Ties that Bind: The role of shared affect in collective action
thesisposted on 03.09.2015, 14:24 by Frances Anne Murray Allen
This thesis focuses on social-affective dynamics in the formation and cohesion of a team working in a complex collaboration crossing government, non-profit, and business sectors. Cross-sector collaborations are increasingly used in solving complex problems, necessitating a better understanding of what keeps actors committed to working together when relational and time commitments become strained. While cognitive reasons and mechanics of team formation are important, equally important are social and emotional reasons individuals find to stay committed to each other and the powerful impact they could have together. Social and affective elements of group cohesion are interdependent with the rational-cognitive, yet they are under-represented in research on complex teams. To explore the mediating process of shared affect in building relational cohesion, micro-ethnographic research was deployed for a 7-month period in following a Collective Impact (CI) initiative to improve early childhood school readiness in a particular US community. This produced a rich cross-sector case study portraying what binds coalition actors to each other to achieve extraordinary commitment to collective action in addressing the community challenge. Extending previous research on person-to-group ties, the findings reveal type and frequency of social exchange are insufficient to understanding the emergence of shared commitment, as prior emotional history among participants and their perceived expectations play a role. The research also indicated that productive exchange may not be possible without first embedding negotiated exchange inside a reciprocal exchange relationship. Finally, the findings were also considered through the lens of several prominent theories on group interaction as well as human intrinsic needs, yielding several opportunities for theoretical intersection and integration. The thesis concludes the Theory of Social Commitments has merit in a real world case study and argues for more qualitative research to round out and deepen the existing body of knowledge on moving from person-to-person to person-to-group ties and the conditions whereby groups may chart their own course to collective action and impact.