Course Syllabus:
Social Capital


Professor Zeynep Aksehirli


The objectives of this course are to introduce you to social capital, to enable you to identify and evaluate key elements that enhance value of an individual's social network, and to familiarize you with some tools and techniques for managing organizational social capital and the value derived from it. We will examine different types and combinations of social relations, network structures of these relations, and institutional environments that impact them.

Social Capital can be defined as the degree to which an organization or community collaborates and cooperates (through such mechanisms as networks, shared trust, norms and values) to achieve mutual benefits. Social capital, as a parallel theory to human capital, analyzes the production, investment and value embedded in social structures and networks rather than in individuals. It is important to understand the mechanisms and social structures leading to social capital, as it complements human capital and financial capital in assuring individual and organizational success.

This course will be a combination of lectures and cases based on class discussions. I will also ask you to bring in and discuss your own personal experiences as well as the experiences of your previous or current organizations. Course material consists of a book by Cohen and Prusak (2001)"In Good Company: How social capital makes organizations work", and additional articles and cases provided in a course reader.

Outline of course sessions:

This course consists of two modules. The first module defines social capital and considers development and implications of it from an individual point of view. The second module provides some perspectives and tools that can be used to manage social capital from an organizational point of view.



Details of the Group Project

The primary purpose of this project is to explore and evaluate the social network of an organization or a group. The project will involve doing fieldwork to examine and map an organization or group's social network, along with the cognitive (shared mental models) and relational (trust and reciprocity) dimensions of this network. The secondary purpose of the project is to start thinking about ways to improve the structure and/or functionality of the network.

You will choose and contact an organization or a group for this project. You will conduct 10-15 surveys and/or short interviews with the members of this organization. Based on these data and the tools introduced in the course, you will map and critique the social capital of this organization. You can choose any kind and size of organization that is interesting to you (e.g. IBM, Bank of America, Dartmouth Outing Club, local chapter of a political organization, etc.). The organizations do not need to be local. If at least one member of your group had some prior contact with the organization, you can collect data through phone interviews and electronic communication tools. Please contact me immediately if you have trouble gaining access to an organization.

Your project report should be addressed to the senior management of the organization. The analysis should cover the following items:

  • Executive summary
  • Brief description of the organization and reasons for choosing this organization
  • Brief description of the methods you used in your fieldwork
  • Map of the social network
  • Critical analysis of the social capital
  • Some recommendations and action steps


    In this course we will follow the Tuck's Academic Honor Code. You should be especially careful in handling the field data that you gather during your project or that is shared with you during class discussions. Strict confidentiality and identity protection is very important in building a trusting, respectful relationship with the organization that welcomes you to discuss such an intimate topic as their cultural values.

    The Tuck Laptop Policy applies in all respects to this course. Laptops may be used in class only when required for the class session. Checking email or surfing the Internet during class is not acceptable, and will be considered a serious violation of Tuck's Honor Code.

    As much of the learning in this class comes from in-class exercises and discussions, your attendance is essential. If you must miss a class session, it is your responsibility to notify me by email in advance of class, indicating the reason for the absence. Failure to do so may result in a substantial penalty for your grade.


    Final grades will be based on effective class participation (15%), a two-part individual assignment (25%), and a group project (60%). Your class participation assessment depends on the quality and insightfulness of your contribution in the class discussions, rather than on the air time you take up. The assignments will ask you to apply the tools covered in the course to your own individual network and evaluate your understanding of these tools. The group project will involve mapping an organizations' social network and discussing its social capital.


    Tues 02/08/05
    Introducing Social Capital

    C&P Chapter 1
    "Gurus in the garage", Leonard and Swap, HBR, 2000.
    "The Science behind the six degrees", Watts, HBR, 2003.
    Takeaways: Form an idea about what social capital is and how it is associated with related concepts such as social networks and human capital.

    Mon 02/14/05
    How Social Capital is formed and improved

    Readings: "The network structure of social capital", Burt, 2000, in Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 22.

    "Centrality and Power in Organizations" Brass and Burkhardt, in Networks and Organizations (ed.s. Nohria & Eccles)

    "Informal Networks: The Company behind the Chart", Krackhardt and Hanson, HBR 1993.

    "How holes help support structure", FT Article.

