Funded PhD Opportunity Social Capital and Trust in Rural and Agri-Food Business Networks

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Business and Management Studies


Networks of business support for agriculture and rural affairs have undergone substantive change since the 1990s.  The important role of institutional or business support actors in building the networking capacities of rural economic actors and communities through legitimacy and established relationships has been noted.  Business advice for rural and agricultural clients takes various forms and is now offered via a range of bodies and agencies. Policymaking for rural areas has very much embraced the network model of development and business support with programmes such as LEADER, EIP Operational Groups and specific measures of the Rural Development Programme designed to encourage collective action to solve joint problems and grow the social capital of rural communities.

Although several studies have examined relationship development between advisory support services and their clients in rural areas to date these have tended to focus on one-to-one advice between advisors and their clients. Therefore, there is a need to develop understanding of how social capital and trust evolve in group-based support programmes. The importance of social networks to the success of small, rural firms has been highlighted in both research and policy. Social networks help rural organisations overcome disadvantages of location and size. Indeed, informal networks have been deemed to be stronger and more important in rural than urban areas.  Social capital is considered a valuable organisational asset emerging from social networking and is deemed to be extremely important for knowledge exchange and the development of external knowledge capacities in rural areas.

Social capital facilitates the development and sharing of tacit knowledge and plays a crucial role in collaborations between firms and business support providers.   Strong personal relations and networks are essential to the development of social capital which in turn leads to trust. Trust is widely viewed as a fundamental characteristic of successful business networks.  Trust builds confidence and in turn increases the likelihood that the information provided will be turned into useable knowledge.  Trust within the rural context has been considered as a phenomenon that springs from, or is an expression of, strong social relations in communities. Therefore trust and social capital have a reciprocal relationship. However, to date the extensive literature on trust in business networks has yet to fully demonstrate how trust works in advisor-client relationships. In addition, in the growing literature on business advisory services and support provider-user interactions, the specific dynamics of trust are under-examined. Therefore, there is a need for a more nuanced understanding of how social capital and trustful relations emerge between business support services and their clients within a rural network context.

The project will examine processes of social capital and trust formation across a number of rural and agri-food business support networks. It will explore how social capital and trust are built in business network-client relationships, and will provide new insights into the factors promoting and constraining social capital and trust in rural business networks.  The project will take a qualitative, multiple case study approach including methods such as interviews with network participants and network brokers/advisors, observations and documentary analysis.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
12 March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Barry Quinn

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #238414 when applying for this PhD opportunity