Definitions

Social capital

Social capital

Social capital is a concept in business, economics, organizational behaviour, political science, public health, sociology and natural resources management that refers to connections within and between social networks. Though there are a variety of related definitions, which have been described as "something of a cure-all" for the problems of modern society, they tend to share the core idea "that social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups".

Background

The first known use of the concept was by L. J. Hanifan, state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia. Writing in 1916 Hanifan urged the importance of community involvement for successful schools, Hanifan invoked the idea of "social capital" to explain why. For Hanifan, social capital referred to:

those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit....The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself....If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors.

While various aspects of the concept have been approached by all social science fields, some trace the modern usage of the term to Jane Jacobs in the 1960s. However, she did not explicitly define a term social capital but used it in an article with a reference to the value of networks. Political scientist Robert Salisbury advanced the term as a critical component of interest group formation in his 1969 article "An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups" in the Midwest Journal of Political Science. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu used the term in 1972 in his Outline of a Theory of Practice, and clarified the term some years later in contrast to cultural, economic, and symbolic capital. Sociologist James Coleman adopted Glenn Loury's 1977 definition in developing and popularising the concept. In the late 1990s the concept gained popularity, serving as the focus of a World Bank research programme and the main subject of several mainstream books, including Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.

The concept that underlies social capital has a much longer history; thinkers exploring the relation between associational life and democracy were using similar concepts regularly by the 19th century, drawing on the work of earlier writers such as James Madison (The Federalist Papers), Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) to integrate concepts of social cohesion and connectedness into the pluralist tradition in American political science. John Dewey may have made the first direct mainstream use of "social capital" in The School and Society in 1899, though he did not offer a definition.

Evaluating social capital

Though Bourdieu might agree with Coleman that social capital in the abstract is a neutral resource, his work tends to show how it can be used practically to produce or reproduce inequality, demonstrating for instance how people gain access to powerful positions through the direct and indirect employment of social connections. Robert Putnam has used the concept in a much more positive light: though he was at first careful to argue that social capital was a neutral term, stating “whether or not [the] shared are praiseworthy is, of course, entirely another matter”, his work on American society tends to frame social capital as a producer of "civic engagement" and also a broad societal measure of communal health. He also transforms social capital from a resource possessed by individuals to an attribute of collectives, focusing on norms and trust as producers of social capital to the exclusion of networks.

Mahyar Arefi identifies consensus building as a direct positive indicator of social capital. (2003) Consensus implies “shared interest” and agreement among various actors and stakeholders to induce collective action. Collective action is thus an indicator of increased social capital.

Edwards and Foley, as editors of a special edition of the American Behavioural Scientist on Social Capital, Civic Society and Contemporary Democracy, raised two key issues in the study of social capital. First, social capital is not equally available to all, in much the same way that other forms of capital are differently available. Geographic and social isolation limit access to this resource. Second, not all social capital is created equally. The value of a specific source of social capital depends in no small part on the socio-economic position of the source with society. On top of this, Portes has identified four negative consequences of social capital: exclusion of outsiders; excess claims on group members; restrictions on individual freedom; and downward levelling norms. Here it is important to note the distinction between "bonding" vis-à-vis "bridging". There is currently no research which identifies the negative consequences of "bridging" social capital when in balance with its necessary antecedent, "bonding".

Finally, social capital is often linked to the success of democracy and political involvement. Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone makes the argument that social capital is linked to the recent decline in American political participation as well an increased tendency towards more conservative, right-wing politics.

Definitions, forms, and measurement

Social capital lends itself to multiple definitions, interpretations, and uses. David Halpern argues that the popularity of social capital for policymakers is linked to the concept's duality, coming because "it has a hard nosed economic feel while restating the importance of the social." For researchers, the term is popular partly due to the broad range of outcomes it can explain; the multiplicity of uses for social capital has led to a multiplicity of definitions. Social capital has been used at various times to explain superior managerial performance , improved performance of functionally diverse groups , the value derived from strategic alliances and enhanced supply chain relations .

Early attempts to define social capital focussed on the degree to which social capital as a resource should be used for public good or for the benefit of individuals. Putnam suggested that social capital would facilitate co-operation and mutually supportive relations in communities and nations and would therefore be a valuable means of combating many of the social disorders inherent in modern societies, for example crime. In contrast to those focussing on the individual benefit derived from the web of social relationships and ties individual actors find themselves in, attribute social capital to increased personal access to information and skill sets and enhanced power . According to this view, individuals could use social capital to further their own career prospects, rather than for the good of organisations.

