I have always been fascinated by the type of agent that have been variously termed leaders, brokers or political entrepreneurs. I believe the literature over-estimates their impact and under-estimates their agency. That is, there is a tendency to mythologise them, put them on a pedestal and ascribe to them messianic qualities. While at the same time there is a tendency to simplify the means through which they deploy their agency. Network analysis can help us understand both the direct and indirect effects of their agency.
In earlier work with Karin Ingold we found that:
“policy entrepreneurs are central in both Bonacich power measures and a structural hole advantage through Burt’s effective size measure. Policy entrepreneurs therefore have at the same time high levels of centrality and high levels of network brokerage. Such a relational profile implies informational advantage and high levels of influence. Policy brokers rank high on honest brokerage which implies that they are unique interlocutors between different segments of a network. Making this distinction allow us to disambiguate the agency of political brokers and entrepreneurs but also classify a new class of agency we term here exceptional, to portray the relational profile of those agents that oscillate between roles.”
In recent work together with Karin and Manuel Fischer we have found a pattern to the role of brokers and exceptional agents. We conclude with the following statement:
“First, we wanted to know if actors tend to keep exceptional positions within one policy network over time. Generally, they do not, but the few actors that can be identified as exceptional agents through their above-average centrality in the network definitely have the tendency to preserve this network advantage. Second, we asked if exceptional agents manage to create and attract ties significantly over time: again, there is no general tendency for such a mechanism. The overall network follows a “bridge-decay” characteristic. These results are interesting, not only from a conceptual and methodological point of view. If there are actors managing to exploit network advantages and thus political capital systematically, it would be important in terms of effective and efficient policy design to know more about those exceptional agents and their behavior.”
We expect to present this material at the annual ECPR in Glasgow between the 3-6th of September.