To date, the structuralist account dominates the debate (Gargiulo et al., 2009; Soda et al., 2018). It implies that the overall
position of an actor in a network (intra- or inter-organizational) is an important determinant of its performance. There is
a host of empirical studies supporting this claim at different levels of analysis. Some example are firms’ innovative performance
(Ahuja, 2000), mental health situations of individuals (Provan & Milward, 1995), or knowledge circulation in regional clusters
(Ter Wal & Boschma, 2009).
However, although historically much of the contributions in this research stream have focused on the structural characteristics
of the network (e.g. network density, clustering, structural holes, etc.) or of the tie composing the network (e.g. strong
vs. weak ties, boundary-spanning ties, etc.), a recent trend in network studies is challenging the adoption of an exclusive
structural approach. According to several scholars, in fact, network and networking are more thoroughly understood as the
process through which network advantages are achieved, and specific structural configurations form and evolve, rather than
just their corresponding structural configurations (Grosser et al., 2019; Soda et al., 2018; Tasselli et al., 2015; Bensaou
et al., 2014; Obstfeld et al., 2014; Goessling et al., 2007; Obstfeld, 2005).
With this SWG, we aim at expanding the theoretical domain in network research by considering, along with strictly structural
patterns such as structural holes or open vs. closed networks, also the social behavior of networking. By that, we mean the
specific process(es) through which social actors (e.g., individuals or organizations) determine their position in the network
and act upon the opportunities offered by specific network positions.
To be clear: we do not mean to suggest that structural explanations do not matter, to the contrary, we believe that by explicitly
including process-based explanations, we can reach a more thorough and complete understanding of what drives the formation
and development of network structures and associated advantages. Consistent with what is argued by existing network scholarship,
considering both purely structural and process-based approaches to network studies can still be declined in terms of network
theories proper (i.e. using network constructs to predict different outcome variables) or theories of networks (i.e. understanding
why networks are what they are and understanding what are their antecedents).
It’s apparent that our understanding of both, outcomes and antecedents of networks (Borgatti & Halgin, 2011), can be enhanced
greatly by the joint consideration of structural and processes-based characteristics. Examples of such processes are resource
and knowledge exchanges, trust building, peer influencing, tie formation, tie dissolution, and brokering.
Especially regarding the last topic, a number of studies (Grosser et al., 2019; Soda et al., 2018; Obstfeld et al., 2014)
have been published that combine the notion of brokerage as a network structural position with the action of brokering as
a process through which advantages are acquired. These studies show that because different processes take place (e.g. joining,
mediating between, and separating) actors in the same structural position might end up reaping differential outcomes.
In other words: not just because two social actors occupy the same network structural position we can expect them to have
access to exactly the same type of network benefits – also how they use their network should eventually determine, at least
in part, the nature and amount of advantages they obtain from their structural position.