    Case: Matt Leeds, HBS Case, #403111
    Takeaways: What determines a person's position in a social network?
    How different positions in a network affect one's social capital
    How different types of connections affect one's social capital

    Tues 02/15/05
    How Social Capital is formed and improved (continued)

    C&P Chapter 2
    "Trust and Knowledge sharing: A critical Combination",
    Levin et. al., IBM Institute publications.

    Map your personal network and evaluate potential social captial (to be discussed in class and turned in)
    Takeaways: Affect and behavioral antecedents of social capital
    Mechanisms affecting social capital

    Mon 02/21/05
    From an individual perspective: Creating value through your network

    "Evaluating your social capital", Baker, 2000, in Acheiving Success through Social Capital.

    HBS Case#0B44: Keith Ferrazzi, by Chang and Pfeffer.
    Assignment due: Complete the exercises and questionnaires within the reading (to be discussed in class and used in next week's assignment)
    Start taking necessary steps (interviews, surveys, etc.) to complete the term project
    Takeaways: Evaluating the current and potential social capital of an individual depending on the characteristics of his/her network and his/her position in it.

    Tues 02/22/05
    From an organizational perspective: Creating and maintaining social capital

    "Leveraging social capital in organizations", Lesser, E.L. (2000) in E.L. Lesser (ed.) Knowledge and Social Capital, pp. 3-16. Boston, MA.
    "How to invest in Social Capital", HBR, Prusak, 2001.
    "Network Incubators: Hothouses of the New Economy", Hansen et. al., HBR, Sep. 2000

    Case: "the Barista Principle-Starbucks and the rise of relational capital"
    Assignment due: Perform a critical analysis of personal network and create a time based action plan for enhancing your social capital (turn in).
    Takeaways: Why social capital is important for organizations
    Ways to improve overall social capital in an organization

    Mon 02/28/05
    Managing social capital and social networks

    "Building Social Capital as an Organizational Competence", Baker, 2000, in Achieving Success through Social Capital.
    "Why good companies go bad", Sull, HBR, 2000.
    "Introducing T-shaped Managers", Hansen and Oetinger, HBR, 2001.
    Skim: C&P, chapters 3-4.

    Case: "Corning: A network of alliances"
    Takeaways: Some more tools to enhance social capital of an organization

    Tues 03/01/05
    Benefits of Social Capital

    "Strategic Alliances as Social Capital: A multidimensional View", Koka & Prescott, 2002.
    "Social Capital and Capital gains in Silicon Valley",
    Cohen & Fields, (2000) in E.L. Lesser (ed.). Knowledge and Social Capital, pp. 3-16. Boston, MA

    Social Capital: The good, the bad and the ugly", Adler & Kwon, (2000) in E.L. Lesser (ed.) Knowledge and Social Capital, pp. 3-16. Boston, MA.

    Mon 03/07/05
    Looking at the flip side: detriments of social capital

    "Social Capital is not capital at all", FT Comment "Pinpointing the problem: Understanding how individuals effect a Network", Cross and Parker, Hidden Power of social networks, pp. 69-90, 2004.
    "Parting Company: When valued employees want to leave", HBR, Dec. 2001, "When Social Capital Stifles Innovation", Florida et. al., HBR 2002.
    "Bandwith and Echo: Trust, Information and Gossip in Social Networks", Burt, 2000, in Networks and Markets, (ed.s. Rauch, Casella).
    Takeaways: Some pitfalls of high social capital and how to avoid them.

    Tues 03/08/05
    Virtual social capital: social capital gains and challenges in distributed organizations

    C&P, Chapter 7
    Skim: "Virtual Communities and Social Capital" Blanchard, A.L. & Horan, T. (1998) Social Science Computer Review, 16, 293-307.
    Skim: Zigurs, I. and S. Qureshi. "Managing the Extended Enterprise, Creating Value from Virtual Spaces. "In Dickson, G. and G. DeSanctis. Information Technology and the Future Enterprise: New Models for Managers. Prentice Hall. 2001.

    Case: "Intuit, Inc.: Transforming the Entrepreneurial Company into a Collaborative Organization (A)", HBS Case #9-403-064.
    Final assignment: Term Project: Map an organizations social network and discuss its social capital.
    Takeaways: Ideas to maintain social capital over time and space.