Measuring agency in social capital attainment: Constructs development and measurement validation

Evelina Atanassova


Social capital has been recognized for a long time as a powerful predictor of various individual achievements. There are two alternative routes to gaining social capital, which Adler and Kwon (2002) describe as bridging and bonding. The bridging view sees the source of social capital in the opportunities to connect with disconnected others and thus access non-redundant sources of knowledge, information, and resources, as well as exercise control over rewarding opportunities. The bonding view of social capital contends that the value of networks resides in their closeness, which boosts work cooperation and resource sharing. Scholars have been very productive in linking the various sources of social capital to individual achievements, but it is through actor’s actions in the vein of social capital that effects are achieved, and, as recent research demonstrates those actions should be targeted (Bensaou, Galunic, & Jonczyk-Sédès, 2014; Emirbayer & Goodwin, 1994) and goal-specific (Flap & Völker, 2001). From an agent-centric perspective, it is intentional human action that builds the structure and relations constituting social capital (Emirbayer & Goodwin, 1994). The question that emerges then is how to measure agency in social capital attainment and in this paper, I propose four constructs that address this issue. The first two constructs measure the perceived value actors see in bridging and in bonding. Both variables are measured with six items presented on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree); sample items are “Creating new professional contacts will help me to generate new ideas and methods of work” for bridging value and “My professional contacts are a valuable source of information I refer to when I’m stuck” for bonding value. The second pair of variables measures actors’ intentions for social capital attainment through five items presented on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree); sample item for bridging intentions is “In the next six months I intend to attend business events and meetings where I can meet new people” and for bonding intentions “I plan to proactively build and maintain friendly relations with my professional contacts”. I test these constructs on a sample of 149 employees in a large European telecommunication company and validate them through a reliability analysis. While we know that agents can initiate purposeful networking strategies to take advantage and seize opportunities of social capital (Bensaou, Galunic, & Jonczyk-Sédès, 2014), the results of my study demonstrate the importance of considering agency intent in predicting networking strategies and outcomes. They also emphasize that an actor’s perceived value of social capital affects their intent to engage in social capital attainment. I conclude my paper with contributions to social capital research and raise important questions for future agent-centric social capital research.

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