In The Forms of Capital Pierre Bourdieu distinguishes between three forms of capital: economic capital, cultural capital and social capital. He defines social capital as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition". His treatment of the concept is instrumental, focusing on the advantages to possessors of social capital and the “deliberate construction of sociability for the purpose of creating this resource”.

James Coleman defined social capital functionally as “a variety of entities with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of actors...within the structure” – that is, social capital is anything that facilitates individual or collective action, generated by networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms. In Coleman’s conception, social capital is a neutral resource that facilitates any manner of action, but whether society is better off as a result depends entirely on the individual uses to which it is put.

According to Robert Putnam, social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other". According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. Putnam says that social capital is declining in the United States. This is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making America far less 'connected'. Putnam believes that social capital can be measured by the amount of trust and "reciprocity" in a community or between individuals.

Nan Lin's concept of social capital has a more individualistic approach: "Investment in social relations with expected returns in the marketplace". This may subsume the concepts of some others such as Bourdieu, Coleman, Flap, Putnam and Eriksson.

Francis Fukuyama described social capital as the existence of a certain (i.e. specific) set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permit cooperation among them.

Nahapiet and Ghoshal in their examination of the role of social capital in the creation of intellectual capital, suggest that social capital should be considered in terms of three clusters: structural, relational and cognitive. Carlos García Timón describes that the structural dimensions of social capital relate to an individual ability to make weak and strong ties to others within a system. This dimension focusses on the advantages deverived from the configuration of an actor's, either individual or collective, network. The differences between weak and strong ties are explained by Granovetter (1973). The relational dimension focuses on the character of the connection between individuals. This is best characterized through trust of others and their cooperation and the identification an individual has within a network. Hazleton and Kennan added a third angle, that of communication. Communication is needed to access and use social capital through exchanging information, identifying problems and solutions, and managing conflict. According to Boisot and Boland and Tensaki, meaningful communication requires at least some sharing context between the parties to such exchange. The cognitive dimension focusses on the shared meaning and understanding that individuals or groups have with one another.

Roots

Definitional issues

The term "capital" is used by analogy with other forms of economic capital, as social capital is argued to have similar (although less measurable) benefits. However, the analogy with capital is misleading to the extent that, unlike traditional forms of capital, social capital is not depleted by use, but in fact depleted by non-use ("use it or lose it"). In this respect, it is similar to the now well-established economic concept of human capital.

Social Capital is also distinguished from the economic theory Social Capitalism. Social Capitalism as a theory challenges the idea that Socialism and Capitalism are mutually exclusive. Social-Capitalism posits that a strong social support network for the poor enhances capital output. By decreasing poverty, capital market participation is enlarged.

Sub-types

In his pioneering study, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, 2000), Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam wrote: "Henry Ward Beecher's advice a century ago to 'multiply picnics' is not entirely ridiculous today. We should do this, ironically, not because it will be good for America — though it will be — but because it will be good for us." Putnam is not suggesting here that we must expand an already stable level of networking and civil interaction. He has found an overall decline in social capital in America over the past fifty years, a trend that may have significant implications for American society.

Putnam speaks of two main components of the concept: bonding social capital and bridging social capital, the creation of which Putnam credits to Ross Gittel and Avis Vidal. Bonding refers to the value assigned to social networks between homogeneous groups of people and Bridging refers to that of social networks between socially heterogeneous groups. Typical examples are that criminal gangs create bonding social capital, while choirs and bowling clubs (hence the title, as Putnam lamented their decline) create bridging social capital. Bridging social capital is argued to have a host of other benefits for societies, governments, individuals, and communities; Putnam likes to note that joining an organization cuts in half an individual's chance of dying within the next year.

The distinction is useful in highlighting how social capital may not always be beneficial for society as a whole (though it is always an asset for those individuals and groups involved). Horizontal networks of individual citizens and groups that enhance community productivity and cohesion are said to be positive social capital assets whereas self-serving exclusive gangs and hierarchical patronage systems that operate at cross purposes to societal interests can be thought of as negative social capital burdens on society.

Social capital development on the internet via social networking websites such as Facebook or Myspace tends to be bridging capital according to one study, though "virtual" social capital is a new area of research.

Measurement

There is no widely held consensus on how to measure social capital, which is one of its weaknesses. One can usually intuitively sense the level/amount of social capital present in a given relationship (regardless of type or scale), but quantitatively measuring it has proven somewhat complicated. This has resulted in different metrics for different functions. In measuring political social capital, it is common to take the sum of society’s membership of its groups. Groups with higher membership (such as political parties) contribute more to the amount of capital than groups with lower membership, although many groups with low membership (such as communities) still add up to be significant. While it may seem that this is limited by population, this need not be the case as people join multiple groups. In a study done by Yankee City, a community of 17,000 people was found to have over 22,000 different groups.

