(2):242. ^
  2. Uphoff, Norman and C. M. Wijayaratna. 2000. “Demonstrated Benefits from Social Capital: The Productivity of Farmer Organizations in Gal Oya, Sri Lanka.” World Development 28(11):1875–90. ^
  3. Davenport, Sally and Urs Daellenbach. 2011. “‘Belonging’ to a Virtual Research Centre: Exploring the Influence of Social Capital Formation Processes on Member Identification in a Virtual Organization.” British Journal of Management 22(1):54–76. ^
  4. Taylor, Sully. 2007. “Creating Social Capital in MNCs: The International Human Resource Management Challenge.” Human Resource Management Journal 17(4):336–54. ^
  5. Edelman, Linda F., Mike Bresnen, Sue Newell, Harry Scarbrough, and Jacky Swan. 2002. “The Darker Side of Social Capital.” in 3rd European Conference on Organisational Knowledge, Learning and Capabilities. ^
  6. Lefebvre, Virginie Marie, Douglas Sorenson, Maeve Henchion, and Xavier Gellynck. 2016. “Social Capital and Knowledge Sharing Performance of Learning Networks.” International Journal of Information Management 36(4):570–79. ^
  7. Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. ^
  8. Svendsen, Gunnar Lind Haase and Gert Tinggaard Svendsen. 2003. “On the Wealth of Nations: Bourdieuconomics and Social Capital.” Theory and Society 32(5/6):607–31. ^
  9. Lee, R. and O. Jones. 2008. “Networks, Communication and Learning during Business Start-up: The Creation of Cognitive Social Capital.” International Small Business Journal 26(5):559–94. ^
  10. Ansari, Shahzad, Kamal Munir, and Tricia Gregg. 2012. “Impact at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’: The Role of Social Capital in Capability Development and Community Empowerment.” Journal of Management Studies 49(4):813–42. ^
  11. Andrews, Rhys. 2010. “Organizational Social Capital, Structure and Performance.” Human Relations 63(5):583–608. ^

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