Dealing With More Complex Network Dynamics

A major area of potential research with clear implications for exchange network theories moving forward is the investigation of network dynamics as data on millions of social interactions (many of which involve significant social exchanges) become available for analysis. The types of networks upon which the solid foundation of exchange theoretic evidence is based derives mainly from experimental work on social exchange processes in relatively small social networks (i.e. typically less than ten individuals). Extensive research on such networks of various types engaging in different forms of exchange has yielded significant results concerning the social processes involved and the mechanisms that produce specific outcomes, but extending these findings beyond small networks is an important topic for further research. And this work has begun with some social scientists gaining access to the type of network data being collected by companies in the “digital” economy (e.g. Cheshire 2007).

In addition to understanding social exchanges at scale in much larger networks connecting individuals across time and space boundaries, it will be interesting to explore more fully the role that different forms of exchange play in these new social economies. While negotiated exchanges will persist in many domains as products and services become increasingly available through a variety of sources globally, the expansion of reciprocal exchange is also going on in many platforms that facilitate exchanges over time. Examples include the reciprocal sharing of rooms or vacation places, as well as a “couch” to sleep on when visiting other parts of the world (e.g. couchsurfing). These social exchange platforms, digitally moderated, also facilitate the exchange of dog-sitting while away or the sharing of tools and appliances that are underutilized. These efforts can be viewed as forms of generalized exchange, which is often based on norms of reciprocity, as Molm (2010) has argued and various investigators have demonstrated (cf. Cheshire 2005, etc.).

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