The level of cohesion of a group also affects its social capital. However, there is no one quantitative way of determining the level of cohesiveness, but rather a collection of social network models that researchers have used over the decades to operationalize social capital. One of the dominant methods is Ronald Burt's constraint measure, which taps into the role of tie strength and group cohesion. Another network based model is network transitivity.

How a group relates to the rest of society also affects social capital, but in a different manner. Strong internal ties can in some cases weaken the group’s perceived capital in the eyes of the general public, as in cases where the group is geared towards crime, distrust, intolerance, violence or hatred towards other. The Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia are examples of these kinds of organizations.

See also the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, Putnam's online resource for data he uses in the book.

Social capital and civil society

A number of authors give definitions of civil society that refer to voluntary associations and organisations outside the market and state. This definition is very close to that of the third sector, which consists of "private organisations that are formed and sustained by groups of people acting voluntarily and without seeking personal profit to provide benefits for themselves or for others". According to such authors as Walzer, Alessandrini, Newtown, Stolle and Rochon, Foley and Edwards, and Walters, it is through civil society, or more accurately, the third sector, that individuals are able to establish and maintain relational networks. These voluntary associations also connect people with each other, build trust and reciprocity through informal, loosely structured associations, and consolidate society through altruism without obligation. It is "this range of activities, services and associations produced by... civil society" that constitutes the sources of social capital.

If civil society, then, is taken to be synonymous with the third sector then the question it seems is not 'how important is social capital to the production of a civil society?' but 'how important is civil society to the production of social capital?'. Not only have the authors above documented how civil society produces sources of social capital, but in Lyons work "Third Sector", social capital does not appear in any guise under either the factors that enable or those that stimulate the growth of the third sector, and Onyx describes how social capital depends on an already functioning community.

However, a truer definition of civil society is different though not wholly distinct from the third sector. Lyons goes some way to addressing this by introducing a somewhat Marxist interpretation of civil society, where civil society is "the space for free association, where people could meet and form groups to pursue their enthusiasm, express their values and assist others". This is a "vibrant space, full of argument and disputation about matters of greatest import to its citizens", resembling the polis of Athens more than the organisations of the third sector. This also implies "elements of the enlightenment use of the term civil society" including decency, respect, good manners and kindness to fellow beings.

The idea that creating social capital (i.e. creating networks) will strengthen civil society underlies current Australian social policy aimed at bridging deepening social divisions. The goal is to reintegrate those marginalised from the rewards of the economic system into "the community". However, according to Onyx (2000), while the explicit aim of this policy is inclusion, its effects are exclusionary.

Foley and Edwards believe that "political systems...are important determinants of both the character of civil society and of the uses to which whatever social capital exists might be put". Alessandrini agrees, saying, "in Australia in particular, neo-liberalism has been recast as economic rationalism and identified by several theorists and commentators as a danger to society at large because of the use to which they are putting social capital to work".

The resurgence of interest in "social capital" as a remedy for the cause of today’s social problems draws directly on the assumption that these problems lie in the weakening of civil society. However this ignores the arguments of many theorists who believe that social capital leads to exclusion rather than to a stronger civil society. In international development, Ben Fine and John Harriss have been heavily critical of the inappropriate adoption of social capital as a supposed panacea (promoting civil society organisations and NGOs, for example, as agents of development) for the inequalities generated by neoliberal economic development.

An abundance of social capital is seen as being almost a necessary condition for modern liberal democracy. A low level of social capital leads to an excessively rigid and unresponsive political system and high levels of corruption, in the political system and in the region as a whole. Formal public institutions require social capital in order to function properly, and while it is possible to have too much social capital (resulting in rapid changes and excessive regulation), it is decidedly worse to have too little.

A number of intellectuals in developing countries have argued that the idea of social capital, particularly when connected to certain ideas about civil society, is deeply implicated in contemporary modes of donor and NGO driven imperialism and that it functions, primarily, to blame the poor for their condition.

The concept of social capital in a Chinese social context has been closely linked with the concept of guanxi.

An interesting attempt to measure social capital spearheaded by Corporate Alliance in the English speaking market segment of the United States of America and Xentrumthough the Latin American CHamber of Comercein Utah on the Spanish speaking population of the same country involves the quantity, quality and strength of an individual social capital. With the assistance of software applications and web based relationship oriented systems such as Linked’in, these kinds of organizations are expecting to provide its members with a way to keep track of the number of their relationships, meetings designed to boost the strength of each relationship using group dynamics, executive retreats and networking events as well as training in how to reach out to higher circles of influential people.

