This chapter critically reviews extant social network theory and research on misconduct in and by organizations, focusing primarily on the individual level of analysis and considering the role that social networks play in the initiation, diffusion, effectiveness, and demise of wrongdoing. We conclude that a more comprehensive understanding of the role of social networks in wrongdoing in and by organizations hinges on four contextual factors: (1) the predispositions of the actors involved, (2) the nature of the wrongdoing in question, (3) the institutional environment in which the wrongdoing is perpetrated, and (4) the temporal dynamics through which the wrongdoing unfolds. We also conclude that a more nuanced understanding of the role of social networks in organizational wrongdoing requires greater attention to the quality and type of relationship that a given social tie represents, more extensive utilization of qualitative research methods, learning from emerging social network theory and research in other disciplines, particularly criminology, and further incorporation of the organizational level of analysis.
Theory and research on social networks has a long tradition in sociology, social psychology, and anthropology and an increasing presence in organizational studies. In this chapter, we critically review the embryonic but growing body of social network theory and research on misconduct in and by organizations. We structure our review around the three main areas of prior research: the role of social networks in the initiation, evolution, and consequences of wrongdoing. We use Brass, Butterfield, and Skaggs’ (1998) seminal theoretical analysis of the role that social networks play in unethical behavior as the starting point for our review, which reaffirms, extends, and in some cases suggests modifications to their arguments. We tap a range of empirical studies on social networks and organizational misconduct, most importantly a series of investigations by Baker, Faulkner, and associates (Baker and Faulkner 1993, 2003, 2004; Faulkner and Cheney 2014; Faulkner et al. 2003) to flesh out our discussion. We conclude that a comprehensive understanding of the role of social networks in wrongdoing in and by organizations hinges on several contextual factors that social network analyses sometimes overlook in the drive to use the patterns of relationships among wrongdoers and their victims as the dominant explanatory device. We end by suggesting several lines of inquiry that social network analysts might explore in connection with organizational wrongdoing in the future.