Entrepreneurial social capital research: resolving the structure and agency dualism

Robert Lee, Oswald Jones

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Abstract

Purpose
– While there is a large volume of entrepreneurial social capital research, the philosophical assumptions have received limited attention. The purpose of this paper is to review and classify entrepreneurial social capital studies according to the following approaches – objectivist (positivist-realist, structuralist) and subjectivist (social constructionist). There is a neglect of structure and agency, and the authors encourage a critical realist approach that permits an understanding of observable network structure, constraint-order and human agency as a dynamic system.

Design/methodology/approach
– The ontological and epistemological assumptions, and associated strengths and weaknesses of objectivist (positivist-realist, structuralist) and subjectivist (social constructionist) entrepreneurial social capital studies are discussed. The case for a more progressive critical realist approach is developed.

Findings
– The authors demonstrate that objectivist (positivist-realist, structuralist) research with findings bereft of situated meaning and agency dominates. The emergence of subjectivist research – narratively examining different network situations from the perspective of those embedded in networks – is an emerging and competing approach. This dualism is unlikely to comprehensively understand the complex system-level properties of social capital. Future research should adopt critical realism and fuse: objective data to demonstrate the material aspects of network structures and what structural social capital exists in particular settings; and subjective data that enhances an understanding of situated meaning, agency and intention in a network.

Originality/value
– This paper contributes a review of entrepreneurial social capital research and philosophical foundations. The development of a critical realist approach to understanding social capital gestation permits a system-level analysis of network structure influencing conduct, and agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-363
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research
Volume21
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2015

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