Monday, February 9, 2009

Social Capital

Social capital is a concept derived from sociological research which can be applied to the educational setting. It refers to the connections that exist with and between social networks as well as connections among individuals (1). The core idea of social capital is that social networks have value and may play a significant role in the productivity of faculty within an institution of higher learning. (2) Adler and Kwan define social capital as “the goodwill that is engendered in the social relations of social systems, and that can be mobilized to facilitate collective action.” (3)

Social capital as an idea has been useful in aiding our understanding of organizational behavior. In specific, it has been used to examine cooperation and trust. Notably, it exists only within its specific setting, and is seen by management researchers as an important source of competitive advantage. One of the great problems facing those looking at social capital is, how do we create it? A paper by Pastoriza and colleagues (4) argues that a critical component of social capital is the daily personal interaction of personnel at all levels of the organization. The issue becomes how to foster and facilitate trust, associability and identification as chief components of social capital.

We are not social scientists here at Palmer. Most of us do not consider management theory in our interactions with friends, colleagues, administration or academic leadership. Yet we all know that there are good ways to enter into discussion, and there are less effective ways to do so. Management theory looks at issues such as self-interest, opportunism and note that human agency may be an important driver in our interactions, i.e, what is in it for me? Entire disciplines are built around this, such as agency theory and transaction cost analysis, and therefore efforts need to occur to overcome the limitations of self-interest. Mind you, this should not be seen as a negative. We wish to see self-motivated faculty working to advance themselves while also working to hone their draft. But of course, all of us are mindful that we are doing so within an organizational system, in our case a chiropractic education institution.

Pastoriza notes that organizational social capital has two main components: associability (collective goal orientation) and shared trust. Associability is defined as “the willingness and ability of organizational members to subordinate their parochial interests to firm’s collective goals.” (5) Here, the idea is that we care for others’ well being. Shed trust refers to one individual fully internalizing the other’s preferences. Organizations with high levels of social capital have high levels of identification trust.

Social capital can be created, but it takes work. AS one can read from this short description, a main goal in creating social capital is to enhance trust and associability, both of which work to enhance human relations. Success in its creation works to the benefit of both the organization and the people working for it.

1. Portes A. Social capital: its origins and applications in modern sociology. Ann Rev Soc 1998;24:1-24
2. Putnam R. Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of Americna community. New York, NY; Simon and Schuster, 2000
3. Adler PS, Kwan S. Social capital: prospects for a new concept. Acad Management Rev 2002;27:17-40
4. Pastoriza D, Arino MA, Ricart JE. Ethical management behaviour as an antecedent of organizational social capital. J Business Ethics 2008;78:329-341
5. Leana CR, Van Buren HJ. Organizational social capital and employment practices. Acad Management Rev 1999;24:538-555

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