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Brokerage & Closure

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Brokerage & Closure

An Introduction to Social Capital

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Brokers are people who build bridges among groups that are normally closed and suspicious of one another.

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Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Well Structured


Professor Ronald S. Burt examines the formal and informal dynamics of organizations’ social structures. He explains how people ("brokers") who belong to more than one group in an organization disseminate new information across group lines. Such brokers perform an invaluable social function by building "social capital" among groups. Burt contrasts this social function with its opposite: "closure," the bonds of internal trust in a contained group. getAbstract warns that this textbook will probably be most useful to readers who are already familiar with theories about social capital and its formation. Its insider language and academic approach may be difficult for uninitiated readers to penetrate. Burt uses sophisticated studies and complex graphs to demonstrate brokerage and closure; nonsociologists will find that his illustrative, but tangential, anecdotes and examples are more accessible than those references. Thus, his explanatory digressions will be the sections of greatest accessibility and interest to most readers.


Fighting Old Wars

During the battle of Fredericksburg, during the American Civil War, Union troops attacked Confederate defenses 14 times. They faltered each time. The generals failed to recognize that the Confederate defenders were using new technology in the form of highly accurate rifles that were effective over long distances, making the massed Union troops into sitting ducks with no chance of success. The Union generals made the mistake of fighting the wars of the past rather than the one they confronted in the present.

The field officers recognized the problem, but they were separated from the generals at Union headquarters by a large physical - and sociological - gap. No brokers reached across that gap to bring the truth from the field officers to the generals. Moreover, if anyone had attempted to bridge that gap, the generals’ internal "closure" - the tight bonds within their group -probably would have kept them from accepting advice from the field. Both groups - the field officers and the generals at headquarters - did what their training and internal norms demanded. The generals commanded according to conventional wisdom. The field officers, subject to military...

About the Author

Ronald S. Burt is the Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

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