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Entrepreneurial social capital research: resolving the structure and agency dualism

Robert Lee (Management Department, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Oswald Jones (Organisation and Management Department, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 5 May 2015

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.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

An Economic and Social Research Council ESRC award (PTA-030-2005-00230) enabled this research.

Citation

Lee, R. and Jones, O. (2015), "Entrepreneurial social capital research: resolving the structure and agency dualism", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 338-363. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-02-2014-0025

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited