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Competing Structure, Competing Views: The Role of Formal and Informal Social Structures in Shaping Stakeholder Perceptions

Christina Prell, University of Sheffield
Mark Reed, Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Centre for Planning and Environmental Management School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen
Liat Racin, Department of Geography, King's College London
Klaus Hubacek, Department of Geography, University of Maryland


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What is social structure, and how does it influence the views and behaviors of land managers? In this paper, we unpack the term "social structure" in the context of current research on institutions, social networks, and their role(s) in resource management. We identify two different kinds of structure, formal and informal, and explore how these link to views of land management and management practice. Formal structures refer to intentionally designed organizations that arise out of larger institutional arrangements; informal ones refer to social networks, based on the communication contacts individuals possess. Our findings show significant correlations between respondents' views regarding land management and their social networks; it is these informal structures that have greater influence on what stakeholders perceive. These findings suggest that stakeholders are less influenced by their particular organizational affiliation or category (e.g., "conservationist" versus "farmer"), and more by whom they speak with on a regular basis regarding land management. We conclude with a discussion on the practical implications for resource managers wishing to "design" participatory management, arguing that, if "diversity" is the goal in designing such participatory processes, then diversity needs to translate beyond stakeholder categories to include consideration for the personal, social networks surrounding stakeholders.

Key words

formal organizations; homophily; institutions; land management; social networks; social network analysis; social structure; stakeholder perceptions

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087