Competing structure, competing views: The role of formal and informal social structures in shaping stakeholder perceptions

Christina Prell*, Mark Reed, Liat Racin, Klaus Hubacek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


What is social structure, and how does it influence the views and behaviors of land managers? In this paper, we unpack the term "social structure" in the context of current research on institutions, social networks, and their role(s) in resource management. We identify two different kinds of structure, formal and informal, and explore how these link to views of land management and management practice. Formal structures refer to intentionally designed organizations that arise out of larger institutional arrangements; informal ones refer to social networks, based on the communication contacts individuals possess. Our findings show significant correlations between respondents' views regarding land management and their social networks; it is these informal structures that have greater influence on what stakeholders perceive. These findings suggest that stakeholders are less influenced by their particular organizational affiliation or category (e.g., "conservationist" versus "farmer"), and more by whom they speak with on a regular basis regarding land management. We conclude with a discussion on the practical implications for resource managers wishing to "design" participatory management, arguing that, if "diversity" is the goal in designing such participatory processes, then diversity needs to translate beyond stakeholder categories to include consideration for the personal, social networks surrounding stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPrint publication - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Formal organizations
  • Homophily
  • Institutions
  • Land management
  • Social network analysis
  • Social networks
  • Social structure
  • Stakeholder perceptions


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