The spontaneity of social network: a possibility for re-enchanting network study?by Philippe Accard, Christophe Assens

Journal of OrgChange Mgmt


Journal of Organizational Change Management

The spontaneity of social network: a possibility for re-enchanting network study?

Philippe Accard Christophe Assens

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Philippe Accard Christophe Assens , (2014),"The spontaneity of social network: a possibility for reenchanting network study?", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 27 Iss 6 pp. 995 - 1007

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The spontaneity of social network: a possibility for re-enchanting network study?

Philippe Accard and Christophe Assens

LAREQUOI, Laboratoire de Recherche en Management,

Universite´ Versailles Saint-Quentin, Guyancourt, France


Purpose – For current works, agents create social network by drawing on the knowledge of their immediate environment, and they use network for cooperating with one another and for promoting their own economic and social interests. The purpose of this paper is to aid in re-enchanting network study, and present network as spontaneous social construction.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on Hayek’s spontaneous order. For Hayek, agents have access to a wide knowledge about social system, and use this knowledge to spontaneously coordinate with each other in the pursuit of their self-interests.

Findings – The authors develop the idea by presenting and performing an analogy of Hayek’s spontaneous order to emergent structures. The result of this analogy is a conception of network dynamics wherein the spontaneous social construction of network structures is achieved by agents who have knowledge of the interaction rules that guide structures production, and who, by drawing on this knowledge, are able to influence the emergence of network structures. Agents thus spontaneously contribute to the emergence of a network, to its growth, and its decline.

Originality/value – This new conception of network focusses on the processes of the social construction of network structures. It provides a better account of network change and development than current works, and because it stresses the spontaneous, fragile and ephemeral character of network, it can prove useful for the re-enchantment of network studies.

Keywords Structure, Network, Emergence, Order

Paper type Conceptual paper


In most works dealing with network, the key words are cooperation, social solidarity, exchange and the economic benefits which are obtained by the agents participating in network structures (Thorelli, 1986; Miles and Snow, 1992; Grandori and Soda, 1995;

Ring, 1997; Gulati, 1998; Ahuja and Carley, 1999; Kogut, 2000; Biggiero, 2001).

According to Gulati (1998), a network is composed of independent agents, each of whom cooperates with the others in order to achieve individual goals. Network is thus the product of agents’ informal cooperation. In order for network structures to emerge, minimal conditions for agents’ cooperation, or a “domain of consensus,” are required (Thorelli, 1986).

The idea that networks can be spontaneous social constructs, i.e. constructs which do not necessarily derive from agents’ need for cooperation, solidarity, and economic gains, does not appear in these works (Polodny and Page, 1998). These works therefore offer a disenchanted view of network, wherein the capacities of agents to imagine new types of interactions are not recognized.

We propose a different theoretical position. It is one in which the spontaneous characteristic of network is stressed. Networks are spontaneous constructions which may or may not serve the interests of the agents who created them. Network structures

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Journal of Organizational Change


Vol. 27 No. 6, 2014 pp. 995-1007 r Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0953-4814