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As promised here is my blog on Micro Theories. In my previous blog I defined micro theories as theories that attempt to explain specific social phenomenon in a broader social system. There are many micro theories developed by prominent researchers identifying social phenomenon.

Few prominent theories are as follows:

STRENGTH OF WEAK TIES

Granovetter(1973) asserts that acquaintances (weak ties) are less likely to be socially involved with one another than close friends (strong ties). Thus the set of people made up of any individual and his or her acquaintances comprises a low-density network (one in which many of the possible relational lines are absent) whereas the set consisting of the same individual and his or her close friends will be densely knit (many of the possible lines are present).

The overall social structural picture suggested by this argument can be seen by considering the situation of some arbitrarily selected individual. This individual will have a collection of close friends, most of who are in touch with one another-a densely knit clump of social structure. Moreover, the individual will have a collection of acquaintances, few of whom know one another. Each of these acquaintances, however, is likely to have close friends in his own right and therefore to be enmeshed in a closely knit clump of social structure, but one different from the individual’s. The weak tie between the individual and his acquaintance, therefore, becomes not merely a trivial acquaintance tie but rather a crucial bridge between the two densely knit clumps of close friends.

To the extent that the assertion of the previous paragraph is correct, these clumps would not, in fact, be connected to one another at all were it not for the existence of weak ties. Thus, individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time. It is not difficult to imagine this phenomenon’s in networks like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

BURT'S STRUCTURAL HOLES THEORY OF SOCIAL CAPITAL

Burt (1976 & 1992) through his structural holes argument suggests that social capital is created by a network in which people can broker connections between disconnected network segments. Society can be viewed as market in which people can exchange all types of goods and ideas in order to achieve their goals. Some people or groups of people achieve better returns in lieu of their efforts. For example, some people earn a better remuneration, some become more important and some lead more important projects. The human capital explanation of this inequity is that people who do better are more able people, more intelligent, more articulate, more attractive or more skilled. Social capital is contextual complement of human capital and thereby people who are more successful are better connected. Holding a certain position in this network structure, where people are connected to each other, is an asset in itself and that asset is social capital.

Burt defines structural holes as weaker connections between two groups in a social structure. These holes in the structure create competitive advantage for people whose relationship spans these holes. This does not mean that people in each group are unaware of existence of the other group. This means that people in each group are more focused on their own activities and do not participate in the activities of the other group. Structural holes are an opportunity to broker the flow of information between people and control the projects that bring people from opposite sides of holes together.

COLEMAN'S CLOSURE THEORY OF SOCIAL CAPITAL

Coleman(1988) through his network closure argument suggests that network in which everybody is connected to everybody and no one can escape the notice of other (in other words a dense network) are the source of social capital. He defines social capital as “sum of resources, actual or virtual, accrue to an individual of a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.”  Network closure does two things for people in a closed network. First, it affects access to information. Second, network closure facilitates sanctions which make it less risky for the people in the network to trust each other.

Coleman exemplifies his argument by studying high-school students. He argues that closure explains why some students are more likely to drop out of school. When adults in a child’s life are more connected to each other, the closure arguments predicts norms, trust and sanctions more likely amongst adults, which means that adults can more effective enforce their interest in the child completing his or her education. He shows three bits of evidence to show that children living in closed networks are less likely to drop out from school and they are:

  1. Children living in family of two parents and few children are less likely to drop out (two parents living together can more effectively collaborate to supervise a child’s education than two parents living apart).
  2. Children who have lived in the same neighborhood are less likely to drop out (parents, teachers and are more likely to know each other and collaborate on a child’s education than parents who have moved in a new neighborhood).
  3. Children in religious schools (ex: catholic school) are less likely to drop out of school (parents, teachers and parents of other students are more likely to know each other and collaborate on a child’s education).

OTHER MICRO THEORIES

There are many more micro theories; some of the prominent once are mentioned here briefly.

Putnam (Putnam, 1995) defined social capital as “features of social organization, such as trust, norms and networks that can improve efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated action. Bourdieu (Bourdieu, 1977) defined social capital as “resource that resulted from social structure”.

Allen (Allen, 1977) found that communication tends to increase as a function of spatial proximity in an organizational setting.

Powell (Powell, 1990) found that network forms of organization, with reciprocal patterns of communication and exchange, are alternatives to hierarchically or market based governance structures; they are more suited to describing companies involved in an intricate latticework of collaborative ventures with other firms over extended periods of time.

Uzzi (Uzzi, 1997) found that embeddedness in an intra-firm network is logic of exchange that promotes economies of time, integrative agreements, pareto improvements in allocative efficiency, and complex adaptation. These positive effects rise up to a threshold, however, after which embeddedness can derail economic performance by making firms vulnerable to exogenous shocks or insulating them from information that exists beyond their network.

Podolony (Podolony, 1994) proposes that organizations overcome problems of market uncertainty by adopting a principle of exclusivity in selecting exchange partners. This general proposition in turn implies two specific hypotheses. First, the greater the market uncertainty, the more that organizations engage in exchange relations with those with whom they have transacted in the past. Second, the greater the uncertainty, the more that organizations engage in transactions with those of similar status.

The above literature makes it amply clear that though the area of research may vary from social science, organizational science to economics, researchers rely on the human networks formed to identify social trends and phenomenon’s (the unit of analysis may be different , in some cases it is a society and in other cases it is an organization).

Combining the understandings of Micro Theories and Macro Theories, here is what I understand:

  1. In order to assess influence in a social network consider the organization of the entire network (macro architecture). This should make it clear that not all networks are organized in a similar fashion.
  2. Understand the organization of the sub-systems, the processes and their characteristics that exist for a given social network. This should assist in identifying how a social network differs from other social networks.
  3. Put these understandings in the context of why the social networks exist or was created.
  4. The value that is generated, both for the creators and participants, of the network.
  5. This should be helpful in understanding the micro phenomenon in the social network leading to better understanding of who are you real influencers and how do they influence.

The biggest gap that we have today is that we do not understand the networks in their entirety but want to take shortcuts in understanding the influencers. We do not view the macro and the micro phenomenons in the context of each other. Rather, we rely on selective attributes like connectedness to underscore influence within a network because it is intuitively obvious. Let’s, remember that centuries ago it was intuitively obvious that sun revolves around the earth, but that did not make necessarily mean it was true. Mankind since then has gone under the biggest shift in its commonsense, brought about by perseverance of scientific research that it’s the earth that revolves around the sun and not otherwise.

I hope you liked this post and will look forward for your feedback.