Social Constraints, Agency, Inter-Organizational Tie Formation and Knowledge Diffusion
Social capital is currently one of social structure‘s most prominent and debated manifestations. However, we have a limited understanding of how social ties as the basis of social capital form in the first place. From one perspective social capital is viewed as: "investment in social relations with expected returns in the marketplace" (Lin 2001, p. 19). A second perspective on social capital formation stresses contextual and environmental features beyond the control of individuals that may yield benefits. Both perspectives are based on premises implicating various motives and structural constraints pertaining to relationship formation including: exchange, power, and dependency; legitimacy seeking or preferential attachment based on status or prestige; homogeneity or homophily and related selection processes; propinquity; or cultural or institutional forces. These categories of mechanisms do not, however, specify a model of how social relationships as social capital are formed in the first place.
If social capital results from "investment strategies," it is important to determine what these strategies are. If social capital originates from structural factors beyond individual control it is important to clarify what mechanisms lead to tie formation within social structures.
The objective of this research is to specify mechanisms of social tie formation and reinforcement by peering inside the black-box of foci (Feld 1981) in which social ties are formed. We do so by focusing on the structural contexts within which individual (micro-level) corporate actors form social relationships for knowledge acquisition that results in macro-level knowledge sharing. A mixed-method analytical approach is employed to this end. Findings illustrate how the subtleties of social structure define the parameters within which social relationships are (strategically) formed.