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Combinations of bonding, bridging, and linking social capital for farm innovation: How farmers configure different support networks

Cofré-Bravo, Gabriela, Klerkx, Laurens, Engler, Alejandra
Journal of rural studies 2019 v.69 pp. 53-64
farmers, farms, motivation, peers, social capital, technology
On-farm agricultural innovation through incorporation of new technologies and practices requires access to resources such as knowledge, financial resources, training, and even emotional support, all of which require the support of different actors such as peers, advisors, and researchers. The literature has explored the support networks that farmers use and the overall importance ranking of different support actors, but it has not looked in detail at how these networks may differ for different farmers. This study fills this gap by looking at farmer support network configurations through the lens of the social capital available to them in such configurations. Using a Chilean fruit-farmer case, we examine how different types of social capital (bonding, bridging, and linking) are used to achieve what has been called ‘ambidexterity’. Ambidexterity implies both that open networks (based on linking and bridging social capital) are used to explore and access new knowledge and resources, and that closed networks (based on bonding social capital) are used to successfully implement and exploit new technologies and practices. Our findings show that farmers use all types of social capital – bonding, bridging, and linking – in their support networks, but that they have different configurations, five in this study. These configurations are based on personal motivations, innovation objectives, and resource endowments. Despite the different network configurations and types of social capital – which may be more balanced or less balanced in light of ambidexterity – farmers may achieve the same ambitions and type of innovations. A main theoretical implication is that the configuration of support networks is thus not a one-size-fits-all where each farmer's ranking of support actors for on-farm innovation is the same. This nuances earlier work and calls for more attention to a better understanding of how each support network configuration responds to a certain logic, and hence cannot be identified as superior or inferior.