Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Votes, Favors, Toys, and Ideas: The Effect of Resource Characteristics on Power in Exchange Networks

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Votes, Favors, Toys, and Ideas: The Effect of Resource Characteristics on Power in Exchange Networks

Article excerpt

The goal of this research is to understand how resource characteristics influence the development of power in exchange networks. Transferability and duplicability are identified as fundamental resource characteristics that have not been examined systematically in prior social exchange research. Varying resource transferability and duplicability alters the mechanisms that produce power and determine which positions in a network have a power advantage. To predict where power will develop, I rely on existing measures for previously studied resources and introduce relevant principles of network structure for resources that have not been studied before. This theoretical logic is supported by a series of simulated exchange networks that apply behavioral principles observed in prior experimental research to the exchange of a broader variety of resources than previously considered. Results indicate how the pattern of power use in a network is contingent upon the type of resource being exchanged.

An array of social exchange research has sought to uncover the foundation of power by examining how the pattern of relationships between actors-or network-shapes the exchange process. Research along these lines has identified the mechanisms that allow actors in some network positions to benefit more than others during exchange (Bienenstock and Bonacich 1992; Cook and Yamagishi 1992; Friedkin 1993; Markovsky, Wilier, and Patton 1988; Molm, Peterson, and Takahashi 1999; Simpson and Wilier 1999; Skvoretz and Wilier 1993). In developing theories of power formation, exchange researchers have relied almost exclusively on a standard laboratory setting in which subjects exchange a common type of resource. The consistency provided by a standard setting has helped to facilitate theoretical development, leading us to a point of widespread agreement on the processes creating power and the types of positions they advantage (Emanuelson and Wilier 2006; Van Assen 2003). This solid theoretical base makes it possible to broaden exchange theory by considering a wider range of resources.

This research extends exchange theory by examining how variation in the resources actors exchange impacts the development of power. In particular, I focus on transferability-whether a resource can be exchanged by its recipient-and duplicability-whether a resource is retained by the provider during exchange and usable in a subsequent exchange. These dimensions capture intrinsic resource properties that determine whether the same resource can be used in multiple exchanges. The availability of resources for multiple exchanges fundamentally affects the basis of power in a network, which alters the power of actors in the network.

More specifically, resource variation affects power by altering the types of connections that exist between relations. Connections indicate the extent to which exchange in one relation impacts exchange in another relation (i.e., by making it more, less, or equally likely). The nature of connections between relations determines the processes through which power is created. Within the same network structure, varying connection type alters which positions in the network are powerful. The causal logic presented in this paper is: (1) resource characteristics determine connection type, (2) connection types determine which power mechanisms can operate, and (3) power mechanisms operate within a network context to advantage some positions over others.

I begin by explaining the second and third steps of this causal chain, which have been established in prior research. I outline a typology of connections, explain how power emerges within each connection type, and note the types of positions that are advantaged by each power mechanism. Once connection types and power mechanisms are defined, I proceed to the first step of the causal chain and explain how resource characteristics determine connections between relations. I define duplicability and transferability and note how their variation alters the types of connections between relations. …

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