Theories of Cooperation

Considering cooperation on the basis of only fragments of the entire system of knowledge concerning cooperation between individual and collective entities would be incomplete and far from actual achievements hitherto attained by science in this area. Any definition of a term, new classification, or typology, identification of factors conductive to the success of an undertaking, or indication of actions which bring an entity closer to failure, no matter how small, needs some additional legitimizing within the system of knowledge. In order to become fully-fledged “bricks” in the building of science, the aforementioned elements should be integrated within a coherent theoretical concept, which joins the smaller elements together in an appropriate and non-contradictory manner.

Within social sciences (including management sciences), there already are theories which combine the individual elements in the way described above to form a completely new quality. Each of these theories presents reality in its own specific way, emphasizing different accents or proposing a completely different set of components. Many of these theories vary not only in details, but also in terms of completely different ontological and epistemological assumptions. Such a point of view, as understood by Kuhn (1962), brings the aforementioned theories closer to the level of paradigms; however, care should be exercised when making such comparisons. The paradigm in Kuhn’s understanding is a category with a much broader scope than any of the theories presented below, and it also has a much greater impact on activities undertaken in a given discipline of science than ordinary theory.

However, what makes it possible to treat most of the theories presented below as at least quasi-paradigms is their great power to influence the way scientists operating within them perceive the world. It is impossible to wave the differences aside that in the case of some theories - especially those representing different blocks - appear in the perception of the studied topics, determining the significance of the constituent elements of given fragments of reality or the methods with which this reality could be examined. Thus, although none of the theoretical concepts discussed later in this chapter can aspire to be considered a paradigm in the classic Kuhn’s understanding, their impact on the way of thinking about reality (in this case about the causes, forms, and effects of cooperation between individual and collective entities) in people functioning in this reality and researchers who analyze this reality, is very similar to what paradigms offer their users.

Since the theories selected for the presentation differ to varying degrees from each other, it is worth dividing them into blocks grouping together concepts characterized by a similar perspective. Therefore, each block will contain theories that have many common features - but there will be quite big differences between the individual blocks. For the purposes of this chapter, three basic theory blocks have been distinguished: a block focused on the role of “Structure/Sector” for inter-organizational cooperation, a block focused on “Resources” (understood quite broadly, both in the financial dimension, in the dimension related to the production, acquisition, and distribution of knowledge, as well as resources of a different nature than those mentioned), and the block emphasizing the importance of “Relations” (it seems that it is currently most often used in research and analyzes devoted to cooperation issues - not only inter-organizational, but also between entities). There are also concepts of cooperation related to completely different areas of interest in the literature - they can be collectively referred to as the “sphere of decisionmaking and risk analysis” - however, due to the fact that this publication does not address them in any way in any empirical part, they will not be included in this chapter (this group includes game theory, real option theory, uncertainty reduction theory, and the social dilemma theory).

The block highlighting the role of “Structure/Sector” for initiating and carrying out cooperation between economic entities as well as between economic entities and entities of a other types will refer to the concept which saw in external macro factors (market, sector) naturally based on competitiveness the determinants of establishing acts of cooperation, their development, as well as preferred forms in which cooperation between entities in this area would take place. The central figure of this block is Porter’s theory, but since the Giddens’ theory of structuring is related to it, it also appears (briefly) here. The institutional theory, on the other hand, will complement both the above theories, unblocking a different dimension of perceiving the impact of what is “external” on the organization and the acts of cooperation it undertakes. The second block of theory emphasizes the role of “Resources” as a stimulus for cooperation: transaction cost theory, resource-based view, resource dependence theory (RDT), and organizational learning theory will be discussed. It is worth emphasizing that - as indicated in the list of the above-mentioned theories - the key to understanding the specifics of this block of concepts will be resources with very different characteristics, so the main axis of the category defined in this way will actually be the needs defined by entities, the implementation of which will have to be supplemented by resources of a certain type through an effectively conducted process of cooperation with another entity or entities. The block focusing on “Relations” as a motivating factor for cooperation will be a block covering a group of concepts and a key concept for them - trust. When describing the theories assigned to this block, there will be a strong focus on: “agency theory”, stakeholder theory, relational view (including the threads of “social network theory”), ecosystems theory, and topics related to the broadly understood network theory. Currently, it is this block of theory that begins to take over the primacy in management sciences and social sciences, taking into account the context of description and attempts to explain the specific nature of action as part of the activities within various areas of contemporary social life (including the economic area).

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