ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (1): 116-127.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00116

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Instrumental networking and social network building: How horizontal networking and upward networking create social capital

WANG Song   

  1. (School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, China)
  • Received:2015-07-02 Published:2017-01-25 Online:2017-01-25
  • Contact: WANG Song, E-mail:


Based on a qualitative study of 20 interviewees and a quantitative analysis of 12 department-level whole networks, this paper illustrates how horizontal networking and upward networking contribute to the formation of social capital. In particular, upward networking has an inverted U-shaped effect on social capital, while horizontal networking has a positive effect on social capital. These findings improve our understanding on the mechanism how individuals form their social capital and how to build harmony employment relationships within organizations. Social capital is privileged in organizational life, however, studies on the origins of social capital remain limited. This paper takes a human agency perspective and theorizes that ego’s instrumental networking can shape social structure. To be specific, in working places, employees intentionally take instrumental interactions, e.g. networking with colleagues with diverse backgrounds or building intimacy with high-status leaders, to create new social capital. This paper develops two approaches of instrumental networking—horizontal networking and upward networking, and proposes a theoretical framework how these two kinds of instrumental networking affect the creation of social capital within organizations. In study 1, based on 20 interviewees who have witnessed ego’s instrumental networking, the author primarily developed an inductive process model. In study 2, using hierarchical linear modeling, a test of hypotheses was conducted in a data of 12 department-level whole networks. Similar to the finding in qualitative analysis, the regression results suggest horizontal networking helps the creation of social capital; however, upward networking has an inverted U-shaped effect on social capital. Overall, this paper makes contributions in the following ways. First, although structural determinism is well-regarded, human agency perspective has increasingly emerged in network studies. This paper echoes the call of human agency perspective to investigate the origins of social capital. The inductive analysis suggests that ego’s instrumental networking affects the benefit-cost calculus of alters which in turn influences alters’ willingness to contact with egos. Second, this paper identifies ego’s two types of instrumental networking style as a distinct mechanism shaping alters’ social attempt. Specially, the study shows alters will select egos using more horizontal networking, whereas upward networking is initially appreciated but may subsequently be overthrown for its potential ethical problems. Finally, by amassing interview data from various organizational settings in China, this paper makes an empirical contribution by extending the geographic reach of research on emerging economies and social capital. Earlier studies examining social capital have largely been limited to the Western context of open markets, free competition and individualistic orientation. Although a few pioneer studies suggest the constraining effects of culture on structural holes, the mechanism of how social capital origins in emerging economies with different cultural norms and market institutions remains largely unexplored.

Key words: instrumental networking, horizontal networking, upward networking, social capital, human agency