Academic journal article Economics, Management and Financial Markets

A Socio-Economic Approach to Civic Engagement

Academic journal article Economics, Management and Financial Markets

A Socio-Economic Approach to Civic Engagement

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The emergence of social networks has "changed the predictive role of the rational actor and provided a venue for individuals to exhibit behavior that does not fall into the traditional model of the rational actor" (Gordon, Baldwin-Philippi, 2013, p.6). We will address the concept of "social capital" with its intrinsic benefits: solidarity and the rewards perceived by the participation (the pleasure derived from the act of commitment within the individual).

2. Motivation

The theories of motivation based on areas of organizational behavior, classic economics and political psychology were based on the assumption that people are rational actors, i.e. decision-making rationales are predominantly responding to egocentric incentive mechanisms, due to which the common good is achieved through free market behavior (Gordon, Baldwin-Philippi, 2013). This idea is found in the theory of rational choice and Homans' social exchange theory.

The social exchange theory provides a more nuanced description of motivation: Homans' initial proposal suggests that social change is based on human relationships formed through the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and comparison of alternatives (Homans, 1958). His theory consists of three principles: the success proposal (when one discovers that he/she is rewarded for his/her actions, one tends to repeat the action), the stimulus proposal (the more frequent the stimulus and the more frequent it led to a reward in the past, the more likely it is that a person will respond to it) and the deprivation-satiety proposal (the more often a person has received a special reward, the less valuable any part of the reward becomes).

These theories have inherent limitations, from the individual's limited capacity to calculate the alternatives, to selective behaviors and the acquisition of incomplete information, to the predisposition of "meeting goals", a predisposition to satisfaction and sufficiency. By the logics proposed by these theories, individuals should respond primarily to selective benefits at the expense of collective benefits. Social networks give individuals a means to express at a large scale behaviors that are not considered rational (Zukin et al., 2006). The use of Twitter during the Arab Spring events, for example, demonstrates a motivation that cannot be explained only through the coordination of rational actors (Conover et al., 2011).

In their paper on the incentive system, Clark and Wilson (1961) describe material benefits as tangible rewards which have intrinsic monetary value or which are easily transferable into a form that can present rewards. This definition is in line with the description of the "economic capital", presented in sociology by Pierre Bourdieu (1984): "[capital] which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the form of property rights" (Burt, 2000: 243). Instead, "both solidarity and ultimate benefits are considered intangible rewards. Solidarity benefits are derived from the connections between people, but are independent of the objectives of the association" (such as developing a partnership) and, as explained by Clark and Wilson (1961), they do not indicate, in a transparent manner, the monetary gain (Gordon, Baldwin-Philippi, 2013, p.7).

Bourdieu establishes a similar description for the concept of social capital, which "consists of social connections" (1984: 243), but he recognizes the translation of these social connections into economic gains. Finally, there are some benefits in the intrinsic rewards perceived by the participation, the pleasure derived from the act of commitment within the individual. Since the value of final benefits is, by definition, endogenous (i.e. fully internal at origin), the ultimate benefits are not related to any economic gains.

By comparison, some theories that describe the distribution of benefits in society are inspired by the concepts of "private" and "public" goods found in economy (Olson, 2002). …

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