- On February 16, 2020
- Social Capital, Social Network Theory
This writing highlights several factors pertaining to the theory of social capital or social network theory as described via the scholarly writings authored by Nan Lin, Professor of Sociology of the Trinity College, Duke University.
Lin’s paper (2000) emphasizes the inequalities in social capital.
Before examining such inequalities, Lin (2000) first establishes a definition baseline of the term social capital as the foundation for his findings:
In other words, social capital results in the potential of improved socioeconomic standing or increased access to better social resources.
This definition of the social capital concept is akin to what we see in the scholarly article, entitled Connection Strategies: Social capital implications of Facebook-enabled communication practices, where the authors point out benefits derived from social capital as emotional support, exposure to diverse ideas, and access to non-redundant information (Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2010).
It’s important to highlight that such resources (benefits to social capital) are usually accessed and/or mobilized through purposive actions (Ye, Fang, He, & Hsieh, 2012), including:
- instrumental actions: action taken to obtain resources not possessed by the actor
- expressive actions: action taken to maintain resources already possessed by the actor
Gender, race, and ethnicity inequalities
Circling back to the inequalities Lin finds are rampant in social capital, the two primary forms he examines in great detail are gender and race/ethnicity inequalities.
The very word “inequality” immediately connotates some kind of socioeconomic disadvantage, and that’s what Lin spotlights in his writing. Specifically, Lin points out that inequality exists in the realm of social capital because social capital is differentially distributed across different social groups.
The inequalities of social capital seem to stem from the latter part of social capital’s definition, which focuses on what an actor can access through its location in a social network. And it’s this very “location” in the social network that seems to be disparately distributed amongst women and men as well as amongst whites and nonwhites.
Reasons for disparate locations
Some key reasons Lin (2000) cites are the cause of disparate location in social networks include:
- Actors are situated differently in the social hierarchy (p. 787).
Findings reveal that men, for example, tend to have more nonkin connections like fewer neighbors and more coworkers, advisors, or friends compared to women who tend to connect more with kin and less with nonkin.
- Homophily: actors tend to connect with members of the same social group (p. 787).
In networking, there is a natural propensity for individuals to interact and share sentiment with others who share similar characteristics (Homans 1958; Laumann 1966).
- Members of a disadvantaged group may find themselves deficient in social capital (p. 787).
Lin attributes this to social groups in resource-poor networks have limited access to the variety of information and influence compared to actors with resource-rich networks who enjoy access to information from and influence in diverse socioeconomic strata and positions.
In summary, the above inequalities as defined by Lin (2000) can only be diminished by social groups if they deploy strategic behaviors (such as finding ties beyond one’s neighborhood, joining professional clubs, or working with mentors or sponsors) to expand their access beyond their usual social circles.
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Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2011). Connection strategies: social capital implications of Facebook-enabled communication practices. New media & society, 13(6), 873-892.
Homans, G. (1958). Human behavior as exchange. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 63, No. 6, Emile Durkheim-Georg Simmel, 1858- 1958, pp. 597-606. http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~hoganr/SOC%20602/Spring%202014/Homans%201958.pdf.
Lambert, N. M., Stillman, T. F., Hicks, J. A., Kamble, S., Baumeister, R. F., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). To belong is to matter: sense of belonging enhances meaning in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(11), 1418-1427.
Lazarsfeld, P.F. & Merton, R.K. (1954). “Friendship as social process: a substantive and methodological analysis.” pp. 298-348 in The Varied Sociology of Paul F. Laz.arsfeld, edited by P. L. Kendall. New York: Columbia University Press.
Laumann, E. (1966). Prestige and association in an urban community. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Retrieved from https://dbk.gesis.org/dbksearch/download.asp?id=44433.
Lin, N. (2000). Inequality in social capital. Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 29, No. 6 (Nov., 2000), pp. 785-795. http://faculty.washington.edu/matsueda/courses/590/Readings/Lin%20Inequality%20Soc%20Cap.pdf.
Lin, Nan. (1999). Building a network theory of social capital. Pp. 3-30 in Social capital : theory and research, edited by Ronald Burt. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. https://www.bebr.ufl.edu/sites/default/files/Lin%20(1999)%20Building%20a%20Network%20Theory%20of%20Social%20Capital.pdf.
Ye, Q., Fang, B., He, W., & Hsieh, J. P. A. (2012). Can social capital be transferred cross the boundary of the real and virtual worlds? An empirical investigation of Twitter. Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, 13(2), 145.