Social capital and education

Coleman and Hoffer collected quantitative data of 28,000 students in total 1,015 public, Catholic and other private high schools in America from the 7 years’ period from 1980 to 1987. It was found from this longitudinal research that social capital in students' families and communities attributed to the much lower dropout rates in Catholic schools compared with the higher rates in public.

Morgan and Sorensen however directly challenge Coleman for his lacking of an explicit mechanism to explain why Catholic schools students perform better than public school students on standardised tests of achievement. Researching students in Catholic schools and public schools again, they propose two comparable models of social capital effect on mathematic learning. One is on Catholic schools as norm-enforcing schools whereas another is on public schools as horizon-expanding schools. It is found that while social capital can bring about positive effect of maintaining an encompassing functional community in norm-enforcing schools, it also brings about the negative consequence of excessive monitoring. Creativity and exceptional achievement would be repressed as a result. Whereas in horizon expanding school, social closure is found to be negative for student's mathematic achievement. These schools explore a different type of social capital, such as information about opportunities in the extended social networks of parents and other adults. The consequence is that more learning is fostered than norm-enforcing Catholic school students. In sum, Morgan and Sorensen’s (1999) study implies that social capital is contextualised, one kind of social capital may be positive in this setting but is not necessarily still positive in another setting.

Teachman et al. further develop the family structure indicator suggested by Coleman. They criticise Coleman, who used only the number of parents present in the family, neglected the unseen effect of more discrete dimensions such as stepparents' and different types of single-parent families. They take into account of a detailed counting of family structure, not only with two biological parents or stepparent families, but also with types of single-parent families with each other (mother-only, father-only, never-married, and other). They also contribute to the literature by measuring parent-child interaction by the indicators of how often parents and children discuss school-related activities.

In their journal article “Beyond social capital: Spatial dynamics of collective efficacy for children”, Sampson et al. stress the normative or goal-directed dimension of social capital. They claim, "resources or networks alone (e.g. voluntary associations, friendship ties, organisational density) are neutral--- they may or may not be effective mechanism for achieving intended effect

Zhou and Bankston in their study of a Vietnamese community in New Orleans find that preserving traditional ethnic values enable immigrants to integrate socially and to maintain solidarity in an ethnic community. Ethnic solidarity is especially important in the context where immigrants just arrive in the host society. In her article “Social Capital in Chinatown”, Zhou examines how the process of adaptation of young Chinese Americans is affected by tangible forms of social relations between the community, immigrant families, and the younger generations. Chinatown serves as the basis of social capital that facilitates the accommodation of immigrant children in the expected directions. Ethnic support provides impetus to academic success. Furthermore maintenance of literacy in native language also provides a form of social capital that contributes positively to academic achievement. Stanton-Salazar and Dornbusch found that bilingual students were more likely to obtain the necessary forms of institutional support to advance their school performance and their life chances.

Maljoribanks and Kwok conducted a survey in Hong Kong secondary schools with 387 fourteen-year-old students with an aim to analyse female and male adolescents differential educational achievement by using social capital as the main analytic tool. In that research, social capital is approved of its different effects upon different genders.

In his thesis "New Arrival Students in Hong Kong: Adaptation and School Performance ", Hei Hang Hayes Tang argues that adaptation is a process of activation and accumulation of (cultural and social) capitals. The research findings show that supportive networks is the key determinant differentiating the divergent adaptation pathways. Supportive networks, as a form of social capital, is necessary for activating the cultural capital the newly arrived students possessed. The amount of accumulated capital is also relevant to further advancement in the ongoing adaptation process.

Putnam (2000) mentioned in his book Bowling Alone, "Child development is powerfully shaped by social capital" and continued "presence of social capital has been linked to various positive outcomes, particularly in education". According to his book these positive outcomes are the result of parent's social capital in a community. States where there is a high social capital there is a high Education performance. Similarity of these states is that these states, parents were more associated with their children' education. When there are more parents' participation to their children' education and school, teachers have reported these engagements lower levels of students misbehavior, such as bringing weapons to school, engaging in physical violence, playing hooky, an being generally apathetic about education. From these Putnam's arguments and evidents in order to find out relationship between social capital and education, one needs to consider amount of parents engagement to education and a school and existence of amount of social capital in a community. Borrowing Coleman's quotation from Putnam's book, Coleman once mentioned we cannot understate "the importance of the embeddedness of young persons in the enclaves of adults most proximate to them, first and most prominent the family and second, a surrounding community of adults".

