Posted: 16 Jul 2012
Date Written: August 2012
Although sociologists have frequently touched on ideas related to brokerage in their research, brokerage is rarely considered a central concept in the discipline's theoretical or analytic arsenal. Theoretically, brokerage is one of a small number of mechanisms by which disconnected or isolated individuals (or groups) can interact economically, politically, and socially. Across substantive domains, we are particularly struck by a dual aspect of brokerage: On the one hand, brokerage has the capacity to ease social interaction, enhance economic activity, and facilitate political development. On the other hand, brokerage often breeds exploitation, the pursuit of personal profit, corruption, and the accumulation of power; through these and other processes, brokerage can exacerbate existing inequalities. In this review, we make the case for elevating the concept of brokerage to a more prominent place in the sociological canon. Brokerage's significance stems from its potential for macro-level consequences, which are revealed primarily through its impact on the permeability of group boundaries. However, because brokerage is built from informal, personal relationships, understanding it requires close attention to micro-level relations and social psychological processes.
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