Social capital and the developing world

Many authors suggest that communities in developing countries lack the social capital networks and associations found in many developed societies, but this underestimates the nature of social capital building in traditional societies. For example many of the "potlatch" activities in which rather than accumulating wealth, it is distributed widely, are better understood as forms of investment in social capital. For instance Lea Jellineck, in examining circular migration in the pondokan and kampong of Indonesia, shows that the capital accumulated by those moving from rural areas to urban areas, is intended for celebratory slametan when the migrant returns to their rural village. While conventional economics condemns such practices as a waste of capital, and irrational economic behaviour, it can be viewed rather as a rational investment in social capital.

These forms of social capital are an example of "banking" in circumstances where conventional banking and credit facilities are not present. Indeed, as a number of commentators have shown, the rate of return on this investment in social capital can be much higher than investment in any other economic activity, as distributive relationships may establish forms of interpersonal obligations that are permanent and cannot easily be discharged. Many Third World communities have such relationships to varying degrees. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the moka cycles, whereby which pigs are raised for distribution of pig meat in communal feasts are found widely through the Highlands, and the ability to organise and coordinate such events is a major way in which "bikmen" achieve social status. In Nigeria, local goat herders have such intense "bonding" social capital amongst themselves, due to frequent overnight camp-outs, that they miss out on "bridging" social capital with goat herders outside of the area, as they prefer late night barbecues.

The argument that social capital may be negative

It has been noted that social capital may be not always invested towards positive ends. An example of the complexities of the effects of social capital is violent or criminal gang activity that is encouraged through the strengthening of intra-group relationships. (Bonding social capital) This iterates the importance of distinguishing between bridging social capital as opposed to the more easily accomplished bonding of social capital. In the case of deleterious consequences of social capital, it is a disproportionate amount of bonding vis-à-vis bridging.

Without "bridging" social capital, "bonding" groups can become isolated and disenfranchised from the rest of society and, most importantly, from groups with which bridging must occur in order to denote an "increase" in social capital. Bonding social capital is a necessary antecedent for the development of the more powerful form of bridging social capital. Bonding and bridging social can work together productively if in balance, or they may work against each other. As social capital bonds and stronger homogeneous groups form, the likelihood of bridging social capital is attenuated. Bonding social capital can also perpetuate sentiments of a certain group, allowing for the bonding of certain individuals togeather upon a common radical ideal. The strengthening of insular ties can lead to a variety of effects such as ethnic marginalization or social isolation. In extreme cases ethnic cleansing may result if the relationship between different groups is so strongly negative.

Social capital (in the institutional "Robert Putnam sense) may also lead to bad outcomes if the political institution and democracy in a specific country, is not strong enough and is therefore overpowered by the social capital groups. “Civil society and the collapse of the Weimar Republic” suggests that “it was weak political institutionalization rather than a weak civil society that was Germany’s main problem during the Wihelmine and Weimar eras.” Because the political institutions were so weak people looked to other outlets. “Germans threw themselves into their clubs, voluntary associations, and professional organizations out of frustration with the failures of the national government and political parties, thereby helping to undermine the Weimar Republic and facilitate Hitler’s rise to power.” In this article about the fall of the Weimar Republic, the author makes the claim that Hitler rose to power so quickly because he was able to mobilize the groups towards one common goal. Even though German society was, at the time, a "joining" society these groups were fragmented and their members did not use the skills they learned in their club associations to better their society. They were very introverted in the Weimar Republic. Hitler was able to capitalize on this by uniting these highly bonded groups under the common cause bringing Germany to the top of world politics. The former world order had been destroyed during World War I, and Hitler believed that Germany had the right and the will to become a dominant global power.

See also

References

  • Becker, Gary S. (1996). Accounting for Tastes. Part I: Personal Capital; Part II: Social Capital. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-54357-2.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. (1983). "Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital" in Soziale Ungleichheiten (Soziale Welt, Sonderheft 2), edited by Reinhard Kreckel. Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co. pp. 183-98.
  • Coleman, James (1988). "Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital", American Journal of Sociology. 94 Supplement: (pp. S95-S-120), abstract.
  • Dasgupta, Partha, and Serageldin, Ismail, ed. (2000). Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. (book preview except pp. 217-401, 403-25)
  • Edwards, B. & Foley, M. W. (1998). Civil society and social capital beyond Putnam
  • Everingham, C. (2001). Reconstituting Community
  • Allen J. SCOTT (2008) The Social Economy of the Metropolis, Oxford University Press.

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